An Audacious Proposal for a Paradigm Shift in our Public Schools

I spent my working career as a civil servant, a scientific manager for the Federal government. We paid a whole lot of attention to the people we hired. Firing someone who passes their 2-year probationary period is possible, but usually much more difficult in the Federal civil service system than it is in private enterprise -- unless the employee is dumb enough to be caught stealing, or similar egregious acts. Getting rid of the unmotivated, the contentious, and the untrustworthy is difficult. So, greater care is needed when hiring a new person to do Federal research. Consequently, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to tell if a prospective employee would be a long term asset, or a long term liability. I think some of us were pretty effective at this, but it took a lot of hard work to learn what we wanted to know.

What was perfectly clear to us was that the technical knowledge, skills, and abilities we measured against were not always good predictors of how well an employee would perform in the long run. Equally important, in the long run, are an employee's abilities to work well with other people, be productive team members, self motivate, work independently without constant supervision, and be honest with themselves and others.

We did not compromise on the technical skills; but those being equal, we tried to select the person most "well adjusted," "principled," and "sensitive to others." We had various terms for it, none of which seemed to be adequate, but we knew it when we saw it.

Now, along comes a book called "Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ" by Daniel Goleman. What we had difficulty defining, Daniel Goleman describes as emotional intelligence. We didn't have a name for it then, but we knew very well what we were looking for. Goleman absolutely nails it. His definition is what we were looking for. But he goes far beyond what we did. He gives us a blueprint for solving much of what ails our public school system -- to say nothing of society as a whole.

What is so outstanding about Goleman's book is his very convincing demonstration that emotional intelligence, unlike IQ, is a learned intelligence -- indeed it must be taught, else a person will grow up emotionally in deficit. Don't pass over this stunning finding too casually. Go back and read it again.

Second most outstanding is his demonstrations that the many emotional deficits in neglected children can be partially corrected (nothing is 100 percent) by simple training, in as little as 1 hour per day for 8 weeks. More training continued to yield more results. To put this in my words, we no longer need to believe the myth that damaged children are damaged for life. We can help them adjust -- if we only know how -- and Goleman shows us how. He is not proposing psychoanalysis to understand the tragedy of our lives; he proposes teaching us how to be socially well adjusted -- a learned skill. This is absolutely stunning news. (And our public educators and our news media simply yawn. Being jaded is a hazard of both jobs, but it is an intellectual disease that should disqualify one from both jobs.)

Third most outstanding is his insistence that our public school system needs to begin teaching emotional intelligence. Actually, this may be the most revolutionary part of the book. It is a compelling paradigm shift.

Our public school administrators have been claiming that parental involvement is the single most important factor in determining a child's success in school. It is very true, but it also an indirect way of them saying, "Emotional training is not our problem." Reading, writing and arithmetic, sports, and the like are their well defined domain, but they feel that emotional deficits belong to parents, as psychological/ behavioral problems instead of learning deficits. (But the fact that the psychological/behavioral problems are caused by a learning deficit means it lies squarely in the domain of our public educators. They can no longer duck it, because it has been shown to be a learning deficit.)

Goleman compellingly argues that emotional intelligence is a learned skill; and is a major determinant of whether a child will succeed or fail academically. Indeed, it is predictive.

He argues convincingly that public schools need a paradigm shift; they need to teach emotional skills to all students. He also convincingly addresses potential objections. I cannot cover them all here; which is why you need to read the book if you have an interest in transforming our educational system so that it truly helps those with low emotional intelligence.

I take away these potent arguments as far more important than the idea that emotional intelligence exists, or that emotional intelligence is important to a person's happiness and success. We knew that, even if we didn't give it the exquisite name that Goleman has. I suspect some of the critics who claim the book is repetitive did not fully appreciate that Goleman was carefully developed his sequence of argument that lead to his very audacious (but well supported and compelling) call for a paradigm shift in our public education system. In other words, I think they read the book to shallowly. Whether my suspicion is correct or not, I did not find this book boring in the least. Page by page it enlightened me. That is all I ask of a book like this.

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