Agency and Intentionality in Pedagogy: Where the Accountability Train Left the Tracks
Agency and Intentionality in Pedagogy: Where the Accountability Train Left the Tracks
David R. Olson
In searching for causes of children’s successes and failures in the school environment, researchers and policymakers have increasingly focused on factors outside of the learner, factors over which the learner has no control and hence no responsibility. Recent advances in the understanding of agency and intentionality permit us to reformulate the learner’s role and his or her responsibility for learning within a new, broader conception of accountability. Philosophical and historical arguments as well as empirical evidence are presented to illustrate what is involved in developing a sense of responsibility and some suggestions are offered as to how educators could foster rather than undermine this development.
Who is responsible for children’s learning? Clearly no one can learn for the child; that is something the learner has to do for him or herself. But who should take responsibility when children fail? Traditional explanations of success and failure appealed to the IQ and the social class of the children themselves. Modern reform efforts under the label of accountability have pointed the finger at the teacher, but then also to the school, and even to the policymakers and directors of education. Seeking accountability in either source, I argue in this paper, has obscured the most important of all educational resources, namely, the learner’s sense of agency and his or her sense of responsibility for learning.
One of the insights gleaned from the anthropological study of children’s development around the world is the peculiarity of schooling. In many more traditional societies children grow into adulthood without extensive adult intervention. Through imitation and participation they gradually come to assume the responsibilities of more adult roles (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Lancy, 1996, 2010; Goody, 2006). But with the rise of modern societies with their complex economic and political structures, the responsibility of the young for their own development was reassigned to the educational institutions that increasingly directed and controlled their development. Education came to be seen as the cause of development and schools evolved procedures of teaching and testing that, hopefully, assured appropriate development. The process was seen as one in which the society set the goals and then developed procedures, primarily teaching, that could achieve those goals. Success and accountability of the system was determined by the output, children’s learning. This input-output model was explicitly formulated by E. L. Thorndike (1913, p. vii), who set out “the laws of learning” that could be applied by the teacher to produce knowledge in the learner. In general the learner is treated as an object to be shaped by instruction, not the agent of his or her own learning (Olson, 2009; Lagemann, 2000).
Achievement tests assured some match between the goals of the program and their achievement by students and provided some indirect evidence of the success of the teaching. But whereas the variability among teachers has produced little systematic relation to the degree of learning, two factors about the learners have been found that largely account for children’s success or failure—children’s IQ and their motivation account significantly for their success in school. Indeed, “competence motivation” or “self-discipline” or “self-control” or even more colloquially “will power” has frequently been shown to be even more important than IQ as a determiner of school success (Schunk & Pajares, 2005) and even life success (Freeman, 2009; Moffitt et al, 2010). Self-motivation is a somewhat omnibus notion said to include self-control, self-regulation, delay of gratification, non-impulsivity, conscientiousness, attentiveness, executive function and willpower. What in an earlier time would have been described as intrinsic motivation may be thought of either as a personality disposition or as a form of social competence. Either way it involves a form of competence that I shall later reconsider in terms of student agency. For the moment it is sufficient to notice that the predominant models of schooling, borrowed largely from Thorndike’s behaviorism, treat student dispositions as fixed properties to which treatments are to be adjusted (by means of drugs in the case of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder) in order to produce a desired fixed outcome. This model continues to inform the search for “what works” that is the search for an ideal method for, so to speak, turning lead into gold.
Responsibility for learning which one time fell upon the learner and his or her traits such as IQ and self-discipline, has increasingly been attributed to social factors that lie outside both the child and the curriculum. Under the critical banner of “blaming the victim” the underperforming learner was painted as a victim with little or no responsibility for his or her own failures; responsibility was seen to fall on the school and society. While it seems clear that children should not be held responsible for behavior over which they have no control, the boundary between what was and what was not under their control has become obscured. So whereas an understanding of the social factors at play—factors variously described in terms of culture, home life, poverty, opportunity, race, ethnicity and prejudice—could perhaps be used by learners to cope with their world instead have diverted attention from the learner’s personal agency and responsibility altogether. Here is the question: When students fail to meet course requirements, is it because they are unwilling to take their responsibilities seriously or that they were unable to take them seriously. The contribution, such as it was, of NCLB policies that it countenanced “no excuses”; teachers were to see to it that children achieved prescribed goals regardless of their ability, motivation, or that host of social and psychological factors. What requires examination is the important role that learners can play as responsible agents of their own learning.
The learner’s responsibilities have not been overlooked; they were central to the reforms proposed by Dewey (1980, p. 146) and Bruner (1961) who focused on the constructive activities and processes of the learners. These proposals that have led to an increase in problem-solving activities and an increase in collaborative group work. More recently, many have warned of the pitfalls of treating one social agent—the school—as if it were the only cause of learning and social development. Others warned of the danger of setting unachievable goals, and still others warned of the naivety of the school systems for promising to achieve the impossible. My criticism is more generic and more severe. It is that assigning responsibility for learning or failing to learn to forces outside of the learners themselves both disables the learners and leads researchers to completely overlook the primary resource for educational development, namely, the learner him or herself as an agent of and with responsibility for his or her own learning. Consequently, it has allowed reformers to ignore aspects of schooling that could be instrumental in advancing children’s agency, responsibility and accountability.
Personal and Collective Responsibility
It came as a surprise to me how quickly such a simple topic as children’s responsibility for learning could lead into deep political and moral questions. On the one hand talk about personal responsibility may turn into some kind of a right-wing, Fox News rant. Sarah Palin recently said, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker.”—true but needlessly polemical. Conservatives in Canada and Republicans in the U.S., have a long tradition of emphasizing personal accountability and responsibility often through “tough on crime” legislation and through rigorous standard-setting and testing regimes. Liberals and Democrats on the other hand have a long tradition of recognizing social and impersonal factors as causal, hence their concerns with equality, social justice, and social welfare, including universal education and health care. So one may expect Conservatives to be more responsive to my “agentive” agenda than are the Social Democrats. But as we shall see when it comes to children’s learning neither side grants the learner any responsibility for his or her own learning, One group blaming the teachers, the other the social context. So it is not a right vs. left issue; it is an issue of rediscovering children’s role in and responsibility for their own learning.
A second problem is that the individualism assumed by notions of personal agency are related to social and historical changes, largely the rise of mercantilism (Holthoon, 2009). Nineteenth century sociologists Durkheim (1956) and Weber (1930) drew a clear distinction between community and society and the formation of persons within those forms of social organization. They showed that the rise of individualism in the 16th and 17th centuries undermined the traditional community bound together by a network of social duties and responsibilities, replacing it with a bureaucratic society based on private ownership and impersonal roles played by autonomous individuals with personal contracted responsibilities. Many noted the link between individualized identity, sometimes indicated by the right to vote, and the private ownership of property. One reformer wrote: “to abolish private property is to render such self-conscious individuality obsolete” (Bushnell, p. 38-39). Even Thomas More claimed in his Utopia that, “private ownership of property is causally linked.. to private ownership of the self.” That private ownership of the self was seen as essential to moral judgment, to the taking on of responsibilities.
Modern anthropological accounts of contact between indigenous societies and “civilizing” colonizing ones dramatize this shift. Canadian Aboriginal people were persecuted for practicing their “potlatch,” the annual ceremony of wealth re-distribution through gift giving, a tradition that served to tie the community together in a network of mutual obligation. In the 19th century, the Government of Canada outlawed the practice because such sharing “prevented the individual thrift and acquisitiveness that [Canadian] society valued” (Moray, 2006, p.70). The point to note is that the emphasis on personal agency is in part tied to the individualism of a modern society and may run counter to the “network of mutual obligation” found in family and local community. Specifically, self-regulation is in part a product of the historically evolved individualism of modern bureaucratic societies and not simply a biologically based psychological disposition.
Agency and Responsibility
Personal agency and responsibility cannot be explained away. The basic principle of a modern democratic society is that it is composed of free individuals who are agents or actors who are in control of, and therefore responsible for, their actions. Few dispute this. Of course children’s freedom and responsibility are limited, and one of the goals of the school and society generally is to see to it that they understand the responsibility that comes with this gift of personal freedom. Nor can that development be taken for granted. Indeed, I have argued (Olson, 2003) that responsibility could profitably replace knowledge at the center of the educational agenda. To do so we need a better account of agency and responsibility.
The traditional view may be traced back at least to Aristotle, for whom only voluntary actions could be considered virtuous. Montaigne (1572/1958) wrote, “We cannot be held responsible beyond our strength and means, since the resulting events are quite outside our control… [this] is the basis upon which all rules concerning man’s duty must of necessity be founded” (Book 1, Chapter 7, p. 25). Personal agency is the expression of a free will, and to this day it is common not only to think of one’s success as a product of one’s willpower and one’s failure as a result of akrasia, failure of the will. Indeed, in popular culture willpower is the object of programs for positive thinking and a variety of self-help programs of dubious merit. It is not surprising that modern cognitive psychology has treated willpower as occult.
Will as Competence Motivation
With will and willpower abandoned to popular culture, the scientific study of the topic shifted to the personality theory and study of ego-strength and achievement motivation (McClelland, Clark, Roby and Atkinson, 1949). This literature has recently been brought up to date by Elliot and Dweck (2005), who recommended that “achievement motivation” be seen in terms of competence motivation, a basic human need to master aspects of the environment, a need fulfilled by taking on and achieving goals by one’s own efforts. A sense of “control, competence, and agency,” they suggest, results from taking on and achieving goals by one’s own efforts. These authors use the concept of competence motivation to bring together a wide range of empirical topics including intrinsic motivation, self-control, as well as the social learning theories pioneered by Bandura (2001, 1997) and Mischel and Shoda (1995). Whether seen as a personality trait, a basic biological need or a form of cognitive competence there is wide agreement with Hazel Francis’ (1987, p. 103) report that “children who were self-motivated also were found to be self-directed problem solvers, knowing where best to seek help and more successfully mastering reading.”
Indeed, the evidence is overwhelming that willpower or self-control is a major determinant of not only success in learning but also success in life and further that the power of self-control can be enhanced through training. The most dramatic findings of this relation come in a longitudinal study over a 32-year period of the entire cohort of 1,037 infants born in 1972-73 in the city of Dunedin, New Zealand. The study addressed the relation between subjects’ self-control, specifically their ability to delay gratification, control impulses, and modulate emotional expressions and their success throughout life. Self-control, they suggest, is an umbrella term that includes self-regulation, conscientiousness, absence of inattention and hyperactivity, executive function, delay of gratification and will power, functions usually associated with the pre-frontal cortex of the brain. The reported results were dramatic. There was a more or less linear relation between degrees of self-control assessed in the pre-school years and wealth, health and general social competence such as avoiding encounters with police, in adult life. Although there was a sizable correlation with IQ (r=0.44), the relation remained intact when the effects of IQ and social class were removed statistically. The high inter-correlations, however, do suggest that several factors are at work rather than a single causal disposition.
Moreover, some measures of self-control have been shown to improve significantly through appropriate training. Diamond, Barnett, Thomas, and Munro (2007) trained 85 pre-school children with a “Tools of the Mind” curriculum composed of some 40 activities, including asking children to say out loud what they were doing, teaching them some aids to memory and attention, and dramatic play, all activities designed to foster “executive control.” Training continued for one or two years. Post-test tasks required children to follow a rule indicating which side of a panel to press a switch while inhibiting the temptation to respond to the switch on the same side that the stimulus appeared, a well-known executive control task. Children in the “Tools” training program were significantly better able to self-regulate than were their matched controls who took part in a balanced literacy program. Two conclusions may be drawn. First, executive control, self-regulation, will power, or, as I prefer, agency is a personal competence, presumably with a normal distribution, that may be enhanced through systematic training. And second, traditional school programs as represented by the balanced literacy program, had little effect on this ability, and yet it is self-control that is known to predict school success.
What is Self-discipline? Causal Disposition or Intentional Agency
These are important results. But there remain important questions. If competence motivation is seen as an enduring causal trait or disposition, it is subject to what is called “the fundamental attribution error” (Ross, 1977). Actors themselves rarely accept that a disposition explains their actions appealing rather to goals, contexts, intentions, rules, and opportunity. Further, philosophers (Goldie, 2004) point out that causal traits or dispositions lack “normative status”; they are neither good nor bad but rather objective, causal facts—analogous to the solubility of salt—about a person beyond intentional control. If viewed as competencies, on the other hand, they may be seen as explaining intentional actions for which the actor has control and for which he or she has responsibility. Recognizing this form of competence as a capacity for taking on responsibility endows it with normative force, something that is good or bad and subject to praise and blame. It becomes a matter of character rather than personality.
The limitations of treating self-motivation as a disposition has lead some theorists to formulate explanations of action in terms of social roles and rules adopted by an agent; rules do have normative force in that sanctions may apply (Brandom, 2000; Heath, 2008). It is an attempt to see the willpower of individuals in terms of social goals and moral action, to connect the intentions of agents to their responsibility for behavior and learning. A further advantage of construing action in terms of norms and rules is that, unlike dispositions, these are the sorts of reasons actors do appeal to in explaining their own action. This both avoids the attribution error and offers a language of expectations and responsibilities shared by the theorist and the subject, in our case, the teacher and the student. This is the view I pursue here.
Social Learning and Agency
A social perspective sees willpower less as a causal disposition or trait of individuals than as an agent’s knowledge of and willingness to honor the social roles, norms, and practices of the society. This is not to suggest that individuals do not vary in such competence but rather to say that will is to be explained in terms of a theory of action and intention rather than in causal, dispositional terms. Such knowledge varies not only between individuals, but also between different cultures and societies and has long been recognized as an important part of human social competence. Self-control was of particular concern for the Stoic philosophers (third century B.C.) who defined virtue in terms of a will that is in accord with nature and who promoted means for controlling one’s impulses. Sixteenth-century humanists saw the development of self-control as essential if one was to participate in a social order built around an individual freedom and responsibility—the classical liberal democratic ideal and education came to be seen as essential to learning to regulate one’s private affairs. So education took on the urgency it retains to this day.
For Renaissance Humanists (Bushnell, 1996), self-control was seen as the outgrowth of social control. Educational writers in the 16th century such as Richard Mulcaster, (1581/1994) insisted obedience was at the base of self-control and so endorsed harsh discipline (cf. Foucault, 1969).
Others led by the humanist Erasmus rejected punishment altogether, hoping that one could build up a “spontaneous capacity for moral conduct” (Bushnell, p. 33). Erasmus worried that punishment could lead only to servility, or compliance with the dictates of others rather than any unmonitored self-control. Certainly the goal of modern education is not to induce conformity but rather self-control and a sense of personal responsibility for one’s actions.
Truth and Obligation
If moral behavior is social behavior, how does a sense of personal agency and responsibility arise? I have already criticized dispositional accounts in favor of a cognitive theory of action. Cognitive theories see action in terms of “rational choice theory,” a system that coordinates beliefs to satisfy desires. Stanovich (1999, 2009) further distinguishes the more or less unreflective or ‘algorithmic cognitive processes used in everyday life from the more reflective, deliberative processes involved in ‘rational’ decision-making. However, such accounts leave unclear the role of personal and social responsibility in an explanation of action, why one may occasionally act morally, that is, against self-interest and thus in ways that are contrary to rational choice theory. These theories fail to explain the difference between what one wants to do and what one should do. In general, there is a suspicion in the cognitive sciences of notions like agency, responsibility, and consciousness and a corresponding over-emphasis on genetic, biological, and even cultural processes that lie outside of the subject’s intentional control.
A tradition going back to Aristotle, Aquinas and Kant distinguished man from other animals not only because humans are rational but more importantly because they are moral agents. More recently, Bernard Williams (1985), Richard Brandom (1984), Joseph Heath (2008) have taken actions that are intentional and for which one is responsible as the starting point of their theories of cognition, Searle (1983) defined intentionality as “aboutness” to characterize mental states and speech acts including asserting something as true and promising that something will be done. But whereas cognitivists tend to focus on the truth of these representations, the moral theorists mentioned above focus on the obligations to others that one undertakes in saying something or promising something. Brandom (2000, p. 34) credits Kant with the insight that linguistic concepts are “norms that determine just what we have made ourselves responsible for, what we have committed ourselves to.” That is, an utterance not only expresses a truth, but more importantly, undertakes a responsibility to others; it is a social act as well as a cognitive one. Speech acts such as saying or promising puts one under an obligation to others—to be truthful or to do what he or she said. Asserting and promising are social actions done in collaboration with others, actions based on creating and honoring the rules and norms of language use and of social interaction. Failure to follow those rules disrupts the practice and is subject to sanction, which is to say rules are normative. One can be held accountable for what one says or does, and, in this way, social rules are enforced and taught. All social learning is learning to follow the rules whether through imitation, sanctions of others, or through explicit agreements (Tomasello, 1999).
Speech acts, such as promising, offer a possible route for explaining how learning to comply with rules, that is, social control, could turn into rules that one may apply to oneself as a form of self-control. In making promises, for example, one is putting oneself under an obligation as opposed to being placed under an obligation by persons of authority. Promising oneself, we may argue, is just what is involved in self-control, whether in the form of delay of gratification, planning for the future, or for adopting manners and morals of one’s own rather than merely those imposed by others. Language games, like other games, involve learning and following rules and then turning them into one’s own uses in acting and planning future actions. Social control, in this way, may lead to self-control (Olson, 2007).
Let me summarize this point. I have argued that learning to comply with social norms, that is, social control, is the basis of self-control, placing oneself under an obligation. Mere social control enforced through fear of punishment creates a slavish servility and simple compliance. But in learning the rules and norms for acting and speaking—as in asserting something or promising something—one is not only learning the Gricean rules of conversational discourse (Grice, 1989), but also learning devices for planning and expressing one’s own agency– giving one’s word that the world is a certain way or that one will act in a certain way. Speech acts learned through making commitments to others become devices for regulating the self. Speech acts, then, become the route to taking on responsibility for present action and planning for the future. When children can say that they will do x and can be trusted to actually do x, we say they have learned a sense of responsibility; a sense of responsibility is self-control. Children begin to do this successfully on average when they are about 6 years of age. This is not to deny that there are deep-seated, perhaps biological predispositions that make such learning more or less difficult (Moffitt et al, 2010).
The Development of Agency: How Objects Become Subjects
Piaget (1962) showed how even infants in the crib recognize the effects of their own actions, and Carey (2009) has shown that by 3 years of age they have a well-developed schema for relating agents, actions, goals, and managing access to information. (For a recent account of this work see Rochat, 2011.) Parents rely on the child’s own imitative abilities combined with sanctions– rewards and punishments– to see that these actions conform to the cultural norms of the society. Only at about 5 years of age do they acquire a “theory of mind”, that is explicit representation of the mental and intentional states of themselves and others, manifest first through their violation—they begin to entertain secrets, tell lies, and make false promises. But they also begin to make plans, to develop self-control and take on responsibilities for their younger siblings. As Tomasello (1999) has pointed out children acquire the characteristics they do by virtue of living in a social world. Through imitation and other forms of social learning they become social agents.
Language is central to the development of this sense of responsibility. In learning a language, children are learning a set of social norms or conventions including the meanings and uses of expressions as well as general rules such as being relevant, taking turns, and so on. Their imitative abilities combined with adult sanctions are normally adequate for producing compliant children who are subject to social control and who will obey social norms. But how do they develop further to have self-control and a sense of responsibility? As suggested above, it comes through learning that in saying and promising things, one is taking on the responsibility for not only what one does, but also for what one says or plans. When this knowledge becomes explicit (Brandom, 1994), the knowledge of these social norms provides reasons for action and for acting morally. Thus, morality and rationality go hand in hand.
Some evidence for the relation between complying with social rules and the development of self-control is indicated by a recent study by Kang Lee (in preparation). Lee is primarily interested in children’s resistance to lying, an important aspect of moral development. In his studies, 5- to 8-year-old children are placed in a room facing a blank screen. The experimenter secretly places a squeaky toy behind the child and tells him or her not to look at the toy until the experimenter returns, a standard measure of self-control. He then leaves the room and records the interval between his departure and the child’s yielding to the temptation to turn around and look at the mysterious toy. Most children yield to the temptation within one minute. This study is being conducted in China and in Toronto. Interestingly, the Chinese children resist the temptation better than do the Canadian children. The interesting twist on the study was that half the children were not only told not to turn around but were explicitly asked to give their word—to make a commitment that they would not look.
These results suggest that children, on average comply with adult demands as all theories of social control would acknowledge, but further, they suggest that if the intention becomes their own, as it does in giving their word, children are more likely to live up to their obligation. Making promises and living up to them, then, is an important means of enhancing agency and self-control. Parents report that children sometimes control their impulses by telling themselves such things as, “Don’t cry.” Self-control is what our models of education have largely hidden from us and what this account of agency and responsibility hopes to restore to educational theory.
Agents versus objects of education
What is the role of the school in developing this sense of agency and responsibility? Treating children as agents contrasts with the now dominant portrayal of children as objects of adult efforts at training. In educational contexts both children’s actions and their behaviors are explained to them in ways that tend to obscure their own agency, intentionality and responsibility. Let me illustrate the ways. First, the school—with its obligation to produce skilled readers—assigns the agency to the teacher to produce the effect; the children are seen as merely the objects of these operations. Measures such as testing, designed to put more accountability on the learners, are opposed by some progressive-minded educators who insist that responsibility lies elsewhere. Second, psychology as a discipline deflects agency by attributing behavior to a variety of causal traits and dispositions that are not under the voluntary control of the learners themselves, traits such as mental abilities and the spectrum of personality dispositions set out in the DSN-VI. The child’s behavior is portrayed as a product of dispositions not under his or her intentional control and for which the child consequently is seen as not responsible. Furthermore, rewards and punishments are seen as shaping underlying traits and behavior rather than seen as giving learners comprehensible information about the rules for which they are responsible and against which their actions are to be judged. Third, psychotropic drugs are administered to children to control their behavior rather than devising methods through which they could learn to control their own behavior and take responsibility for their own actions. Fourth, the brain sciences that have recently moved into center court attribute behavior to sub-personal factors, such as the pre-frontal cortex as responsible for the lack of self-control or inability to plan for the future, again factors that are neither under the control of the agent nor seen as tied to social practices. Fifth, the social sciences deflect agency by attributing success and failure to parental styles, social class, race, gender, and a host of demographic variables—none of which are available to the learner as agent. As in psychological discourse, the learner is seen as merely the subject or victim of this host of impersonal forces. Sixth, an entitlement culture advocates as unearned rights some of the very goals and values that could be seen as the produce of one’s own efforts and perseverance. All of these factors may undermine a sense of personal agency. Jerome Kagan (2009, p. 256), an eminent developmental psychologist presented an indictment of contemporary psychology in just these terms. Persons, he claims, are agents responsible for themselves and to society, and psychology fails its mission when it “renders each person a passive pawn of genes, hormones, intense desires, or social conditions and, therefore, impotent and perhaps blameless.” Philosopher Bernard Williams (1985) emphasizes individual responsibility in relation to its social context:
..the primacy of the individual and of personal dispositions is a necessary truth… If the [social] structuralists are right, then these dispositions will be more thoroughly determined by social factors such as class, and more uniform in content, and less understood by the individuals than has been traditionally supposed; but those claims cannot deny the existence and causal role of [personal] dispositions. No set of social structures can drive youths into violence at football games except by being represented, however confusedly or obscurely, in those youth’s desires and habits of life. In this sense, social or ethical life must exist in people’s dispositions. …ethical thought…as opposed to social planning or communal ritual [depends on individualism] (pp. 201-202).
The loss of agency, intentionality and responsibility was not the intended goal of such psychological and sociological developments. Unlike the behaviorists (Skinner’s book on the subject was called “Beyond freedom and dignity”) and some modern cognitive scientists who treat behavior as an impersonal product of genes and “memes,” leaving little room for an explicit role for agency, most educational reformers assume that children are intentional agents and leave it there adverting rather to underlying dispositions, learning styles, IQ, and the like or to social factors such as home life, race, and the like. In seeking such causal explanations, they fail to place the child as an intentional agent at the center of his or her learning, capable of learning the rules, honoring duties and responsibilities to others and earning the credit for achieving his or her own goals and the goals negotiated with the teacher. Developing a renewed sense of responsibility and accountability, of course, is not to be achieved simply by throwing children onto their own resources, but designing environments that allow children to take on and thereby acquire an enlarged sense of personal agency. By diverting responsibility for learning to the myriad agencies outside the child, the child has been left as a subject rather than an agent. This is where the accountability train left the tracks; concern for accountability ends before it reaches its rightful subject, the learner him or herself.
The myriad factors that occlude personal agency cannot be ignored, of course. But whereas at present these factors are assessed only in terms of enhancing outputs and explaining deficiencies of an educational system leaving the learner merely as an object to be shaped, they must be reconsidered in terms of how they may be challenged to enhance the agency and a sense of responsibility of the learner. The goal, of course, is to develop children who not only honor the rules and norms of the society but who are able to use these rules to promise themselves what they will do, to plan ahead, to delay gratification and work towards their goals. In so doing they move from being controlled by others to controlling themselves, the vaunted goal of self-control.
Can schools be organized or reorganized to recruit and develop student agency without jeopardizing the academic goals for which the school is traditionally held accountable? If self-control is an outcome of being held accountable for learning social rules, it may be the case that schooling is already an important, if insufficient, factor in such development. Agency and responsibility may be addressed directly through special programs like that described by Diamond et al (2007), which has been shown to be effective with pre-school children. Alternatively, existing curricular goals such as learning to read and write could be addressed through developing methods that allow greater scope for learners to negotiate goals with teachers, negotiate their understanding with peers, express these goals and understandings explicitly through public performances, and judge their own performances in the light of the agreed-upon goals. Moving the learner’s self-directed efforts to the center of educational efforts such as those seen in McCallister’s (2011) “Unison Reading” program and in Lampert, Rittenhouse and Crumbaugh’s (1996) discursive mathematics program are exemplary in that they place a high degree of responsibility on the initiatives of learners. It remains to be seen if they have, as predicted, demonstrable effects on students’ sense of agency and responsibility. By encouraging learners to take responsibility for setting and achieving goals, for making their thoughts and beliefs explicit, and by sharing their understandings with others, children may develop literate competencies and at the same time gain an enhanced sense of personal agency and responsibility. But in large part it remains a major challenge for the future both to design such programs and to provide evidence that they, in fact, enhance personal agency. If they do, learners themselves will have regained their place in the discourse of accountability.
(1) Canadian kids are more likely to resist temptation after making a verbal commitment. It is particularly the case for 5-year-olds. (50% of them did so.)
(2) However, after they failed to live up to their commitment, they would lie about the transgression as much as those who did not make a commitment.
(3) Commitment has no impact on Chinese preschoolers.
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 Paper presented at the workshop “Building Learning Cultures through Genre Practice,” New York University, February 3, 2011.
 A psychiatrist recently claimed that there was no scientific way to determine if an accused was unable to control his behavior or simply was unwilling to control his behavior. G. E. Heyman (2009) claimed that addiction is not a disease but a choice: “Quitting is a choice people typically make when they are ready to take their responsibilities more seriously”.
 My own Institute which once focused on the role of education in cognitive, social and moral development, now (to my dismay) acts as if it believes that the major factors in educational development are gender, class, and race, factors over which the learner has no control and hence no responsibility!
 Olson & Oatley (forthcoming) tie this distinction to modes of discourse, conversational versus academic registers of language.