by Jody Rust
The ideas that keep knocking at my mind’s door are responsibility and accountability.
I hear a lot of people ask for and demand accountability. Without a sense of responsibility, there can be no accountability.
In a world that seems overrun with cries for these two ideas, we have a lot of people who — when the dung hits the fan, do not dunk. For some reason, there a many people who think they are being responsible and accountable, or that they are doing a great job of the two while they hide behind a wall of excuses disguised as valid reasons for not being responsible or accountable.
Before the discussion can continue, first we need to define responsibility and accountability.
Responsibility, according to the Google dictionary is, “the opportunity or ability to act independently and make decisions without authorization.”
Accountability is “(of a person, organization, or institution) required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible.”
The two words are almost interchangeable, but I would argue that a person who is responsible is accountable, and that demonstrating accountability is proof of how responsible you are.
Let’s take this into a real scenario. I enter a classroom and know that the protocol is that we pull the class file box, get our folders and work from the previous day out, and then start reviewing words for a quiz.
As a responsible student, I take out the folder box, and then start my work before the teacher arrives.
I can hold myself accountable for the work I did in class and at home by quiz myself over the material I should learn. This is also responsible since I took it upon myself to check to ensure I learned what I set out to learn, and will practice what I have not yet learned.
While we can teach responsibility and we can develop methods for assessing others to hold them accountable for their jobs, the ultimate decision to be accountable and responsible reside in each individual.
As parents and students, we try teach our kids responsibility by making them do certain chores, complete homework for school, babysit siblings and cousins, or get a job.
I wonder though, how much a person really learned about being intrinsically responsible and accountable when driven by external, authoritative forces.
The novel Silas Marner, by George Eliot tells the tale of a weaver who finds it very difficult to punish his mischievous adopted daughter Eppie.
Instead, Silas raises Eppie taking her with him where ever he goes, and using kindness and redirection to direct her into the best ways to act.
To hold her accountable, he has to be responsible. He has to pay attention to her, and he has to spend time with her teaching her what is right and wrong.
When we use punishment and external rewards to try to teach responsibility and accountability, there are too many children who end up being irresponsible when the reward no longer fits their desires, or the punishment is no longer bad enough to keep them from letting their responsibilities slide.
As a parent and teacher, I understand the difficulties of trying to teach kids to be responsible. Sometimes I think a stay-at-home parents who can devote the time and attention to teaching and modeling for kids how to be responsible and keep oneself accountable would be ideal.
But in our modern society, many parents do not have that luxury. So where does that leave us?
I think it leaves us with a need to share as a community of people ways that we would be think children can be taught to internalize a sense of responsibility and practice holding themselves and others accountable.
I struggle with the best ways to teach youth to be accountable, and sometimes I want to give up, but I don’t. I retreat, recover and try again. Many of the techniques I have learned are either reward or punishment based.
But I can’t help but think, there has to be a way that profoundly impacts youth that doesn’t need external reward or punishment because of the value of the lesson itself. I just have not dissevered it yet.