Academic Cheerleaders as Change Agents

Like many institutions, my college is looking at fundamental changes in how we handle remediation.  My math department has eliminated arithmetic, pre-algebra, and beginning algebra as college courses; we’ve implemented a full-blown mathematical literacy course (over 700 enrolled last semester) and offer an accelerated algebra course.

However, we are still being subjected to pressures from within the institution.  Our president made several remarks critical of our work at a college-wide event, partially based on not understanding what we have already done.

Last week, my college brought in an ‘expert’ who gave a presentation on “success and equity”.  By ‘expert’ I mean that the qualifications were (A) employed (B) PhD in hand and (C) agreed with college leadership (the president in particular).  I refer to this type of expert as a “cheerleader” — their task (based on what was presented) was to motivate us to implement a different solution, just like cheerleaders in sports try to get everybody motivated.

The question is this:

Can cheerleaders be effective change agents in academic work?

I’ve actually thought about these issues for a number of years.  When I began this blog as part of the AMATYC “New Life” project, I needed to understand what forces and conditions are necessary for ‘change’ … as well as what we mean by ‘change’.  I’ve been involved with a variety of ‘change’ in my life, and have learned a bit about other scientific fields; ‘change’ is studied in several — though I have focused on sociology and anthropology specifically (groups) as opposed to psychology (individual).

Change is not just a question of ‘being different from the past’.  The concept of productive change is more like “progress” — change directed towards a goal in a manner such that the trajectory of the work reflects the values and goals of those doing the work.  When change is accomplished without these conditions, the resulting system is often unstable, as well as requiring significant resources to push people in a direction in which they did not want to travel.

However, we can’t remain content with what we have done.  Changes and progress are a reflection of the people involved, so we often see our current efforts as being more productive than they are (for our students).  A group requires leadership to make the connection between where we are now and where we want to go.  There is a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King relative to this (during an interview where he was asked about consensus and leadership).

So, back to ‘cheerleaders’ — can cheerleaders be effective leaders, connecting the present and the future?  I think this deals with issues of perception; do we perceive cheerleaders as providing information, or do we perceive them as motivation and anecdotes?  I suppose that there might be some highly skilled folks who can combine the cheerleader function with a leadership function.  Certainly, the person who came to our campus did not deliver this combination; people generally left the presentation with either no internal change or a decline in their optimism.  Most ‘policy influencers’ are cheerleaders — Complete College America, Jobs for the Future, foundations, etc.

Cheerleaders are not effective change agents — even if they have a PhD and a pocketful of data.  We need leadership willing to work with us over an extended period of time to achieve progress … with this collaboration, we can go further than the cheerleaders can imagine.

 Join Dev Math Revival on Facebook:

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment

WordPress Themes