Saturday, August 14, 2010

John Spencer on Accountability

I wrote a post about my disgust with the word accountability, and John Spencer left a very powerful comment that defines accountability better than I could have:

I use the word accountability in my class, but I define it as "mutual trust." We keep each other accountable by giving an account of what we're learning - conferences, portfolios, informal meetings.

Accountability should mean that when you wander off too far, there is a group of people calling you back and saying, "Look, you belong here. You are important to us."

When I think of authentic accountability, it is the sense of transparency and honesty and trust that bonds relationships. Does my wife keep me accountable? Yep, by asking me about life and engaging in conversation and spurring thought, but not by punishing me. Do my friends keep me accountable? Yep, for the same reasons.

I'm not ready to ditch the term altogether. I do, however, want to to define it in a non-behaviorist way.
It's important to note that we need people to "go too far". For without them, how would we ever know what was "far enough". Because we need these people, we can't simply use accountabilty as a punisher - because if we do, who in their right mind would ever volunteer to be such a pioneer?

We need to address our current use of the word accountability, because we are gaining mere compliance at the cost of stifling and smothering ingenuity, creativity, engagement and progress.

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