David Brooks Gives Great Education Advice When He Isn’t Writing About Education

Whenever New York Times columnist David Brooks writes explicitly about education issues, his sense of judgment and coherence appear to completely disappear.

However, sometimes when he writes about non-education issues, he has wise insights that can certainly be applied to the classroom and to education policy discussions. Today is one of those examples.

His column, How People Change, is an excellent critique of the now-famous father who sent an email to his children telling them he was disappointed in them and they shouldn’t contact him until they have a plan to change their behavior.

It’s worth reading his entire column, but here’s how he ends it:

It’s foolhardy to try to persuade people to see the profound errors of their ways in the hope that mental change will lead to behavioral change. Instead, try to change superficial behavior first and hope that, if they act differently, they’ll eventually think differently. Lure people toward success with the promise of admiration instead of trying to punish failure with criticism. Positive rewards are more powerful.

I happen to cover a field — politics — in which people are perpetually bellowing at each other to be better. They’re always issuing the political version of the Crews Missile.

It’s a lousy leadership model. Don’t try to bludgeon bad behavior. Change the underlying context. Change the behavior triggers. Displace bad behavior with different good behavior. Be oblique. Redirect.

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Larry Ferlazzo

Larry Ferlazzo has been a high school teacher since 2003 after spending nineteen years working as a community organizer. He teaches Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced English Language Learners (as well as native English speakers) at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, California.