I think I first came across McGregor’s Theory X and Theory Y in a educational administration class. When I read about Theory X, I was struck by the idea that anyone could think this way about management. From the Wikipedia entry on Theory X and Theory Y comes this definition of Theory X:
The problem is that so much of education is defined by Theory X. Much of NCLB is a Theory X model… that schools and teachers somehow are to blame for all the problems of our kids, and if you read the much of the level of discourse about what is wrong with school, and you find Theory X ideas behind much of it.
Michelle Rhee’s proposal to pay teachers $120,000 / yr with the caveat that their jobs are then tied to the test scores speaks to this idea. The many districts we see implementing scripted "teacher-proof" curriculum with standardized assessments, in my opinion, is directly related to the idea that we cannot "trust" teachers to work hard in service of their children.
But sadly, as teachers we’ve created a situation where that could happen in classrooms all over America. How many classrooms have you been in where Theory X was the dominant paradigm? How many teachers tell students that they have to do the work or else… how many teachers assume that the students will only do the work for the grade? When we consider how much the carrot and stick has dominated our classrooms, is it any wonder that this is now becoming the way our schools are being managed?
If we want to move away from Theory X, we have to offer a different vision of our schools. We have to create a vision of schooling that does not assume that accountability trumps responsibility. We have to create a vision of school governance that respects teachers and honors the work they do, while always being aware of how much more work there is to do. And we have to create classrooms where students are taught to value their own work, to understand the relationship between freedom and responsiblity, to understand how to dedicate themselves to an idea, a passion, to their work, not just for a grade, but for the sake of the work and for themselves and their community as well.