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Education Opinion

Groupthink Prevents the Real Questions From Being Answered

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — April 26, 2015 3 min read
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Groupthink can be a powerful destructive force. Easily misunderstood as the values that sustain the organization, groupthink is more tied to the “view of the predominant group” and is “characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent.” In this time of stress as standards and testing are being challenged, evaluation methods are questioned, schools are confronting failure to prepare every student for their future, and financial support is diminished, the ground for groupthink to take root and grow is fertile.

In times like these, the “view of the predominant group” becomes the loudest voices heard. There are the voices of those saying “Things are wrong, professionals are failing at their jobs, students are not getting their fair share and accountability is lacking.” And in response there are those saying “Trust us to make the incremental change needed. If we are failing it is due to the limits being placed upon us, and a lack of understanding our populations and the difficulty of the work. Student achievement has been rising, be patient.” Groupthink is not only taking hold within schools, but in the broader community as well.

Many groups fail to correct the mistakes of their members. On the contrary, groups often amplify those mistakes. If group members are unrealistically optimistic, groups may be more unrealistic still. If people within a firm are paying too little attention to the long term, the firm will probably suffer from a horrible case of myopia (Sunstein, C.R. and Hastie, R. TIME Magazine. 1/14/15).

The problem with the groupthink in the current environment is that it detracts from the questions that can unite. The messages from outside of schools cause the thinking within them to be reactive, resulting in opposing beliefs, rather than one united by an essential set of questions. Groupthink has less to do with values and more to do with assumptions and diversion; it narrows our view. Is either side truly focused on the long term and how today’s issues and changes may contribute or not to the future of public education? Here are just a few examples of the influence of groupthink on today’s issues.

Groupthink #1

Groupthink #2

Left Aside

Schools are failing and must do a better job immediately.

We are working as hard as we can.

How can we better define the vision so everyone can see and agree what needs to be done to get there?

Students are not college and career ready.

Our graduation rates and college acceptance rates are realistic.

What does college and career ready look like in the 21st century? How do we know?

The quality of teaching is the problem. Accountability measures will guarantee teacher improvement.

We are doing the best job we can, given current boundaries and limitations. We understand the need for accountability, but believe measures chosen are unfair and unrealistic.

How can schools do a better job with ALL students?

What can we learn from models where ALL students do better?

Measuring student performance on a test will improve teacher practice by making it an accountability measure for both students and teachers.

Measuring student performance on a test is a flawed design, especially as a measure by which to evaluate teacher performance AND it does nothing to improve teacher practice.

How do we connect student learning and performance with teacher effectiveness?

How can that be done equitably across inner city, suburban, rural settings, wealthy and poor districts?

How will student performance be defined?

The Common Core Standards will improve teaching and learning across the nation.

Common Core Standards are unfair and unrealistic expectations for some students.

How can a set of National Standards be helpful in allowing all students in this country meet the same set of expectations?

We need the courageous to step forward and help discern the difference between groupthink and deeper values for the nation’s children. We need to return to values and to the common ground that was held when public education became a part of the fabric of our society. There is little question that 20th century school models and 20th century teacher preparation and 20th century leadership preparation models need to shift to a 21st century model. We need the open minded and open hearted to step forward.

"Groupthink: a tendency within organizations or society to promote or establish the view of the predominant groupDictionary.com
"Groupthink: a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethicsMerriam-webster.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.