Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How Social and Market Norms Affect Education

Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

Recently, I began reading Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely.  While only about 100 pages into the book, I am compelled to share my thoughts concerning a topic raised regarding the effects of social and market norms.  These effects are discussed in the context of how we live in two worlds simultaneously.  One world consists of social exchanges governed by a set of social norms.  The other world consists of market exchanges regulated by a set of market norms.

Social norms are simply described as "friendly requests that people make of one another."  Acions taken under social norms are usually "warm and fuzzy", do not require "instant payback" or "immediate reciprocity", and provide mutual pleasure.  Dr. Ariely uses as an example, the request by a neighbor to help move a couch or opening a door for someone else.

Market norms, on the other hand, are "sharped-edged" exchanges.  Typical market norms involve "wages, prices, rents, interest, and cost-and-benefits."  Often involving self-reliance and individualism, market norms imply "prompt payments."  As Dr. Ariely states, "When you are in the domain of market norms, you get what you pay for - that's just the way it is."

The book goes on to provide numerous examples of each and how they work well or not so well in certain situations.  In the interest of brevity, here is a summary of what Dr. Ariely suggests.
  1. Neither set of norms is better or worse than the other.  They are simply different.
  2. While operating under one set of norms is fine, make sure you establish which set provides the foundation of the relationship - and use that set of norms to guide your actions.
  3. Once you shift from social norms to market norms, it is VERY hard to switch back.  introducing market norms is very powerful.
  4. People operating under market norms have been found to be more selfish, self-reliant, and less willing to work in teams than those operating under social norms.
  5. Gifts are fine to give as part of a social exchange, but if you mention how much it costs, you have introduced market norms and risk having your gift rejected.
  6. Inviting market exchanges into social norms hurts relationships.
  7. Money is often the most expensive way to motivate people.  Social norms are cheaper and often more effective (read Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink!).
Near the end of this chapter, there are a few paragrpahs in which Dr. Ariely briefly describes his idea about how these norms apply to education.  He does so from what he observed as a member of a federal committee tasked with reexamining NCLB policies and finding ways to motivate students, teachers, administrators, and parents.  Dr. Ariely's thougths include:
  • Standardized tests and performance-based salaries will likely push education from social norms to market norms.
  • Spending money will only go so far.  In the long run, social norms will make a difference.
  • In place of test scores, salaries, and competition, it might be better to focus on instilling a sense of purpose, mission, and pride in education - which cannot happen using market norms.
  • We should rethink curricula and link them in more obvious ways to social goals (eliminating poverty, etc.), technological goals (boosting energy conservation, etc.), and medical goals (cures for cancer, diabetes, etc.).  Thus, the larger picture of education becomes clearer.
  • Begin making education a goal in itself (pg. 93-94).
As for myself, I have written a few pieces in The Art of Education that are very applicable to the concepts put forth by Dr. Ariely.  In my post 3 Pillars to Uphold a Student-Centered Culture, I describe a school focused on communication, growth, and motivation.  All of three of these aspects of school culture are only as effective as they are governed by social norms.  I have seen instances in which market norms are introduced and the relationship falters, feelings are hurt, and the partnership between school and family is dissolved. 

In another post, I define an engaging school-family culture called the Open House Culture.  This environment is dependent on 5 factors: friendliness, trust/reliability, responsiveness, interaction, and inviting presentations.  Again, none of these 5 factors can realize their potential as a positive force if they are governed by market norms.  They rely on social norms to be effective.

Market forces have their place in education, but they need to be clearly defined and linked to market exchanges - contractual agreements, business arrangements, etc.  I'm not advocating that teachers shouldn't be paid.  I am suggesting that the pay should serve to recognize the market forces that affect the economic decision of people deciding whether or not to become a teacher or continue teaching.  Salary shoudln't be the reason to become a teacher nor should it be the reason to leave teaching.

As a former Louisiana Governor once said, "Once you mix the rice and beans, it's real hard to separate them."  For education, let's be more aware of when social and market norms are required - and not mix the two.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...