Monday, May 2, 2011

Means and Ends

I probably first encountered this difficulty while “helping” my little sister with her homework. When you try and try to explain why of course an all-encompassing thesis statement belongs in the first paragraph of an essay, and can’t she come up with a sentence that does that?, and other paragraphs with examples to support that?, but she just looks at you all imploringly…sometimes it’s just easiest to do it yourself! (I can hear Dad's "Amen!"). It’s easier to just take the pencil in your own hand, to do all the thought formulating, to dominate rather than facilitate, control rather than empower.

If a simple homework assignment presents such difficulties, how much more a teacher’s presentation of school material or an organizer’s development of community or revolutionaries’ institution of government! The challenges may vary in size, but I think they are analogous. Should we not ensure that, if the end goal is independent thinking or agency and solidarity or democracy, the means we employ to achieve the goal also honor the goal? Shouldn’t we refine the process as well as we tend to refine the result?

Czechoslovakians in 1989 thought as much. In what has since been named a “velvet revolution,” anti-communist revolutionaries, committed ultimately to the goal of democracy and peace, determined to conduct their revolution democratically and peaceably. Revolutionary leaders held regular press conferences in “The Magic Lantern” theatre in Prague, to set a precedent for transparency in leadership. As best they were able, leaders of the revolution followed the will of the people as they chose new leaders to replace deposed communists. At protests, revolutionaries extended candles when police extended truncheons.

The cutting edge in Development Studies also calls for continuity in means and ends. Whereas the reigning development paradigms tend to overemphasize “life-sustenance” to the point that “development” is reduced to economic growth, development theorist Denis Goulet asserts that community developers must attempt to balance three values: life-sustenance, esteem and freedom. Instead of entering a community as outsiders and diagnosing that community and imposing development strategies upon it, developers must allow communities to become the authors of their own development, to identify problems and imagine solutions themselves. That way, not only does development sustain life, by empowering community members to develop authentically, it also safeguards community members’ dignity and freedom.

Waldorf educators might refer to this as “building capacity.” Rather than teaching children what to think, they teach children how to think. Rather than offering children lines within which to draw or dots to connect, they offer children blank pages. Believing children enter the world bearing unique gifts for the world and furthermore believing freedom to be the goal of education, Waldorf educators build capacities in their students – the capacity to relate numbers to one another, the capacity to move one’s body elegantly, the capacity to create music – and then they leave it to student to imagine how these capacities will be developed and applied.

In the context of Romania especially, community developers emphasize the importance of building trust among community members…and I think it is just as important that community developers learn to trust community members: legitimizing indigenous wisdom, accepting their responsibility of facilitation rather than domination, and, ultimately, entrusting to community members the task of improving their community.

Easier said than done! On those occasions where I determined to actually help my sister with her homework, asking questions that allowed for her to discover answers herself rather than supplying them for her, encouraging her to follow the steps of the writing process (brainstorm, outline, rough draft etc.), just because the process had improved did not mean that the results showed improvement. Often I disliked words she had chosen, or felt she didn’t take full advantage of the advice I offered from my superior wisdom. But however unsatisfied I felt, the truth is that she took one step closer to becoming self-reliant and proficient in her writing – and she, deservedly, felt pride in her good work.

Heh. Now that I’ve outlined the keys to effective leadership/teaching/sistering/developing on paper, I get to go and try it out in real life tomorrow night at the first IMPACT club meeting :P Wish me luck!

(And for the record, my sister is an excellent writer, and has been all along. Hopefully she won’t mind this analogy too much…)


  1. yes thank U fer al the gr8 thingz U hve tot me. w/o U I wud not B the asum writr I am 2daa.

    Just kidding!! I'm glad I could serve as an inspirational starting block to your story! you sound like you're doing well hun keep it up!! and good lucjk to you!!!

  2. You make me to laugh out loud