I participate in many fora (plural of forum) on many subjects, most especially, as one would expect from my screen name, in education. This morning I read a posting one educational list discussing among other things the issue of accepting responsibility. The author, very much to the left politically and educationally, acknowledged that Osama bin Laden bore some responsibility for 9-11, but that on a earlier 9-11, the overthrow of Allende, there were people in the US, including unfortunately at least some in teachers’ unions, who bore responsibility not only for that event, but for the subsequent atrocities done by the Pinochet regime.
What I have posted below is my response to the message I have just described. I hope that some here find it of some value.
I only want to focus on the difference between affixing blame and affixing responsibility. Let me rephrase that — I am insistent that people accept responsibility, openly and honestly. If I am to teach my child that important goal/task, not only must I model it, but so should all those in any position of leadership, in government, business, education, or the non-profit world. Unfortunately, that is rarely the pattern in modern day America.
We could well learn from the example of South Africa, under the leadership of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. People needed to know who bore responsibility — in return for that knowledge people were not punished, vengeance was not wreaked, and as a result the country was able to move on without yet more bloodshed and recriminations and oppression.
Unfortunately we have maintained a mindset that bespeaks the wreaking of vengeance –we see it in our foreign policy, where all too often it is applied to inappropriate targets, and we don’t even begin to discuss the issue of so-called collateral damage. We also see it in the US with our continued insistence on capital punishment and ever increasing sentences (which rarely seem to get applied to the well-known, the wealthy, the powerful or the connected – in that sense G*** is correct that it is very much an issue still of class).
We may already be losing any sense of responsibility on the part of those that lead us. In fairness, such did not begin with the current administration – one can clearly see examples of it in Iran-Contra in the Reagan administration, and thus I suppose it is ironic how many in this administration have been recycled from that period: Negroponte, Reich, Abrams and even Poindexter are names that immediately come to mind. But this is not a partisan issue – the Clinton administration was also loathe to take responsibility for many of the mistakes and wrongs committed on its watch.
I fear that all those of us who are merely peons can do is to continue speak out. Perhaps eventually one of us can become an effective “voice in the wilderness” to which people will listen. The current (and I caution not permanent) openness of electronic communication provides a mechanism through which we can attempt to call those responsible to account.
This IS relevant on a list dedicated to educational and testing issues. We have seen precisely the same lack of accepting responsibility on the part of those who insist upon tests that turn out to have wrong answers, or no correct answers, or multiple correct answers, or which are scored improperly — far too often the only consequences are unfair punishment of students who must by law sit for such tests. The issues of transparency and responsibility are essential if any semblance of democracy is going to survive. Although I still teach government to high school students, I am doubtful that it will survive my lifetime unless the patterns of secrecy and abdication from any responsibility are changed.