Dissonant Relationships

Mother’s Day has come and gone. Coffee refills and back rubs are no longer available on demand. A raised eyebrow will not get the dishwasher emptied, the dog fed, or the bed made. Time to get back to reality and my dissonant relationship with housework. I propose a twenty percent increase in the days devoted to the adoration of mothers? Do I have a second?

I’ve been working on the advanced placement tests (known as AP’s) at Notre Dame for the last two weeks, which has left me high and dry in the creativity department, not to mention the hindrance on my free time. It’s a rigorous job that does not accentuate my natural skill set. Labeling it as “a logistical nightmare” is too kind. Imagine the most onerous two week labor, conducted in a six by eight foot cell, no windows, or ventilation, just me and a thousand student packs (yes I exaggerate), waiting to be delivered. 

I spend a good portion of my day counting every single paper that passes through my hands, endless alphabetizing, and dousing the flames of combustible issues that spring up without warning. I have nightmares that someone mistakenly opens the wrong test packet, we run out of answer sheets, I can’t find a single flash drive on the entire campus, the keys to Immanuel Lutheran go missing, or we misplace a seating chart. It takes a team of dedicated people to make this all happen. And the weird thing is I don’t believe in what I’m doing. My beliefs are not congruent with the philosophy of AP’s (testing out of college courses while still in high school). I have to ask myself how is it that I am impregnated with AP’s every year when I’m not testily active? 

This has made me acutely aware of the difference between my interior self and the persona I project. I love the saying attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” It is confusing when our actions conflict with our beliefs. So I did a little research and found out we have a multitude of mechanisms to deal with our rather complicated infrastructure. 
The term is called cognitive dissonance.  It has to do with the mental distress we experience when we try to juggle contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. Leon Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance focuses on how humans strive for internal consistency. He says an individual who experiences inconsistency (dissonance) tends to become psychologically uncomfortable, and is motivated to try to reduce this dissonance—as well as actively avoid situations likely to increase it. I did not get this memo. I’m living in a dissonant relationship with AP testing. But every year I get sucked back in because I love this school, I love our students, and the people around me are so dedicated to excellence that they impregnate me with their cause. 
In my research I found out creating and resolving cognitive dissonance can have a powerful impact on students’ motivation for learning. For example, researchers have used the effort justification paradigm to increase students’ enthusiasm for educational activities by offering no external reward for students’ efforts. They noticed preschoolers who completed puzzles with the promise of a reward were less interested in the puzzles later, as compared to preschoolers who were offered no reward in the first place. The researchers concluded that students who attribute their work to an external reward stop working in the absence of that reward, while those who are forced to attribute their work to intrinsic motivation, come to find the task genuinely enjoyable. Bingo! Time to elevate effort and trash the testing.

This has enormous implications for life. What would students do if grades were not the object? What would we do if money was not the object? How wonderful would it be if we woke up every morning with an innate passion for education and the work we do? I know, I know, “time to get back to reality and our dissonant relationship with life.” 

What would you do if money were no object? Leave a comment.

You might also enjoy: Today I’ll be Cultivating my own Space or How do we Respond to the Gospel of Love

“I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.” Isaac Newton.

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