Monday, April 12, 2010

More from The Checklist Manifesto

A long time ago, in some random apartment far, far away, I read a book entitled The Amateur; the book contained a preface that stated that an amateur is someone who thinks that if something is worth doing, it's worth doing poorly, but a professional is someone who thinks if something is worth doing it's worth doing well.  I've always liked that definition, but Atul Gawande has a more detailed definition in The Checklist Manifesto.

Gawande claims that professionalism demands selflessness which he claims is accepting responsibility for others (182).  His next criterion is "an expectation of skill," "an aim for excellence" that professionals should have in both "knowledge and expertise" (182).  The third criterion is trustworthiness, the idea that one should be responsible "in our personal behavior toward our charges" (182). 

According to Gawande, all professional endeavors emphasize these three criteria; few, however, emphasize discipline both in "following prudent procedure and in functioning with others" (182-183).  He claims that "this concept is almost entirely outside the lexicon of most professions including [medicine]" (183)  Most professions, according to Gawande, emphasize autonomy.  Discipline, he says,
"is hard--harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness.  We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures.  We can't even keep from snacking between meals.  We are not built for discipline.  We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail.  Discipline is something we have to work at" (183).
Gawande's analysis rings true. Checking for proper MLA citations in a research paper or grading punctuation exercise sucks.  So does taking roll at the start of every hour or grading late papers.  There's no need to mention faculty meetings or department meetings. The failures to get papers back or pay attention to detail reflect the failure to follow prudent procedure. 

In education, however, it's also difficult to function well with others.  Teachers seldom function with other professionals.  We close the door and do our thing.  Gawande uses aviators as prime examples of discipline.  It seems to me that there is always a flight crew:  a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, flight attendants who work together during the flight.  Maybe if teachers formed education teams on a daily basis instead of those weird teacher assistance teams that create paper work without solutions, personal discipline might be easier to develop and maintain.

1 comment:

caheidelberger said...

Funny how teachers seem perfectly capable of forming such teams on their own when they coach.