From the Introduction to the First Edition

So I will ask my readers to think about many theories and perspectives from several disciplines and intellectual traditions not always coordinated: psychological, physiological, and philosophic. While the language is as free of jargon as I can manage, challenging topics are ahead. I hope the best parts inspire personal and professional development. Reading the book should help educators become aware of their own motives and psychological processes, helping them search for learning and work situations that are satisfying. In a few places, I build new theory and invite readers to take the best ideas and use them. Teachers and counselors need better practice and better theory, two things that are not as separate as they might appear.

…If a better society depends upon quality in education, I believe teachers, schools and colleges are blamed for problems that get passed to schools to fix, problems that come to the school door from struggling families and communities in a nation of misplaced priorities.

…Then there is the stilted voice of academic writing. So well I remember reading in graduate school the high theory and elegant experiments of social psychology, which felt alien to me, then as now. I thought, why does anyone write that way with endless abstractions when so many needs exist in the world?

…As the work intensified, readers gave advice and new leads. I kept reading and learned to appreciate enduring philosophical questions in a fresh, vivid way, quite unlike my experience with them when first encountered in college while preparing for an exam. The concepts had become my concepts, not abstract matters learned to please someone else, to pass a test, to earn a grade. As I wrote I was becoming an active learner.

…Classic issues in social psychology, my academic discipline, resurfaced. I thought about the dynamic relationship between person and environment in new ways. I began using ideas from my reading project in lectures and group discussions, learning more and more from students and colleagues. Eventually, short papers were ready for conferences, which brought still more feedback from colleagues, leading to a book proposal, and so on in those iterative learning cycles of connection between adapting human beings and their evolving ideas.

…Canadian educator Edmund O’Sullivan frames the deep challenge:

There is a day for every one of us in our existence where we become conscious and aware that we just are. We did not ask to be here, we did not choose to be here, we are just here. Some of us come into the world with the full use and potency of all of our senses, others do not. Some of us are born into affluence and plenty, others into poverty and want. We all come into existence with varieties of skin colour, different genders and different ethnicities. . . .  For all of our variety and difference we share one thing in common. We are all recipients of the gift of life.[1]

Theirs is a deeply idealistic critique of modernity, its global systems for economic control, and the global market consciousness that increases individualism and despair. An ecofeminist analysis provokes us to understand the mind and human consciousness as it is influenced by social forces bearing down on the individual, especially women and the poor, who have little control of the future. That modern, secular man has lost touch with personal feelings, spirituality, and nature is worth hearing. I am less sanguine than they about the totalistic nature of their critique and the possibility of sufficient change, given all the dislocations and inequality.

On my personal experience as a student. When I was sixteen, my grades were terrible, I wasn’t living up to my “potential,” and I was suspended for fighting. Grades did not motivate me and I could not pay attention in class; but I could work for hours by myself in a cold garage under the dashboard for a 1940 Ford, putting in a new wiring harness, hooking up tiny gauges. I had little trouble focusing on a new sport like tennis or lacrosse, not to mention the delightful mysteries of sex. I cite these examples for the obvious reason that context is so important for “wanting” to pay attention and to learn.

Until I was thirty or so, I was an indifferent student caught up in popular culture. My focus in life gradually evolved by fits and starts much later than the authorities — parents, teachers, and coaches — wanted. A late bloomer, I could focus on projects outside school like building a hot rod, and it was not hard to apply myself to learning a sport. But school was more promise than performance – I found it hard to sit for long or to stay out of trouble with my teachers. Career, involvement in the community, and personal relationships — all just rambled on without much steering.

When as an educator I think about such moments today, these bridges in life or forks in the road, I think we do not understand how they are approached, or the dynamics by which a person finds the courage to go in a new direction. In time, I put together the start of career, began to focus, and the pieces began to come together. But nearly thirty years later, I am aware — painfully and constantly — of how tenuous the progress is and struck by how much resolve it takes to keep the life project moving ahead.

As a graduate student in social psychology at Columbia in 1968, I saw how the social protests of the day engaged students, giving a sense of power and purpose in life, if only for the moment. These powerful experiences stood in stark contrast to anonymous student life inside a large, urban institution. Classroom experience lacked immediacy and relevance.

At Columbia I felt the seductive power of group identity when my partner and I became involved with an anarchist student group inspired by the Situationist movement.[2] We saw the group begin with innocent motives and evolve to make cult-like demands of its members, forcing my partner and I to decide to leave. From that experience as well as a class project a colleague and I did, an observational study of communes in New England, I became fascinated with small religious and political groups, an interest that continues to this day. I was intrigued by how intense groups make believers feel less self-conscious and uncomfortable as lone individuals in modern times. But as I discuss later, psychological peace inside a true-belief group has a price.

Like other lonely students trying to find their way inside a massive institution, it was hard to stay motivated, to respond to the demands made by teachers as a semester’s grind unfolded. Not so outside Columbia’s iron gates where a community rent strike was intensely involving, or outside a lecture hall, where I could hear a student protest march forming on the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and 120th Street. While I learned advanced theory and methods at Columbia that I did not fully appreciate until much later, only a few of my professors focused on anything other than the course’s academic content. No attention was given to the process of learning in class, or to quality of advising, as if only academic theory mattered in a young man’s education.


On rest, exercise and self-medication. Here is a personal example that juxtaposes our three variables: rest, exercise and self-medication.  Revising the chapter you are reading took more effort than I anticipated.  Some days, it is a slog to make minor changes because self-confidence is so important to a writer. Yesterday was one of those days and, to improve my state of mind, I decided to not have that third glass of wine, going to bed early. I slept better than the night before (because alcohol hurts quality sleep) and, next day, the work went better, leading to two productive, confident hours. I also decided to go out for a ski at lunchtime, before returning to get another hour this manuscript.

Cross-country skiing is both beautiful and highly aerobic, and I returned with an improved mood and better concentration, thanks to the late morning release of neurotransmitters, particularly dopamine for improved mood.  Most adults learn similar ways to improve the quality of work and life and I mention my solution, common enough, to suggest one way that we humans manipulate the brain-mind-body to help us become more productive and enjoy the work more.  The result may not be an exquisite peak experience, but this is an example of taking a middle range experience and improving it as well as improving the quality of one day in life.

Ruminations about learning and attention while hiking. Here is another example of changing human experience from my diary. One morning while hiking, I am distracted by a business problem while begin to focus on glimpses of fall foliage. I am following a creek bed outside Aspen, Colorado, and as the terrain gets steep, the sound of my breathing intrudes and then dominates awareness. My mind roams and I feel good — I am not concentrating on any one object, feeling, percept, or idea.

Or think about learning to drive. As young adults, we learn this new skill for which we do not yet have patterns. Learning new skills requires intense concentration. Mental models do not yet let us combine smaller skills and percepts (like turning the wheel, touching the brake, and scanning the intersection) into an integrated, unconscious whole (turning the corner). The learning experience is intrinsically “exciting” and this is as true for the psychological experience as it is for hidden neurological events. For the inexperienced driver, shifting a car with manual transmission requires focused concentration — for experienced drivers, shifting is automatic, requiring little focus.



An aside on the material explanation of mental events. Thinking and feeling do not occur in metaphysical space beyond human understanding. Material explanations will be found (someday) for all phenomena, especially how the mind inside functions to give us such an exquisite view of a changing reality out there. Mental events like reading this sentence have material, physiological substrata, even if the events or dynamics cannot be described because we do not have the theory or research to understand the extraordinary perceptual and cognitive/emotional mechanisms that help us learn and adapt. Science is a long process of claims and contention, evidence and improved arguments.

An aside on motivation and “first questions.” If we understand motivation and learning dynamics in ourselves, and as intellectual topics that we might teach, we are better prepared to help others address “first questions” in life. First questions are identified in three ways — first of all, they are fundamental questions about direction, values, and meaning in a life, and as such are the most important questions one can ask of oneself. Second, they are the first questions to be put to others and to the community institutions we create, serve, and want to improve. As teachers and counselors, we are supposed to be experts at motivated learning, quite apart from our academic disciplines. Third, they are first questions because, whether we face them or not, we wake up with them every day.


Good books on progressive education:  Lawrence Cremin, The Transformation of the School (New York: Vintage Books, 1964); Martin Duberman, An Exploration in Community (New York: Dutton, 1972); Gerald Grant and David Riesman, The Perpetual Dream (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977); Forest Davis, Things Were Different in Royce’s Day (Adamant, VT: Adamant Press, 1996).


On problems in living. After all, we are poking into problems of living that many scholars would find too unfocused to study. If studied, it is in academe’s fringe literatures, namely, humanistic psychology, religious studies, progressive education, critical theory. Our intellectual puzzles operate at two levels: academic and general, directed at understanding society and human culture, and personal and particular, because each topics leads me to think about my actions and welfare. Some of these puzzles are:


To what extent is human behavior determined by external situational factors or by internal dispositions?  Am I in control of my actions? How would I know?


What responsibility do individuals have for groups and the communities in which they live, work, and play?  What responsibility do I have for other people I encounter? Does it make a difference in deciding whether to act if I don’t know them?


How do human beings function in relationships and social groups?  What is my role inside the groups in which I live, work and play? How do I feel in groups? When do I act as a leader, when as a follower? Can I exist for long outside relationships and groups?


Why are moral standards important in human actions?  Do I know the right thing to do and when to act? Am I living an authentic life, being true to my principles? What are my principles and for which would I risk all?


Is the possibility of a full, authentic life improved by thinking clearly and deeply about human existence, and using better mental models?  Does my thinking about my experience make me more effective? Happier?


What is human happiness?  Am I happy? Why am I mostly unhappy? Is that how other people feel? Should I do something different with my life?

On evaluating what we give back to society. While we want to ask about the quality of contributions to social advancement, to argue which contribution in what area of human creativity is better is not productive. Pluralistic, democratic society needs engaged artists and activists of all types, the more the better. Here is a quote from my first edition that speaks to the role of faith:


I have one life and one chance to make it count for something. I’m free to choose what that something is, and the something I’ve chosen is my faith. Now my faith goes beyond theology and religion and requires considerable work and effort. My faith demands — this is not optional — my faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I can, whenever I can, for as long as I can, with whatever I have, to try to make a difference.                                                                       President Jimmy Carter[3]


On classic alienation theory, which I studied while writing my dissertation at Columbia in the 70s: Richard Schacht, The Future of Alienation (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994).

On dialectical learning: Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Seabury, 1973). Self-directed learning: Stephen Brookfield, ed., Self-directed Learning: From Theory to Practice (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1985).

On artists and their challenges. Artists face a special challenge because they do not enjoy the comfort structure, so to speak, of an office and its daily routine. They lack clear signposts of a career to assure themselves of progress. The insecurity and daily need for self-motivation are more difficult emotionally than what results from working inside an institution that has codified norms, procedures, and roles. Every day, the artist and those of us who work alone must build a temporary structure to live in.[4]


More on Glenn Gould, creativity and writing.  While people try to be self-reflective, what results is unfocused worrying. We enjoy personal hobbies and pursuits as creative pastimes even as there are occasional regrets about missed opportunities. Not so for Mr. Gould who feared modernity’s seductions, which pulled an artist from his art.

Consider the act of writing as it carries both individualist and social dimensions. Writing, especially creative writing, is usually depicted as a lonely, quite personal, activity. While true on one level, an individualist focus hides social exchanges so deeply a part of creative work. More often than we understand, creative work is an implicit, unconscious group project in which one person becomes the vehicle for advancing collective ideas. And the human group, as an intended audience, is involved in another way. Effective writers learn, after all, to use words and sentences to capture and hold the reader’s attention, and do not allow the reader to be too comfortable or to anticipate too easily what is coming next.

Writers assume an audience and write to it. A writer, like most artists, does not tell the story in predictable fashion because the reader will soon anticipate what is coming next and lose interest. So, we have a band of learner attention within which writers learn to work in and around. If a writer does not understand his or her audience, the text may not be engaging in the first place, either too obscure or too banal. But if the story does not project authenticity and truth, or if it is rendered mechanically, reader attention is lost in other ways. So, good writers like good teachers are social communicators who aim to stay within narrow bands of attention and authenticity.[5]


On theory building and how we know reality.  Apart from refining one’s theory-in-practice, theory can be developed and learned. The possibility of better schools and improved learning in all human settings will follow from new and useful theory. Schools and colleges need new perspectives and lots of them. Imaginative theory building is the way to do this work, even if the resulting structure seems pallid compared to the phenomena one wants to describe or, better, change. Representations of the social psychological processes in a simple conversation, for example, will always seem insufficient because no abstraction ever captures a dynamic phenomenon, which is, strictly speaking, unknowable. Contemporary photographer Duane Michals expresses the postmodern stance: “To photograph reality is to photograph nothing.” He adds, “I am a reflection photographing other reflections within a reflection.”[6]


The term “theory” as used in this book refers to a set of assumptions, concepts, and a few principles that will be used to examine a set of problems. Theory building is important in other ways. First, the discrepancy between espoused theories and theories-in-use is important in education and the human services, generally. Practitioners may assert they follow Theory A when a close study of what they are actually doing in the classroom is closer to Theory B. A contributing factor to this discrepancy is that, for many people, perhaps most, neither their espoused theory nor their theories-in-use are articulated. In the worst case, teachers are not conscious of what they are doing or why. They may be effective, but they are not likely to be able to say why, or to be able to pass their understanding and skills to students or other teachers.[7]


Secondly, theory building is important because the surfacing of implicit assumptions and refining mental models of motivation and learning are what teachers and counselors need most to improve practice. Not unlike daily life, personal practice is less examined than one might think — we just do it, going from one experience to the next like our ever-moving sand shark.


On immodest claims in social theory and research. In an age where competing theories exist for every phenomenon, their number expanding every year, we must move quickly through difficult topics that have concerned generations of thinkers. It is tempting to simply name an age-old concern differently, thus to ignore earlier traditions or ideas. Several of the research programs reported later — namely, those on peak experience, flow, and mindfulness — do not acknowledge earlier contributions. A false newness is created by such lapses — after all, the promise of “change” is seductive in consumerist society, with its billboard claims for “the new” and “the better.” A new toothpaste, a new theory — these become commodities to be marketed. Value is not assigned to the substance of the product, its heritage, or, in the case of theory, enduring, always messy, questions.


On process over content in education. John Dewey’s progressive ideas about learning from experience figure prominently in the pages ahead, especially his powerful idea that the process of learning is more important to understand and master than on a body of academic content, a useful dichotomy. The focus in most schools and colleges seems to be on what is learned, the skills and knowledge to be acquired, rather than the underlying thinking and feeling structures we want to transform. To contemporary philosopher Elizabeth Minnich, knowledge is necessarily transitive in modern society — it is the quality of thinking, feeling, and being that should concern us.[8]  Consider these questions:


Why has that most essential human activity, learning, come to mean passing an exam or course in school when, in fact, most human learning occurs outside school in play, family, and work?


Why does learning seem easier and more enthusiastic outside school and college?


Why does learning appear to us to be a special human activity, mostly done in school when we are young, when learning is inseparable from every single moment in the life-world?


Why is cognitive mastery of conceptual material treated as the most important form of human learning? Why are the emotions, the body and its sensations, not thought important in school?


…Even if individuals are not consciously trying to learn, the way educational settings are used is either educative or miseducative, in John Dewey’s terms. If not learning in a progressive sense — that is, leading us to new experience, new reflection, and thus the possibility of new learning — individuals are unlearning already acquired skills, especially the complex skills of modern life. Physical skills like tennis and mental skills like chess or statistics erode quickly. Such skills take time to rebuild if one stays away too long.


Teaching and learning are not easily separated activities, if one uses a dialectical logic to look at process and change (in contrast to the either/or dualisms of formal logic like student or teacher, cognitive or emotional, theory or practice). So, the categories we use to describe an essential human activity like learning must be challenged while being used.


From old Chapter 2

On stress in schools and colleges. Signs of stress in education are not hard to find. The state of higher learning, so to speak, is not healthy. At least five small colleges in rural Vermont, all with long histories, are in danger of closing because of declining enrollment. Another three, including the state’s largest public university, have financial problems and demoralized faculties and face reorganization. Stress on school and college leaders is increasing. Turnover for college presidents has increased, which means significant turmoil inside institutions. Superintendents cannot find school principals because the work is so unrewarding and underpaid.


The political context of these social changes bearing down on American schools and colleges is worth a few more sentences. In so many ways, the political issues of the late 1960s haunt contemporary institutions, especially conversations inside.[9]  Equal parts of social progress and political excess seem mixed together, not possible to sort out. The social dislocations of that era led, on the one hand, to resurgent democratic impulses expressed by individuals and groups. As individuals, modern citizens are more aware of their rights as stakeholders. They now are willing to speak up more than was the case in the sleepy America of the 1950s. Minorities are better protected, if imperfectly, where once their needs were invisible. On the other hand, well-organized protests by special interest groups — left and right, and many quite extreme — challenge social institutions at all levels and erode legitimate authority.


Today, authority of all types is suspect where once the authority of the teacher, the policeman, or a sitting president was unquestioned. Since World War II, the authority of individual faculty members, department chairs, deans, and presidents has been reduced.

…Decision making within modern schools and colleges can be slow torture, and the grinding process and water cooler back-biting do not build trust.


On the enduring challenge of self-motivation. We want to understand motivation because normal conditions for learning in modern society are seldom optimal with regard to rest, attention, and type of work and task. Most of the time, we first have to work to motivate ourselves because we are tired, distractions abound, the clock is running, the task is repetitive or useless. Even if motivation is high, consciousness and attention ebb and flow all day long, changing within an hour and within the task. (For example, think about the changes in attention and consciousness while reading the last few paragraphs, especially now that a point has been made of it.)


For teachers, the point is: The major components of psychological involvement — attention, awareness, and mood — are highly variable, but few schools and colleges make this assumption explicit in the way we organize learning situations. A college schedule assumes, implicitly and incorrectly, that every hour of the day brings the same energy, mood, and attention for both students and teachers. For example, think about how different and hard the work is for both teacher and learner if it is a large class right after lunch, late afternoon, or at night.


The everyday challenge, then, is to motivate oneself in the face of a boring class or mindless busywork of limited appeal. Moreover, it is necessary to motivate oneself to a task that makes us anxious, such as writing a job application or confronting a superior at work. Human beings have to move themselves to act — and possibly learn — when tired, given chronic sleep deprivation, especially among students. Individuals only rarely control the conditions at work or school. That students and teachers in schools report they are bored or fatigued is especially troubling because it is these settings that provide the understanding and skills with which to construct a more complete existence and a better society. But it is possible, of course, to work and learn within the cultural, social, and physiological constraints placed upon us, thus to make a better life out of difficult circumstances.


So much time and good will are lost. Most teachers in high school and college face concrete work conditions that resemble an old-time production line more than craft work, that romantic notion of teaching that first motivated them to go to college and graduate school. Imagine a class of thirty students and a teacher, one of five classes she has to cover that day, totaling perhaps 150 students![10]  The patterns of attention and participation are overwhelming because of the number of wandering minds in the room, including the teacher’s. Students are tired, the professor is distracted by a struggle with a colleague, and a few students do not want to be there at all. Both teacher and students have a schedule to follow, and they somehow must focus their attention on the tasks and try to learn what they can. All parties feel trapped.

…Consider just two of the weapon systems used in the first Gulf War. Two hundred and eighty-eight Cruise missiles were fired at a cost of about $750,000 each. That is a total of $216 million. Seven F-16s were lost at a cost of $20 million each, or $140 million. How many schools could have been rebuilt with that sum?

…Experienced public speakers employ audiovisual aides like multimedia presentations and laser pointers. Charismatic speakers can emotionally move an entire audience.


From first edition CHAP 3

Each generation, it seems, discovers the topic anew, inventing new terms. While the constructs pertaining to problems in living are not identical, many are correlated to the extent that is difficult to disentangle them empirically: anxiety, depression, happiness, locus of control, field independence, ego control, burnout, intrinsic motivation, and older concepts like alienation, morale, and will, not to mention religious experiences in confession, religious conversion, and assorted mystical states.


More on Dewey’s theory. Dewey’s argument is undeveloped in another respect, lacking as it does an explicit theory of human development. Growth or movement is not sufficient, he acknowledges, because experience and reflection might be used profitably by a burglar or corrupt politician (his examples). He is content to say that for these two examples, there are blocked opportunities for growth, presumably to becoming upstanding citizens in the community. The danger, Dewey asserts, is “to leave a person arrested on a low plane of development, in a way which limits capacity for growth.”[11] As it stands, the argument does not include ethical criteria for evaluating individual choice, an essential topic in human motivation to which we return shortly in reviewing the contributions of American psychologists and Continental existentialist philosophers and writers. So, learners need ethical criteria for evaluating purposes chosen, or risk being lost in the slough of relativism where all rationales are equal.


…Perhaps we humans come, in time and with some sadness, to accept the realization that we exist alone as individuals but learn and live in a social community. Think about Dewey’s second principle, that of interaction.

…A modern reader sees that Dewey understood the vulnerabilities of his theory and the school practices it inspired, even in the 1930s. Dewey issued three challenges, as appropriate today as in l938:

What does freedom mean and what are the conditions under which it can be realized?

Just what is the role of the teacher and of books in promoting the educational development of the immature?


How shall the young become acquainted with the past in such a way that the acquaintance is a potent agent in appreciation of the living present?[12]

Dewey knew about the excesses of progressive education of his day. He did not reject the importance of formal topics, books, or the intellectual content of the curriculum. On the contrary, all were valuable for providing experiences from which students might learn, if there was active reflection. What was important was the degree of learner involvement, not the prescribed curriculum as a timeless good. Dewey would have rejected excesses in progressive education as a philosopher, and his teaching was reported to have been demanding (and conventional). Similarly, he also rejected the extremes in progressive political movements of his day. Instead, he asked teachers to value the “social and human center” within the school, and to create free, humane space in schools that was not crushed by schedules and bureaucracy.


Whether the experience puts the learner in a rut, or merely entertains because it is “interesting,” it is miseducative because the possibility of progressive, new experience and new learning is reduced.


More on Maslow’s theory of peak experience. Just as Maslow sought an innovative, positive approach to human development based on assets and human potential, he also sought a new, accepting approach to the way humans interact with their environment and the many objects and images they encounter. A theme in Maslow’s theory is the value of an accepting stance of the ego toward objects in the world, including other people. In contrast to wanting to control others, or seek personal gratification in them, Maslow wanted perception that was “gentle, delicate, unintruding, undemanding, able to fit itself passively to the nature of things as water gently soaks into crevices.”[13] In using such terms, Maslow urged a Taoist detachment of “Being-love” for the other person that had much in common with Eastern aesthetic and mystical traditions, which were less commonly recognized in his day than ours. Even though Maslow argued the advantages of “Being-cognition,” he saw the limits of being too accepting in a problematic world. An accepting stance could lead to fatalism, indecisiveness, and reduced responsibility for others.[14]


Indeed, Maslow’s search for an optimistic view of human nature led him to make assumptions that modern readers might find idealistic. He sought a humanistic perspective, one that emphasized human potential, in order to raise the sights of teachers, therapists, and researchers. Not one to define terms succinctly, Maslow reports that the self-actualizing person: has frequent peak experiences; achieves full humanity by living up to the highest standards; is focused on growth rather than deficiency; is being most authentic (the existentialist ideal); and is even godlike because the most perfect expression of ideals of selflessness, spiritual clarity, and the fusion of good, beauty, and justice are enacted.


Maslow assumes “a will to health” that may be undeveloped or repressed by subsequent experience.[15] If frustrated, physical sickness can result. To develop the potential for self-actualization and increased peak experience, he believes, is to become more fully human. Peak experiences are acute identity experiences in which people are closest to both who they are and what they can become.


As powerful as the transcendent peak experience may be, Maslow reported that true self-actualization as a personality trait is rare (he estimated it occurred in 1 percent of the adult population). Self-actualization does not mean a complete transcendence of human problems. Rather, it means moving from “neurotic pseudo-problems to the real, unavoidable, existential problems, inherent in the nature of man (even at his best) living in a particular kind of world.”[16] Realistic guilt, worries, and existential anxiety continue to exist, partly because of imperfect human nature, and partly because of the world’s challenges. Here Maslow assumes that growth motivation is a higher order motivation. It is “a hope, a yearning, a drive, a ‘something’ wished for but not achieved.”[17] All people have such a wish but few develop it. Self-actualization as a personality trait must be learned over a lifetime. The implication for educators is that schools and colleges are sites for humanistic development.


…It is challenging enough to learn the concepts and skills necessary to be effective in school or business. Much more difficult for most people is to control impulses and change bad habits (think of how difficult it is to stop smoking, or not bite one’s nails).


More on Ellen Langer’s thinking. Langer’s research suggests the characteristics of learning situations where students are more likely to be mindful: those that elicit personal choice and thus increase personal responsibility; those where the focus is the process of problem solving, not only the results; and where students are taught flexible, mindful approaches to problem solving.

As provocative as Kahn’s humanistic theory may be, it has its limits. Sustained psychological presence is exhausting because perceptual vigilance and personal effort are required. To maintain a high degree of interpersonal attention takes considerable energy, which suggests three problems.

More on Kahn’s thinking.  First, psychological presence is not possible to sustain, and it may, in fact, lead to burnout. The staff may be engaged, which brings benefits to both the individual and the organization short term, but the degree cannot be sustained and individuals grow demoralized. Second, many work roles do not expect, or even allow for, full investment of self-in-role. (A hard-charging executive may not want a secretary to bring the full self to what is a narrow job.) Third, institutions that do not help individuals develop realistic views of the organization’s rationalized — even exploitative — needs may be letting employees in for serious disappointment.


More on Existentialism. “Existentialism” refers to a group of philosophers and writers who, over a period of a hundred years, shared similar views, each writing about the loneliness of human existence, often by using a personal narrative. Three themes are commonplace: the individual facing modernity, the lack of rational understanding of the universe leading to feelings of dread or absurdity, and, in such a world, the importance of individual choice while constructing a life. The existentialist perspective dates to Continental heretical ideas in philosophy put forth, most notably, by Friedrich Nietzsche, writing in the last part of the nineteenth century. Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus felt the general despair intellectuals felt, we assume, in the first half of the twentieth century, having witnessed two devastating world wars in twenty years. Nietzsche’s stance as “outsider intellectual” was carried forward. Sartre, who gave the movement its name, was its leading theorist and Camus, its most influential writer.


…The Medieval period had been defined by a rigid feudal structure and hierarchy captured by the Great Chain of Being, which set forth defined roles and responsibilities of the lowest entity to those of God. The dominant belief systems of the day, which people used to interpret their lives, were organized religions, which were gradually challenged by science, in general, and by secular political ideologies like Marxism, in particular.[18]
…In the mid-1800s in France, today’s social sciences like sociology and psychology began to evolve slowly, stimulated in part by Auguste Comte’s criticism, among others, of the hegemony of the Catholic Church. Although cognizant of the integrating power of organized religion in society, Comte sought to separate values — in this case, religious ones — from the study and administration of society.


…To the existentialist, everyone is alone in the world, start to finish. All are alone except for brief moments with friends and loved ones, or momentary passions. Not only this, a burden in itself, but all are alone in the face of life’s problems, especially death. All will die, and most die alone, perhaps connected to life-support machines and drugged. My choice of language may seem provocative, but the feelings will be recognized by anyone who has spent time in a hospital, for example, dependent on a morphine pump after an accident, watching, as if under water, loved ones stop by for a visit. (Existential angst, a term for such fears, does not capture the poignancy when one is this alone.)  So, an ineluctable aloneness is made worse by ignorance and superstition about the world’s nature, driven by an unconscious motive to not understand what is happening, or why (notwithstanding the rise of science).


…I want to extend the argument. Not willing to face modernity, its uncertainty, layered social issues, and social change, the fragile human spirit finds comfort by controlling what it can, by escaping into small decisions of what to wear to work, to eat, or to buy. Suppose the suburban American family’s recreation of the week, beyond the dull routines of school and work, is to visit the shopping mall where the possibility of being recreated is tied more to consumption than to being a family.[19] What is missing, one fears, is a situated freedom of hope that acknowledges others and the needs of society. Listen to the edge in Greene’s voice: “Stunned by hollow formulas, media-fabricated sentiments and cost-benefit terminologies, young and old alike find it hard to shape authentic expressions of hopes and ideals.” [20]


Sartre argues that an authentic personal existence in such a world must be built out of challenges to that world’s facticity (a concept he borrowed from Heidegger), its established facts and routines. Indeed, Sartre argues, a person is acting in bad faith if that facticity is not challenged, or if one routinely escapes into fantasies about reality. Sartre appears to have assumed that it is never possible to live fully authentically, in an ideal state, either because of sustained challenges to reality or our fantasies about it.[21]


…For many people, going to work on Monday, that fixture of modernity and rationalized work, brings mixed feelings of relief and dread. The only course of action for that day is to act on that world, to make choices that are more authentic than those that just get us by.


More on my personal experience of modern work. I like my job, although the foregoing may not sound like it. Ninety percent of the work is “administrivia.” But if I take it on, I get to work on significant institutional problems for the remaining ten percent, which is a tradeoff I accept. As I experience the work week, the quality of existence is not constant and I often think of a crude ratio of good days to bad days. If the ratio stays above four good to three bad, it has been a good week.


As I look around at my colleagues in different institutions and stages of life, few are completely happy with the work situations they have created. And yet, we choose the worlds, partly alien or not, and make as much creative space in them as we can for as long as we can.


…Camus makes the same point and shows us a way out of the existential predicament. Like his protagonist, Dr. Rieux, in The Plague, the way to fight the plague of dulled consciousness is by serving others. Prayer does no good, and modern science, little better. Waiting will not help. So, a meaningful, authentic life is defined, first, by facing the facts, not escaping the facts via fantasy, and second, by choosing to serve a higher good other than one’s own survival. Rieux makes his choices “not out of heroic courage or careful reasoning but rather from a sort of necessary optimism.”[22] Not much comfort, perhaps, but it is a start. Even so, existentialists offer no assurance of everlasting peace and happiness. The work in service is not done to gain admission to an afterlife, or a heavenly blessing, or the benediction of an earthly patriarch.[23] What counts are the daily choices to create meaning, here and now.


Existentialism’s perspective is somber, indeed, which has limited its appeal. For one thing, while the existentialists might not warm to humanistic psychology, they also would miss the tonic effects of engagement in higher purposes. Human beings can be moved to higher purpose by the nature of the psychological experience in ways not captured by Camus.


From first edition PART II

…Neurobiology, cognitive science, and studies of mind by philosophers are challenging areas for most readers and, for practitioners, it is impossible to stay current. Still, we’ve sampled from these literatures for two reasons: first, to look for insights to support or challenge ideas in Progressive Education; second, because major advances in a new century will likely be found at the intersection of biology, cognitive science, and studies of mind. The next generation of educators needs to have open minds on these topics, and some idea about how to read studies and ideas that will come along.


The contemporary view of the brain-mind-body is more about its dynamic nature than specific sites or static functions—the brain is always adapting, rewiring itself, to changed environs.[24] New research suggests that memory and important functions are spread throughout the brain-body rather than as site specific as we once thought. We now know that new networks that reflect new learning can be built at any age, if much easier before age 20. The consensus today is that learning that lasts is deeply connected learning, connected to diverse learner interests, values, and experiences.[25] In other terms, the more senses used for coding and integration, especially if emotions are involved, the more likely that images or ideas will pass from working memory to long-term memory.[26] In that regard, neuroscientists do not privilege cognitive development over emotional development the way some curricula appear to do. Cognition and emotion are not separated as the brain uses them as information streams.


…For years we have known that moderate to high stimulation is required for the unfolding capacities of newborns. New research on mirror neurons, while debated, suggests that human beings and other species learn vicariously by watching others, which supports Dewey’s notion of collateral learning. Bank Street’s intensive Conference Groups offer both direct learning for new teachers and considerable collateral learning.


Early adolescence is especially challenging in middle schools because of the potent trio of hormonal changes that are different for boys and girls (a seven-fold increase in testosterone in young boys that increases general activity), the increasing power of the peer group with respect to gender roles (to which girls may be more sensitive), and the difficult mix of “I know” self-confidence and surging emotions from quick to anger to acute depression.  How teachers use active listening to help young people with their surging feelings is critical.[27]


Young people have a remarkable capacity to learn although the routines of many schools get in the way although, in other respects, Nerney argues that their brains are not miniatures of adult brains—and some capacities like judgment are not yet fully supported. [28]

We also know that the brain is still growing and changing during adolescence through the mid-20s—until then, executive functions are not fully developed. These several factors are highly significant for educators and counselors working with young people and parents because of the way school behavior and risk behavior, in and out of school, are affected (e.g., alcohol, drugs, guns, fighting, and cars). Nerney wants teachers and parents to help adolescents channel their great energy and passion into activities like sports that do not have the risks of fast cars and alcohol.


The dynamic picture of the brain-body that emerges from these studies, if some functions seem overpromised, is that human beings are highly dependent on the environs in which we play, work and learn. Meaning is made out of the stimulation in these demand environs and, given this insight, a key part of being a teacher is organizing the objects and activities that provide stimulation as well as helping young people make sense of what they are seeing, doing and feeling. Finally, this way of thinking about how learners adapt to changed environs suggests that human beings, if basic needs are met, are remarkably resilient at all stages of life as we learn and thus adapt to new conditions.


Finally, regular rest and exercise are essential for motivation, learning, and well-being. Students can adapt to most environs if they are rested and critics like Medina argue that regular movement is needed throughout the school day (not just gym class) for proper cognitive functioning, in part, because human capacities evolved while walking 12 miles a day. Educators need to understand the synergistic integration of rest, exercise, and prudent use of psychoactive substances like alcohol, caffeine and sugar.


On a bad metaphor. Early in my reading, when thinking about human consciousness, I imagined a master control program called “switcher.” The idea was silly, but I imagined a control room with banks of dials and screens. I was struggling, then as now, to think about how the mind works, this most mysterious of all human capacities.


Engineer at console was the notion. Somehow, I thought, one entity must evaluate information from so many channels. Surely, some “thing” of a physical nature, chemical or electrical, had to choose which of the many competing purposes motivate the organism to eat, run away, or make love. But metaphors mislead, giving the impression that we understand more than we do.


My homunculus engineer is the wrong image, like most single-factor, one-organ explanations of human behavior.

…Here is another hard problem, the assertion that brain or mind functions have material or physical correlates. Pert and others write about the psychological experience of mind, which is so ephemeral as to suggest, she believes incorrectly, that it has no material nature. A leading neurology text by Eric Kandel and his associates says: “all mental processes are biological and any alteration in those processes is organic.”[29] Critics of the materialist position argue that the materialistic belief that mind (all mental processes) can be reduced to biology is, itself, a statement of faith that has not been proven, not unlike claims by faith traditions.

The problem of consciousness is arguably the most difficult one neuroscience must face. Think about the second term, “mind,” in the brain-mind-body triad.[30] What do we mean by mind and its critical function, consciousness?[31] The most fascinating part of the triad — brain-mind-body — is the least understood.[32]

…Daydreaming holds more attentive weight than formal lecture. How then do we as educators recreate that fugue state that a daydream commands? In other words, how can we get the listener to give the topical conversation more weight than the daydream?

…Changing the stimulus or redirecting it is often done by use of short bursts of focus based language. In other words, “Stay on Task”, “If I could have your attention”, “Listen Up!” These are all phrases that should be in any educator’s linguistic tool box.

…Where would a lack of serotonin fit into this? In the current environment where ADHD and Ritalin are players in the mix of things, mood can be used as a reason for not doing assignments.

…To suggest the dynamic way mental changes occur, imagine a set of discrete stages, even though doing so oversimplifies the process by which humans interpret and continuously re-interpret lived experience and thus impacts the choices we make in life.

Before the actual experience, or Stage 1, the brain-mind-body is sensitive to some information more than others because human perception and attention are highly selective, biased toward the confirmation of our unconscious expectations based on prior experience (a smile means a friend is approaching), but also the possibility of threat (that snake!) or novelty (nice ring!).[33]

Then, as the experience is unfolding in the moment, Stage 2, cognitive social psychologists point to the dynamic interpretation of lived experience that is said to be constructed out of unconscious emotional elements and rational ones, the former more potent than the latter. With some effort and learned skill, to be sure, reasoning can affect the interpretation and lead to different actions, better actions, safer actions. An individual can, with the right education, take control, at least more of the time. That is why, in part, we value this special human capacity and, to strengthen it, educators create schools and colleges of every sort, not to mention the earlier role of parents and, later in life, counselors and mentors.

On personality differences. One small cluster of topics I find fascinating and useful for an educator or counselor. Teachers know—or eventually learn—that students have different ways of learning and, more deeply, different ways of perceiving. Psychologists use the term “individual differences” to talk about the ways that people vary from low to high, one pole to the other, on some perceptual or behavioral dimension like introversion-extraversion (Jung), field independence-field dependence (Witkin), or internal-external (Schachter).  These three are closely related and there are perhaps twenty more like these three, which testifies to the scholarly interest in this topic.

To use the simplest terms, Internals compared to Externals, people with an internal orientation, probably hard wired more than learned, monitor their internal experience before deciding whether they are hungry or not whereas externals are more sensitive to environmental cues.  Such constructs and their clever measures were popular for nearly forty years last century.  For our purposes, I think of individual differences like sensitivity to environmental cues as a special case of attention where some learners are more attuned to environmental cues and, at the other end of the dimension, others are attuned to internal cues.


Awkward and incomplete as my language may be, I want to capture one part of the involved experience, what Ellen Langer and Thich Nhat Hanh mean by mindfulness (to be fair, Langer weighs cognitive flexibility more heavily than the holistic, Buddhist concept of which Hanh writes). Subject and object are not fused as they might be in a peak experience as described by Maslow or Csikszentmihalyi’s flow.


…When I first visited the topic of attention in motivation and learning, I thought about attention span and the difficulty I had staying focused on school work early in life. First of all, it is difficult to pay close attention for long periods of time. When we can manage to do so, it will be exhausting. But not paying close attention has benefits, some of which have evolutionary rewards. It is not all lost time, which is the way that the topic has sometimes been discussed. If our species did not have a flexible attention system, we might not scan our environs as efficiently. Studying that flower too closely might lead me to miss the leopard.

…Memories are malleable. This is why it is so important for learning experiences to be static and not fixed. New information can be changed to suit individual learning styles. The vogue term “differentiated instruction” speaks to this.

Another consideration is on how important a role that routine plays in learning. Consider tennis lessons, certain mantras: Turn, Racquet back, Swing, Step Into The Ball. These things become ingrained. Yet, may educators have taken to treating repetition as a dirty word. The phrase “drill and fill” is often used in a derogatory fashion towards an educator who returns to the same basic tenants or exercises to build familiarity. Does this mean that the military creates poor learners? No, it does not. Not every lesson plan needs to abandon repetition, yet in our quest to make things always fun, we seem to do just that.

Letter to me from a reader and friend, Chris Mooney, who was for years a high school teacher, all in quotes.  Many high school students can very effectively tell you how they learn. They will use such terminology as “I need pictures or I need to be hands on.” With this in mind, I have asked many of the students in my smaller classes to put this into words. That is to say, “Tell me how you learn best.” While this might not always be practical or even doable, it gives me a barometer.

It is also the linking or attachment of priorities. An example, I have a student that can tell me every group member, chord change, tour date, and song of the heavy metal group Iron Maiden. However, if you were to ask this same student to recite important milestones in American History, he would be hard pressed to tell you more than three. Why? In his mind, this information is not important. The challenge is to link the desired information the instructor is imparting with what this student enjoys.

Many of my peers find the idea of being a performer to be insulting. I have often heard things like, “I’m not here to make you laugh.” What if that were part of a teacher evaluation model?

True, schools and colleges do not reward psychological involvement, but how do we measure it in abstract terms? Can such a thing be graded or assessed?

Key events again trigger learning, which is involvement. Each generation has a key world memory that involves learning. For my parents it was the JFK assassination. For my generation it was two key events: The explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger and the freeing of the Hostages in Iran. Although traumatic, if not linked to a key event, very few of us would know who Christa McAuliffe was or what role the Ayatollah Khomeini played.

Unfortunately, many educators refer to this repetition in a derogatory light as “Drill and Fill.” If we were to put this into another situation; like tennis, we would see that there is absolutely nothing wrong with repetition. Learning to hit a topspin forehand requires hitting numerous forehands from different areas of the court. The trick is to make sure that repetition and rote memory are exclusive of each other.

How do as educators bring emotional involvement into the classroom every day? Does this emotional involvement conflict with mandated curriculum?

The casual observer sees a group of quiet students with their heads down, taking notes and assumes that students are learning. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Many of the more regarded teachers are culturally aware of their students. I am in a unique position to develop a rapport with students regarding music as I am a faculty supervisor for a student run radio station. I can couch some of my concepts for learning with ideas of promotion, marketing, lyrics and the concept may become more relevant, at least for the time being.

This development must also include the non-specific connections we make. Many of us enjoy nostalgia because it connects to a pleasurable memory, which enables learning. For instance, many of us can remember key events in our life as they are connected to a song we heard during said event. The mind has placed a priority on this memory that is intrinsically linked to said song. How do we translate this into multiple priority based experiences?  End of long Mooney quotation.


Think about the function of games, specifically card games, and how people use them to manipulate psychological experience. Two friends were playing hearts the other night. For two hours, both players were immersed in the game, its mechanical routines like cutting and dealing cards, arranging a hand, thinking about strategy, and playing a particular move. Light banter accompanied the play. Both were fully involved in a cooperative activity that provided an intense, private psychological experience for each. If asked, our card players would say they were “having fun.” That fun comes from the interaction of attention, awareness, and mood — a focused flow activity counters the entropy in human experience, which is an uncomfortable state when protracted.[34]


More on engagement theory.  The purpose of this brief exercise in theory building has been to explore different facets of a core problem in human existence. It is not controversial to say that human beings have wide-ranging perceptions, thoughts, and emotions as they move through the life space although to mark them with reductionist terms like “perception” or “emotion” does not reflect the holistic nature of human experience.


Positive mood changes from activities that ask us to concentrate reinforce behavior, thus motivating us to develop a sport like tennis or hobby like sewing. Educators may not always appreciate the power of unseen reinforcers as they shape student behavior and learning (and their own behavior and learning). But in the best case, direction in life — not just the aimless wandering of our sand shark minds — comes more from choice of daily and life purpose than the incidental reinforcement of a given activity, purposeful or not. But how are alternative purposes formed, grouped, and evaluated?

Social engagement is not psychological involvement and, for that matter, paying attention for a brief moment during an activity is not involvement. Consider an additional example, this time a sport like tennis, where many skills are needed for effective play, especially the ability to concentrate on the point as it develops over two minutes and twenty or so shots. This small example might also make us cautious with regard to the complexity of phenomenological experience and the challenge of building adequate theory. Attention roams among a number of channels, including posture; the pace, spin, and location of the ball; the blurry movement of an opponent; cognitive images of possible shots; and self-exhortations to “stay positive.” The brain-mind-body perceives sounds from other courts and may be distracted by watching the play nearby. In this example, involvement is more purposive than chained-together moments of focused attention. Only when many such moments of psychological involvement, pleasant as they can be, are put together with other purposes and activities to help others and benefit society could we think of social engagement.

…Some scholars believe that mammalian species like dogs and primates, with which we share so much neurobiology, experience a range of emotions, although perhaps not the self-awareness of homo sapiens.

On groupthink and true belief. Much of the power to change behavior in the true-belief group comes from manipulating member thinking. Writing in the 1970s, Irving Janis defined groupthink as “the deterioration of group efficiency, reality testing, and moral judgment that results from in-group pressures.”[35] Eight characteristics are defining: 1.) illusion of group invulnerability; 2.) collective efforts to dismiss negative information; 3.) tendency to ignore ethical consequences of group decisions; 4.) stereotyping of motives and values of other groups; 5.) pressure on individuals to align their views with those of the group; 6.) self-censorship by individuals of deviations from the group consensus; 7.) shared illusion of unanimity; and finally, 8.) emergence of “mindguards” who take it upon themselves to guard the group from deviants. One could take this list and apply it to intentional groups like a sorority or a commune.  In combination, this is a potent mix, and it is no wonder individuals find it hard to resist. [36]

The invisible pull of group dynamics can harm as well as help, whether the risk is not developing fully as a human being, or losing individuality. Identification with the wrong group — a cult like Jonestown and its totalistic norms — can motivate a person to kill oneself or one’s children, thus violating two of society’s most powerful taboos. Such is the dark power that groups hold over individuals, or, perhaps one should say, the power we cede to groups.

Learning is life long and everyone is an educator. Learning is ubiquitous, hardly confined to school.  Anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson puts it well: “Most of life’s learning takes place outside and beyond the classroom, continuing through old age.” [37]  She adds that informal learning can be painful and says, “We all eventually learn to live with infirmity or disability in ourselves or others, and how to deal with death.”  Academic or formal learning has certain formal properties like assessment that set it apart, but let’s emphasize, as Professor Bateson does, that a highly evolved organism is always learning, always adapting to its environs.  Of course, what we learn and how we adapt are fair questions, but our species is wired to learn.  The several systems that support learning in Homo sapiens, of course, are shared by other species, even if our species appears to have evolved to create the most organized culture for passing on knowledge.  All species that survive to produce offspring can be said to have learned to adapt to an environs even though consciousness is not, clearly, involved with most.  That is how we humans evolved to where we are, such as it is.

Learning is ubiquitous although it is not always efficient or purposeful or recognized by the authorities as appropriate.  It follows that throughout life, we have many, many different teachers and mentors.  And all students eventually become teachers in their families, sport and work teams, or churches even if that role is not formally recognized as such.  For that reason, I believe everyone is an educator—of self and others around us—and all benefit throughout life from understanding much more than we do about applied motivation and learning.  That is why learning about learning is so important.


On Eduspeak. Now is as good time as any to pause to worry about the words we use.  Educators need to be careful about the reified vocabulary of the profession, the listless language of eduspeak, which includes elevated terms we favor like transformative learning, much less political slogans like “no child left behind.”  The words that educators and counselors use to describe their work have, in fact, to be interrogated, as an English professor might put it.  I’m not talking just about jargon, but ordinary words that come up empty.  Words like education, learning, student, teacher, school and college have so much stuff attached that they have become almost useless as tools for thinking, or better, tools for thinking about change.  So, we want to think about the terms we deploy to address a problem as we use them.  We worry about baggage and barnacles, for unexamined assumptions and breezy claims.


More from Part III

The learning culture reflects a set of conscious, agreed-upon choices about what is important to learn and how best to proceed. In the best case, a college’s values live beyond a given cohort of faculty and students. We see this in a college town like Yellow Springs, Ohio, the home of Antioch College, where the bohemian culture of the village has been shaped over many years by the college’s values and aspirations, and the artists, intellectuals, and activists attracted to the vision and its community.[38] The New School, located in Greenwich Village, shares the same intimate connection with its urban community.


The mission must be alive in the entire institution. Roles are defined and a rich ethos for learning has evolved. If the community can reach a consensus about direction and values, a college’s mission statement will be more powerful than the parsed statements for which planning committees are justly known. Perhaps the most important function of a school’s mission is that its values stimulate self-selection by students and teachers of a particular type who want to learn in this particular community. When these two cohorts arrive, peer pressure works on members of both groups to extend the connections.


Astin’s theory is not stated in formal terms, but its ideas are useful in thinking about a progressive curriculum. First, he asks educators to focus more on behavior than on interior states of motivation, which are not easily observed. Second, he calls attention to the importance of formative feedback on different forms of student involvement, which is more important in shaping behavior than end-of-term evaluation. Third, involvement theory applies equally to the psychological investments made by students, staff, and teachers. Astin suggests the use of time diaries to help students assess their use of time. Experienced teachers know they compete for student energy and attention with outside interests like sports and parties. Looking at the whole culture, the involving school will create ways to involve all community members, to offer assessment about degrees and quality of involvement, and to reward those members who are involved, especially students and teachers.


Teachable moments are scarce and short in today’s class and lab.

Chapter 7—from first edition, completely replaced in second edition

Educators are in reality competing with other forces in the student’s life for a share of that finite time and energy.

Alexander Astin[39]

It is the culture of the whole institution — its values, norms, roles and ethos — that educates. That intentional culture must compete effectively with the dominant culture and its values and norms that surround a school. We began Part III with ten considerations, and the reader has no doubt crossed out several, substituting better formulations. Now I want to think about how to create Deborah Meier’s thick learning culture as the whole learner experiences it. We have a substantial task, how to coordinate emerging student character traits with important transactions with the environment such as friends, academic studies, and on- and off-campus work. For this discussion, we will use George Kuh and Elizabeth Whitt’s definition of culture: “the collective, mutually shaping patterns of norms, values, practices, beliefs and assumptions that guide the behavior of individuals and groups in an institute of higher education and provide a frame of reference within which to interpret the meaning of events and actions on and off campus.”[40]

Evidence is growing for the concept of the involving college.[41] Ernest Pascarella and Patrick Terenzini used multivariate methods to study the net effects of a wide array of student outcomes in 2,600 studies over a span of twenty years. The transformative power of the school experience, they find, lies with the total level of campus involvement more than any one type or vehicle. First, college is far more than just the academic curriculum. Second, psychological involvement can begin in one area, such as sports or clubs, and spread to other areas, such as academic study.


A school curriculum is a nested set of opportunities to elicit involvement in learning, broadly defined. We need better ways to assess human development, not just cognitive development, as it may be advanced in college and other learning settings, especially given all the attention that accreditation associations are giving to outcome measures rather than input measures. Indeed, more colleges, like the work colleges previously discussed, could stipulate and evaluate holistic learning outcomes that occur outside class. For example, Goddard College faculty and staff meet weekly to discuss students, using the language of knowing, doing, and being, thus referring to content areas, skills, and qualities of a whole life.


Measures of emotional and spiritual development to assess the deep purposes of college are needed. Certainly colleges recognize the value of multiple activities, but most hang back from holistic purposes as well as from assessing varied types of learning. If educators took whole-person, ubiquitous learning seriously, a rich menu of cocurricular activities and assessment strategies could be set forth, awarding credit for what is learned. Academic credit is important — in schools and colleges, the award of credit says what we think is most important.


Criticizing the status hierarchy of higher education, Alexander Astin argues for a talent development model of education, which he contrasts to the industrial production model adopted by conventional colleges. His thesis is simple: “Students learn by becoming involved.” Many forms of involvement are possible, and within limits, good: academics, campus activities, governance, sports, and part-time work. Drawing upon his longitudinal studies of higher education for empirical evidence, Astin argues that involvement serves to increase persistence and to produce better-than-average achievement.[42]


Involvement comes in many forms, such as studying hard, working on campus, being active in student organizations, and frequently interacting with other students and faculty. In Kuh et al.’s study of fourteen four-year colleges and universities, two-thirds of traditional student time is spent outside the classroom. The authors do not argue for one best model but rather recommend that involvement in moderate degree both enhances academic learning and improves retention. Involving colleges share five characteristics:


  1. Learning in and out of class is seamless.
  2. Students know how to work the institution.
  3. Students take seriously the expectation that they are responsible for their lives and learning.
  4. Students learn as much from peers and others outside as in class.
  5. Student subcultures are complementary to the college’s mission.[43]


Astin’s theory of involvement, supported by Kuh’s research, points us toward reforms.

Astin argues that the most important source of influence on student development is the college peer group, more so than the faculty. Involvement measures are positively associated with retention, involvement both in entry activities and during the middle years. In contrast, outside employment and television watching are negatively correlated. Astin speculated that involvement in cocurricular activities contributes to developing a philosophy of life, comparable to what we have called the life-project, that arises out of existential dilemmas encountered in studies, reading, and dorm conversations.


Astin’s theory is not stated in formal terms, but its ideas are useful in thinking about a progressive curriculum. First, he asks educators to focus more on behavior than on interior states of motivation, which are not easily observed. Second, he calls attention to the importance of formative feedback on different forms of student involvement, which is more important in shaping behavior than end-of-term evaluation. Third, involvement theory applies equally to the psychological investments made by students, staff, and teachers. Astin suggests the use of time diaries to help students assess their use of time. Experienced teachers know they compete for student energy and attention with outside interests like sports and parties. Looking at the whole culture, the involving school will create ways to involve all community members, to offer assessment about degrees and quality of involvement, and to reward those members who are involved, especially students and teachers.


Astin writes about the civilizing potency of a college culture where individual pieces of the culture interact to form a more powerful whole.[44] Haverford College is noted for the potency of its Quaker-inspired culture. Quaker values like simplicity and loving acceptance are pervasive in the campus’s understated architecture and muted palette, an honor code that respects students, reduced campus hierarchy, respect for political engagement, and in liberal academic values and high standards.[45] So, to understand the potential of the college experience as a holistic, life-changing experience, we want to understand a powerful interaction among four variables:

  1. The extent to which a college’s mission, purposes, and culture self-selects students with certain abilities, dispositions, and emerging life purposes.
  2. The effects of potent peer group interaction among admitted students with similar characteristics who socialize with one another, compete endlessly, and refine latent abilities and emerging purposes.
  3. The effects of a curriculum for social engagement, one designed to involve students in varied pursuits, both academic and cocurricular, on and off campus, where timely feedback is provided on both the choice of purposes and results.
  4. The tonic effects on individuals within this group who work especially hard at being involved (that is, students who are active and work hard inside a well-organized curriculum will get the most out of the first three conditions).


In the best case, interactions among these four factors are not simply additive but multiplicative. That is, in the case of involvement, “the rich get much, much richer” when learners become active agents in a curriculum of diverse, lifelong experiences organized around integrated values. Such a curriculum encourages involvement at every turn where involvement qua involvement is the college’s meta purpose, which is what Ernest Boyer, Arthur Chickering, and Seymour Sarason ask. The involving curriculum is not, in this way, the usual hodgepodge of bits and pieces tacked together, reflecting years of competition among academic departments with some time allocated, grudgingly, to sports and student life activities. (Chickering calls this a “junkyard curriculum.”)[46] To be sure, an eclectic curriculum organized toward diffuse purposes will be better than an unstructured setting to promote learning and character development. It is not, however, the focused learning community of principled ideals, high demand, and defined purposes that most students, teachers, and advisors need.

Now we have plausible ideas for creating an involving school or college. But the discussion has sidestepped certain theory problems. How should we think about the transactions between the institution and its involvement platforms, so to speak, and psychological consequences for learners? Several dimensions of self are involved. Self-confidence, self-understanding, the quality of one’s imagination and goals, and skills like critical thinking — all are intrinsic causes and consequences of involved learning as a dynamic interaction between learner and his or her immediate environment. Under the best circumstances, students gradually acquire concrete skills, thus increasing self-confidence. If they are asked to understand themselves as learners, as we have suggested, and also are asked to explore their dreams and passions, the possibility of increased performance is improved, which in turn increases self-confidence.

We cannot consider classic theories of human development from Freud and Kegan, which try to capture the important transactions between the emerging self and involvement with an academic culture. But less agreement is found about the essential pieces, either within the self, or in the environment in which the self invests time and energy in different activities. As yet, no unequivocal specification of dynamics between person and environment is made, much less a calculus that links developing character traits with involvement in the community and the many, many feedback loops that result and that, in turn, shape character, which affects investments.

A personality theorist would argue that the self is formed out of such interactions. But person-environment transactions are so complex that all we have to work with, in the end, are general effects and apologetic speculations about interesting problems found along the way.


Imagine five correlated aspects of character development: life purposes, self-focusing, self-confidence, belongingness (to social groups and movements larger than self), and learning skills. These five variables contribute to an emerging sense of self, an idea of oneself as a distinct, authentic human being with needs and talents, limitations, emerging life purposes, and expanding skills. Life purposes, such as wanting to work with the poor, are shaped by interactions with peers and mentors and present new opportunities for learning from experience.


Self-focusing in this model is a conscious construction consisting of both explicit purposes and an understanding of self in world that is used to interpret past and present experiences while projecting direction into the future. Self-focusing is, in turn, correlated with emerging self-confidence with which to make investments in the environment, to take risks by engaging in activities that are new or anxiety-arousing such as volunteering for a committee or trying out for a sport. As self-confidence builds, the learner is emboldened to look to additional arenas, thus enlarging the range and scope of learning settings.


Another facet of the developing self is the emerging connection, the belongingness, the learner feels to other people, groups, and social movements. This connectedness is important because students are more likely to invest in activities when they belong to a human group and are lifted up by its purposes. Young people need to affiliate because, having left the family and high school networks, they are lonely. Similarly, adults returning to college are often in major social transitions, such as divorce, and feel a need to connect with new networks and friends. Perhaps educators are tempted to overestimate the impact of teaching on learning and transformation, and to underestimate the power of friendship networks and peer comparison in learning communities. So, we want learners new to a learning community to get involved quickly in new social networks to spark and sustain motivation and learning. This goal is important for individual learners. For the institution, student involvement increases retention and attainment.[47]


Finally, the learning skills shown in the model form the foundation for self-confidence and self-focusing. Literacy, numeracy, skills with modern technology, organizing skills, and learning-to-learn skills — all are essential. If a learner cannot complete complex projects as they move into new learning settings, their psychological investments, described next, will not be productive or prompt positive feedback loops to strengthen emerging attitudes, values, and traits. Psychological energy to drive person-environment transactions is missing.


One could attach different labels to these facets of human development, and the relationships among them have not been discussed. But for present purposes, let us move on to consider involvement with the surrounding environment. These attributes create the foundation for different psychological investments of time and energy in the near environment: academic studies, cocurricular activities like sports and clubs, college governance, on- or off-campus work, and local community. While each has the potential to stimulate new learning, the learner must choose among interests, given limited personal time and energy, forming them into purposes and connecting purposes to the emerging life-project. Much early college experience focuses on just this ordering of priorities for personal investment.[48] If the learner has, for example, an exhausting, off-campus job, energy left for academic study or campus governance is reduced.


More importantly, the model assumes that involvement can begin in one arena, such as school governance, and generalize to other activities, such as improved learning. Students who belong to teams or who participate in school cocurricular life persist longer and do better academically.[49] The emerging self is thereby stretched, extended in successive iterations, as the learner experiments with investments in new life activities. As Dewey would put it, one learning experience sets the stage for the next in a rich, progressive curriculum for learning.


Intermediate levels of involvement are best. If learners spend too much time in off-campus work, Pascarella and Terenzini report, persistence and achievement are reduced. Too much, or too little, involvement has a deleterious effect. The same could be said for narrow investments in any arena of college life, even academic study, because of the reduced potential for holistic transformation. To the extent that a college only values cognitive development or academic learning, its students may not find the support to expand the boundaries of their interests and personality, thus losing the potential for deep learning when different learning settings interact.


What drives this model of human development? It is the quality of the feedback received by the learner from so many different transactions. What is being learned in each area? How is that knowledge received and integrated with other life experience? Some learners, after all, do not read their experience well. Others are acutely sensitive and quick to withdraw, leading them to not invest as much as they might. A subtle dynamic not depicted in the table follows from the self-observing nature of human beings, one of our leitmotifs. That is, learners watch themselves perform in different areas, and, to an extent, they monitor the feedback from different investments. If that feedback suggests they are not welcome, or are not competent, the deflating psychological experience reduces self-confidence. It may redouble self-focusing, of course, or it could lead to reduced investments and reduced opportunities for educative experience. Our crude model does not account for this possibility.


Perhaps other paths for competence and self-confidence open up — for example, belonging to a fraternity or a gang — and quite different purposes and life prospects result. Perhaps as self-monitoring learners, we carry a rough scorecard through life, one that summarizes return on psychological investment, and samples how we feel about ourselves and the quality of the emerging life-project. We have a “good day” or a “bad day,” reflecting this most personal accounting. If my assessment is positive, renewed investments are likely, leading to more feedback and more learning, and so on: It is a good day. If, on the other hand, I feel overwhelmed or ineffectual, investments are scaled back, or shifted to other objects, including those that take the learner from prosocial learning. Redirected investments, for example, into criminal behavior lead to learning that is self-destructive.


By way of giving emphasis to the importance of school culture, imagine an ideal academy for whole-person learning, one consistent with John Dewey’s philosophy of learning from experience. In this exercise, please suspend judgment as to whether a utopian academy is realistic. Sober realism and practicality are not the point: The goal is to play with ideas about motivation, learning, and curriculum design.


The progressive academy is not the conventional production site with which we have grown up, consider as given, and expect to find. Our imagined school begins with the subjective life-world of each individual student, not a preordained curriculum of another generation. The teacher begins by asking each student who she is, where she is going, and what she wants to learn. The learner is required to be an active agent in charge of her self-development as a whole person, and the curriculum is co-constructed by teachers and learners to encourage active learning and the full, reflective use of human experience. Students are understood to bring rich experiences from their past and to have equally rich experiences in the present — what is missing is critical reflection on prior and present experience, which points to the mentor’s role helping students become self-reflective and self-focusing.


Call this a progressive school, not for its political values but because experiences that students and teachers have encourage new experience and the possibility of new learning in a progressive connecting of experience to ever-expanding mental models. Both teachers and students come to school eager to have the involved psychological experience of learning and teaching that awaits them. Neither students nor teachers are bored in our energized community, and all students do well.


Imagine a spiritual community where students, staff, and teachers are joined by an articulated mission based on clear values and agreed-upon means. (Recall Sarason’s first challenge to educators to set clear purposes.) A college at its zenith offers a culture of hope and generosity, inclusion, and social idealism to evoke Maxine Greene’s ethic. Teachers, parents, and students who make up these communities of commitment, as Fred Kofman and Peter Senge put it, rely upon hope for a better day.[50] Besieged American schools and colleges, especially poor or isolated institutions on the margins of society, need a renewed spirit.


Schools and colleges are spiritual communities. Whether denominational or secular, these are social institutions created to nourish, test, and extend the human spirit. The best schools are, indeed, spirited cultures where a number of attributes combine to pull the most from the generations of students and faculty who pass through. Spirited schools share certain features — they are organized around clear and shared values, look at their members holistically, set high expectations for growth, test motivation and skills, and look after members in the community who may be struggling, perhaps silently, at a point in life.


Seen as a spiritual community, a concern for basic welfare extends to all members of the institution even though such policies bring additional cost. Progressive schools want to treat students, faculty, and staff more similarly than not. While there are different roles to be enacted, the school aspires to treat each person holistically and from the perspective of a humane learning organization. Viewed in such terms, the difference between secular colleges and religious schools, or between schools and churches, is not as dramatic as it might first seem.

Such a high and noble academy for learning and the best of human culture does not exist. Utopian institutions do not long survive, given limited resources inside most schools and fallible human beings. Educational experiments are born of romance for a better life, what Gerald Grant and David Riesman called the “perpetual dream.” But they do not endure more than a few generations, if that, because pedagogical assumptions prove too idealistic. But those two limits should not constrain our idealism, that restless search for better lives that animate a good school.


Most of all, we hope to improve student quality of being in the world and ask of students that they be awake in the world with regard to how they invest themselves. Being in the world is influenced directly by how we imagine a better life, which introduces the category of becoming, because the direction of the life-project is expressed in emerging purposes as to how to use one’s time. In this regard, being and becoming are the most important dimensions of learner development — we should not be content with assessing the lesser categories of what one knows or can do.


No effective reform can proceed from a cynical, behaviorist understanding of human nature. Feeling stuck inside an uncaring institution, learners with potential learn to “beat the system,” focusing their learning on psychic escape and evasion, itself a type of learning. As curriculum designers, why do we assume the worst in human nature? Why do we design curricula that presume students cannot be trusted?[51] Better to reach for the highest standard — and expect disappointment — than assume the worst in human nature and then have to settle for the mediocre work learners produce.


People sense when they are taken seriously as full beings rather than as half-people, half-objects to be processed, given a small window to make an impression. If the curriculum treats human beings as objects, they adapt to expectations and perform as objects. Eyes lose their light and a motivational stand off results.


All members of the college community also share a responsibility, in some degree, for the learning process, as Carl Rogers suggested to generations of teachers and therapists, citing his model of person-oriented learning.[52]


Perhaps a certain naiveté is understandable, and preferable to the cynic’s frown. One might just stumble upon fresh questions about education and society on the way to becoming a better person. Learners come to school to encounter teachers as whole persons. Teachers as mentors bring subtle, underestimated learning about life to students. First-generation college students, in particular, benefit from modeling themselves after a certain manner, curiosity, way of dressing. The role model should be able to advise the student directly about how to manage the transitions being faced: how to handle the stress, or to reach for a new level of being. In this work, having a role model is an important, but passive, function, whereas being a mentor or coach requires active counseling, as Schön and Daloz argue.


To be educated requires active self-reflection. By what means, however, should educators encourage authentic self-reflection? How can we create the right distance, that creative mix of subjectivity and objectivity? How do we cultivate Schön’s reflective practitioner? The best way to work through the damage of schooling, seen as a set of psychological barriers to learning and human development, is to build many overlapping ways for learner reflection.


First attachments outside the family by learners to a teacher or authority like a coach are important, first, to motivate action and development, and second, to help the learner evaluate competing life purposes from which the learner will have to choose, consciously or unconsciously modeling the respected teacher’s behavior. A colleague tells about how, as an undergraduate at Columbia College, he became enamored of the work of Mark Van Doren, then in his last semester of teaching. My friend read everything Van Doren wrote, took notes (and later elaborated those notes), and attended every one of his professional and social occasions to which he could gain access. The enchantment led him to a life calling of teaching.


Consider the intense, personal way basketball coach Bobby Knight engages and motivates his players compared to the carefully exerted authority used by the legendary John Wooden.

Independent study stimulates process skills that will be more valuable than the content of even the best well-crafted course designed by someone else. More generally, the good curriculum will integrate faculty-organized learning, expressed in courses and labs, and student-organized learning either within prepared courses or preferably in independent research projects on problems that students select.


Consider this example: A group of graduate management students meets off campus to discuss the problems of modern bureaucracy. In subgroups, participants list problems on worksheets put up around the room. The learning process has been fun, motivating active discussion. Few members hold back. But there is no close reading of Max Weber or Peter Blau, difficult texts by scholars of organizations. Moreover, students had not heard what the professor learned from his research about bureaucracy (he saw his role as group facilitator, not scholar). In short, the workshop design focused too much on process, too little on content.


Still, few principles on motivation other than adequate rest are robust enough to apply to every setting where people work and play, live and learn.

Some members of the academic faculty pay lip service to co-op. To provide supervision, the institution relies on a separate co-op faculty who are treated as second-class educators with different requirements and status. Antioch’s adult centers do better and make intentional use of work experience by asking learners to incorporate concurrent work experience in their studies. Formal integration papers are required in Professional Development Seminars intended as formal supervision of work practice. About Antioch, see Burton Clark, The Distinctive Colleges: Antioch, Reed, and Swarthmore (Chicago: Aldine Press, 1990); Dan Hotaling and Dorothy Scott, An Antioch Career (Yellow Springs, OH: Antioch University, 1995); Alan E. Guskin, Notes for a Pragmatic Idealist (Yellow Springs, OH: Antioch University, 1997).


From the first edition’s Conclusion. Arguments about educational means, the choice of a reading method or curricular innovation, are less threatening, serving as pragmatic responses, if incomplete, for impatient Americans. Perhaps in a multicultural community we doubt our ability to negotiate, fairly and without rancor, the political fights that force their way into the conversation when educational goals must be decided. Maybe we argue about means and methods because setting goals for human institutions will be too contentious.


They struggle mightily but unsuccessfully with the dilemma of individualism, a vulnerability for any theory of learning as well as for philosophies and religions.


Now the definition of an educated person is that mind and conscience are alive!

Applying systems theory, Csikszentmihalyi goes on to say that helping improve flow for self and others holds off entropy and the dissolution of focus and energy.


…More interesting than a ditch digger bored to tears who daydreams about deer camp are those adaptations that evolve with jobs of moderate complexity or novelty that seem to require a degree of focus less than full. We have learned the repetitive routines such jobs require, like filling out a car rental agreement if one is an Avis agent, but a degree of alertness is necessary. Perhaps a customer wants directions, or we notice a piece of anomalous information that suggests some process has broken down. Other occupations, like running a print machine in a one-hour, photo shop, require specialized concentration as quick judgments are made about images on the monitor, one array of twenty-four images after the other, every fifteen seconds. Leaving the question of mood variability aside, little is known about attention variability in the workplace or school other than the near-universal experience that daydreaming and unfocused attention are commonplace. As one learns a new role, a huge space develops for mindless worrying and daydreaming, and not much is known about this adaptation to modern times.


Alienation from society has many forms and some variants are not obvious, like alienation from meaningful language and the objectification of self. In the former instance, alienated workers do not develop the concepts needed to understand how their labor is used, and the concepts they do have falsify the nature of the power relationship between owners and workers, and the social consequences. In the latter instance, for most forms of modern work, at least those parts with which we do not identify, we learn to treat the brain-mind-body as an object to be hurled this way and that.

What do we say if our earnest athlete works out twice a day? Three times? What about the committed cyclist who avoids going home to a noisy dinner table, or has to work out before he can cope with the stress of a job interview? Suppose our athlete works out alone because he cannot sustain a conversation. The line between healthy self-focusing and neurotic compulsion is not easy to draw. Maxine Greene might remind us that people are not perfect beings, surely, as they adapt to modern times. She merely asks that we become awake in the world, reject the habitual, and make conscious choices of how we work and play.


…As adults move through the middle years, unmistakable signs of physical decline appear even as we have more discipline and focus than earlier in life. How to use one’s life fully in the time that remains becomes a daily concern.


Indeed, one of the most intriguing questions before us has been how attention and awareness work — that is, how the attention system copes with so many channels of incoming information, sorting out threats and opportunities, and how the mind becomes aware and stays aware of its actions. To understand human learning and motivation, we have to have an improved understanding of the ways that attention and mood seem to work. The possibility of achievement, increased learning, and an enhanced quality of life — all seem to connect to how we understand and try to use, if crudely, the attention system to direct awareness.


Marx’s theory of alienation and Durkheim’s and Merton’s conceptions of anomie have been out of favor for some time as worthy topics in American academic circles. For a contemporary review of alienation theory, see Richard Schacht, The Future of Alienation (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1994) and Brian Baxter, Alienation and Authenticity (London: Tavistock Publications, 1982). For earlier reviews, see Bertell Ollman, Alienation (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1976); Joachim Israel, Alienation from Marx to Current Sociology (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, l971). A large companion literature exists for the twin topics of anomie (external social forces) and anomia (the psychological consequences of anomic environs), and here, the focus is less on quality of work life than on integration into society. Work that requires people to solve new puzzles everyday should be more involving than circumscribed, repetitive work. But a certain level of routine helps us feel competent and provides some rest.

Finally, motivation cannot be separated from ethics because not all purposes are equal — and this topic is not found in traditional texts that define motivation in purely instrumental terms. A crook can be motivated to steal your money. Worse, motivation was required for acts of barbarism such as shooting naked Jews in a Polish forest, or acts of heroism in organizing resistance against German troops, themselves motivated to liquidate the Warsaw ghetto. In such examples, motivation, or even the state of psychological involvement, can be confusing in ethical terms. At the same time, some motivated actions like a parent sacrificing herself for her child are the result of deep values or instincts. For persons faced with tragedy or a health challenge, a powerful motive can be to endure, or to set an example for others.

Reviewed in The New York Times Book Review, Sunday, May 22, 2011, page 19 by Alison Gopnik, “The Great Illusion.”



Endnotes for Notes and Resources


[1]. Edmund V. O’Sullivan, Transformative Learning: Building Educational Vision for the 21st Century (London: Zed Press, 1999), 280.

[2]. For more on the Situationists, a small but influential movement of the late 1960s, see Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle (Detroit: Black and Red, 1977). Or use the web to find sources like the international site of the Situationist Internationale, .

[3]. President Jimmy Carter quoted by Jim Wooten, “The Conciliator,” New York Times Magazine 29 January 1995, 28-54.

[4]. To expand the concept, think of the life-project as a personal construction site. Everyone builds a personal shelter for existence. Every day brings planning, hard work, mistakes, and new work orders. No sooner is the structure up than daily maintenance is required.

[5]. Professor Absher of Norwich Vermont College made this point in a lecture on creative writing. He argued that the best writing reflects a Socratic search for truth, both in terms of breaking through the clichés we create around our experience to hide that experience from ourselves and others, and those clustered about the subject. He talked about volte in writing, turning the subject endlessly for a fresh look on both dimensions (narrative and subject).

[6]. Robert Enright, “Michals the Archangel, an Interview with Duane Michals.” BorderCrossings 17, no. 4 (1998): 14-28.

[7]. One can see this in the difficulties that second-generation followers of counseling or teaching fads have achieving the success of charismatic founders who are not able to articulate their theories-in-use, or whose espoused theories are wrong because they misattribute the reasons for how their “system” works.

[8]. Elizabeth Minnich, Transforming Knowledge (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990).

[9]. Sarason argues that elementary and secondary schools have not adapted to social changes of the post-World War II era. Seymour Sarason, Revisiting “The Culture of the School and the Problem of Change” (New York: Teachers College Press, 1996).

[10]. A young woman I know works in a local deli on her off hours to supplement a rural teacher’s salary. A social studies teacher, she has five classes a day of thirty students each, not counting administrative meetings.

[11]. Dewey, Experience and Education, 37-38.

[12]. Dewey, Experience and Education, 22-23.

[13]. Maslow, “Deficiency Motivation and Growth Motivation,” 25.

[14]. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, 115.

[15]. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, 193.

[16]. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, 210.

[17]. Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being, 160.

[18]. For a history of these changes, see Robert Nisbet, The Social Philosophers (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1973).

[19]. For critiques of consumer society, see Debord, The Society of the Spectacle; Wachtel, The Poverty of Affluence; Andrew Schmookler, Fool’s Gold: The Fate of Values in a World of Goods (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993); Benjamin Barber, Jihad vs. McWorld (New York: Ballantine Books, 1996). To read how retail stores study and manipulate consumers, see Paco Underhill, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999).

[20]. Maxine Greene, The Dialectic of Freedom (New York: Teachers College Press, 1988), 3.

[21]. Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness (New York: Gramercy Books, 1994). For an introduction to Martin Heidegger, see his What Is Called Thinking? (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1968).

[22]. Albert Camus, The Plague (New York: Knopf, 1972), 6.

[23]. A reader has pointed out to me that my choice of authors, rather conveniently perhaps, leaves out religious existentialists like Soren Kierkegaard, Nicholas Berdyaev, Gabriel Marcel, Karl Jaspers, and others. These thinkers struggled with religious faith and meaning in life in ways that my summary does not acknowledge. My colleague also worries that in several places I discredit religious belief when, in fact, the existence of God is as much a faith statement as atheism. All this may be true, but religious belief systems still function psychologically in the same way that political belief systems do.

[24]. Eric R. Kandel, James Schwartz, and Thomas Jessell, eds. Principles of Neural Science. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000.

[25]. Marcia Mentkowski et al., Learning that Lasts (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999).

[26]. John Medina, Brain Rules (Seattle, Washington: Pear Press, 2008).

[27]. Much more could be said here as Carol Gilligan might about the social pressures that emerge that ask young girls to suppress achievement, or by other observers on the pressure place on young boys to “tough it out” on a range of issues and not express feelings. Gilligan, Between Voice and Silence: Women and Girls, Race and Relationships (Harvard University Press, 1997).

[28]. Michael Nerney, a former middle school teacher and national expert on adolescence and substance abuse, made this argument in a recent lecture on Vermont Public Radio.

[29]. Kandel, Schwartz, and Jessell, eds., Essentials of Neural Science and Behavior, 690. For a specialized discussion of anatomical structures, properties of neuronal pathways, and cell functions and chemistry, see this text and a more technical source, Kandel, Schwartz and Jessell, eds., Principles of Neural Science, 4th ed. (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000).

[30]. Also see Renate N. Caine and Geoffrey Caine, Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain (Reading, PA: Addison-Wesley, 1994).

[31]. The nature of the mind is a massive, difficult topic not considered here. For a representative collection of philosophical articles, see David M. Rosenthal, The Nature of Mind (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991).

[32]. Pert, Molecules of Emotion, 185. She speculates that “mind is the flow of information as it moves among the cells, organs, and systems of the body.” Her explanation, while better than “the brain,” does not tell us much about why or how this works. Kandel and colleagues suggest that studies of visual attention may provide ideas about conscious awareness. Evidence points away from a master area, or a grand synthesis, and more toward distributed, multistage processing about which little is known. Eric R. Kandel, James H. Schwartz, and Thomas M. Jessell, eds., Essentials of Neural Science and Behavior (Norwalk, CT: Appleton & Lange, 1995), 504.

[33]. Confirmation bias refers to the first principle, arguably the most powerful.  How the brain-mind-body manages confirmation bias and threat is not possible to discuss here. Normally, threat signals do not involve higher cortical functions, which would only slow the organism’s response.

[34]. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow (New York: HarperPerennial, 1991).

[35]. Irving Janis, Victims of Groupthink (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1972), 9.

[36]. Groupthink might be thought of as an extreme form of Langer’s mindlessness.

[37]. Mary Catherine Bateson, “Lives of Learning.” The Chronicle Review, July 25, 2003. Volume 49, Issue 46, Page B5.

[38]. We have not always valued the contributions of small colleges to local communities. The new for-profit universities avoid the deferred maintenance of a built campus, which helps profitability. But they do not have enduring cultural commitments to the community.

[39]. Alexander Astin, Achieving Educational Excellence (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1985), 133.

[40]. George D. Kuh and Elizabeth J. Whitt, The Invisible Tapestry: Culture in American Colleges and Universities (Washington, D.C.: Association for the Study of Higher Education, 1988), 13.

[41]. See Alexander Astin, What Matters in College? (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993); George Kuh et al., Involving Colleges: Successful Approaches to Fostering Student Learning and Development Outside the Classroom (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991).

[42]. Astin, Achieving Educational Excellence, 143.

[43]. Kuh et al., Involving Colleges.

[44]. Astin, Achieving Educational Excellence.

[45]. Cited by Kuh and Whitt, The Invisible Tapestry, 71-72.

[46]. Arthur Chickering, personal communication with author, 1999.

[47]. Astin, Achieving Educational Excellence; What Matters in College?

[48]. Arthur Chickering and Linda Reisser, Education and Identity (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993).

[49]. As a college student, I did better academically when I had to balance the demands of classes with sports and being involved in student government.

[50]. Fred Kofman and Peter Senge, “Communities of Commitment,” in Learning Organizations, ed. Sarita Chawla and John Renesch (Portland, OR: Productivity Press, 1995).

[51]. Distrust may be the byproduct of a difficult problem for universities: the packed nature of the curriculum that results from each discipline and student service fighting for its turf, leading to great pressure on students who then have to cut corners where they can. Too many means are used toward too many ends. The curriculum is out of control.

[52]. Carl Rogers, Freedom to Learn for the ‘80s (Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Co., 1983).