Sunday, May 21, 2006

Temperaments and the National Education System

In David Keirsey's book Please Understand Me, I found an interesting factoid that is echoed (in bold) in this online source for teachers:

When you combine the practical, realistic, fairly cautious aspect of S (sensation) with the determined, closure-seeking aspect of J (judgment), you have a traditionalist, an SJ temperament. The SJ is driven, above all, by her need to do her duty.

The most common type in education, the SJ comprises 38 percent of the general population and 56 percent of the teaching population (Keirsey and Bates 1978, pp. 39 and 166). All ISFJ, ESFJ, ISTJ, and ESTJ types are SJ traditionalists.

...The SJ is a belonger, a traditionalist, a conservator. He wants to belong to the society in which he works and lives and he wants to earn the right to belong. The SJ enjoys a practical, bureaucratic, well-defined hierarchy with a central leader. Often, he is that leader. But whoever the leader is, that position must be earned and obeyed.

Keirsey's book (I read the first edition) discusses a little bit the implications of the fact that in the professional education world, SJ's are a majority compared to all other types combined. It seems reasonable that practical, status-quo-oriented people who can work diligently and conscientiously for clearcut goals would be attracted to this field. YET you can also see how the sheer impact of their numbers and their temperamental suitability to today's bureaucratic school structure could lead to a sort of self-perpetuating machinery. Especially since a majority of principals and other school leaders are also SJs.

Keirsey notes the potential for mismatch between teaching styles and learning styles. An intellectual or poetic type for example (NT or NF, represented by, say, Bill Gates and the shy novelist of your choice, maybe one of the Bronte sisters) works largely for intrinsic goals, not externally directed ones. They will be surprised and perhaps offended or embarrassed by gold stars, and their learning pace will not tend to be sequential and predictable and cued to bells and grades. If the SJ teacher believes that his or her way is the "one right way" to learn, there is potential for much damage and suppression of potential. Not all SJ teachers, by any means, will be so lacking in perspective, but the institutional/power/majority combination makes it a clear possibility. "Doing one's duty" might become a matter of making practical strategies to allow for the different potential in different students (good and useful) but it also could become a matter of bullying or corralling the student into becoming more like an SJ (wrong and futile).

SJ's are often the students who do well particularly in the elementary years when academic goals are clearcut, according to Keirsey. Again from my online source:

Productivity is the organizational goal: producing good citizens who can function with responsibility in the work-a-day world. Growth of responsibility and utility sums up the SJ's educational goal. Having the students get on with the work and learn the basics is a common classroom goal.

Preferring formal structures in the classroom, the SJ principal, teacher, and student enjoy a learning environment that combines structure, predictability, clear-cut assignments, and fairness.

Which is another aspect of the SJ self-perpetuation in professional education: the students that do well and feel comfortable and recognized in the school system will tend to self-select as tomorrow's teachers and principals and curriculum-writers. They will sometimes also be suspicious of critiques of the system that seem to deny what they see as obvious verities of life, those described in the quote above.

SJ's have many good qualities -- theirs is the Guardian trait. George Washington and Mother Teresa are said to have been two examples. Since they are considered to be the most common type, comprising around 40% of the population (as compared to 5-7% for NTs and 8-10% for NFs) it is obvious our society needs them in plurality. But society needs the NTs and NFs too, needs to encourage them in their very uncommonness and not try to make them into something they are not.

Perhaps one reason for the increasing popularity of homeschooling is a recognition of the value of the innovators, dreamers and artisans in our society, and the corresponding recognition that this individuality is often not sufficiently allowed for in an increasingly centralized, standardized education industry. And perhaps some of the hostile reaction to the homeschooling phenomonen from some representatives of the educational establishment is the stabilizer's reaction to something diverse, grassroots, and largely informal in scope, which by its very existence seems to be a threat to the stable order.

One of the chief jobs the SJ has given himself is to be the stabilizer of his social and educational world. Change, revolution, chaos, and anarchy are the enemies of the SJ traditionalist. He is often very uncomfortable with the new trends in education. The traditionalist temperament balances the lust for change that drives some of the other temperaments. He can be counted on in the educational system to preserve those things that need preserving; he may need some help, however, in deciding what those things are because he will naturally want to keep them all. Ironically, the struggle to keep things as they are is part of this process of selection. The SJ does not win all the battles.
(All the quotes in brown italics are from A Teacher's Guide to Cognitive Type Theory and Learning Style which from the parts available online looks like an intelligent, conscientious attempt to acknowledge diversity within a school framework -- see the Introduction here)


JoVE said...

I'm catching up and have read this before the ones you posted before it but this one was a true lightbulb moment. Explains a lot about why I'm homeschooling anyway. (not to mention some things about my relationship with my brother, the teacher, that are probably better left alone) Thanks for the long discussion.

Mother Crone's Homeschool said...

I think this is why our family has embraced and thrived in a homeschooling environment. One child works best with an SJ, while the other is more a journeywoman. We are able to teach/lead according to their individual style, and everyone is happier!

Cindy said...

This is a facinating aspect of the personality types.. the clump of Sjs in teachers. I have greatly enjoyed learning about personality types the past months. It helps me see how I tick and how my dc might percieve the world and learning differently than me. And to learn that ALL types are valid. We don't have to try and push our dc into a box. The world has told us that extorverts are 'it' and as you mention following the buearcarcy is rewarded.

I can just picture my giant high school and all the 'misfits' who mournfully wandered the halls, just trying to get through. I was lucky enough to have a core group of friends I had known from the 1st grade. But our school exploded in poplution and so many kids were so lost.

Steph said...

This is interesting! I never looked at things from this perspective before. My Myers-Briggs type (if I remember correctly) was ENFJ - so I guess I am an "NF." :-)