Posted by: abbiewatters | January 4, 2012

Responsibility v. Accountability

I read this article this morning in the Atlantic Monthly about Finland’s success with kids in school. The author was emphasizing that their success is based largely on equality of opportunity for education, not on private schools and colleges available only to the wealthy.

But my biggest take-away was in these paragraphs.

Finland has no standardized tests. The only exception is what’s called the National Matriculation Exam, which everyone takes at the end of a voluntary upper-secondary school, roughly the equivalent of American high school.

Instead, the public school system’s teachers are trained to assess children in classrooms using independent tests they create themselves. All children receive a report card at the end of each semester, but these reports are based on individualized grading by each teacher. Periodically, the Ministry of Education tracks national progress by testing a few sample groups across a range of different schools.

As for accountability of teachers and administrators, Sahlberg shrugs. “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish,” he later told an audience at the Teachers College of Columbia University. “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”

For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master’s degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it.

This really struck me! How often do we insist on accountability instead of requiring personal responsibility? I know in my case, when I’m on a diet I often find myself seriously considering “fudging” on the amount of food I’m eating.

It’s like I’m afraid that there’s someone looking over my shoulder.

And there isn’t!

I’m tracking my food and exercise in Weight Watchers Online, but NOBODY but me is looking at what I put down. How did I get like that? Why do I think I need to “cheat” on my food tracking?

The author of the article is right! I need to take responsibility for my diet, instead of expecting that I need to be accountable to someone else. I remember when my mother-in-law was in her 70s or 80s, she would “sneak” a piece of candy or a cookie. She was overweight and diabetic, and nobody even lived in the house with her, but she still hid candy bars. Who was she hiding them from?

I’ve decided that while I’m not making a “New Year’s Resolution”, I AM going to try to remember the difference between accountability and responsibility, and accept that the only one responsible for what I eat is ME and I don’t have to be accountable to anybody else.

It’s a hard distinction to learn. I’m not sure where I got the idea that I have to be accountable to some authority. Maybe is came from some bad theology deep in my past. I don’t know. But I know I’m going to try to attempt to change my ideas. (Yeah, yeah, yeah, Yoda. I know. There is no TRY! There is only DO!)

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