Mismanaging Schools

Are you “looking for ways to increase the engagement and unlock the creativity of your employees”? If so, then “Appreciative Inquiry could be the answer.” So goes the blurb for Positive Engagement — a management consultancy whose small team includes the headmaster of Uplands Junior School, Dr Tim Luckcock, whose staff will again be taking strike action this week.

According to Positive Engagement’s web site, Appreciative Inquiry is “a method of improving performance and morale which works by building on strengths rather than looking for problems and trying to fix them.” Yet Dr Luckcock cannot even implement Positive Engagement’s misinformed ideas in his own workplace.

Instead, acting as the headmaster of Uplands School, he has actively undermined his own staff’s morale, and is attempting to degrade performance by sacking eight teaching assistants. On top of this, rather than focusing on the strengths of his teaching staff, Dr Luckcock searched far-and-wide to find a lone study that mis-alleged that teaching assistants posed a problem to the smooth running of schools. A “problem” he has set about fixing by making the school’s much needed teaching assistants redundant; hence the strike.

Dr Luckcock and his three appreciative colleagues at Positive Engagement were trained by Anne Radford, “a pioneer of Appreciative Inquiry in the UK,” who herself was formerly an associate at the birthplace of Appreciative Inquiry, the US-based Taos Institute. Here one might note that in the early 1990s one of the key founders of the Taos Institute was Dr Diana Whitney, who is the founder and president of a global consulting cooperative known as the Corporation for Positive Change.

In addition to Dr Whitney’s lucrative consultancy work for corporations like British Airways and Verizon; at the same time as setting up the Taos Institute she served as a founding advisor to the United Religions Initiative (which is an United Nations organised global network of 530 interfaith cooperation circles, apparently working for peace and social justice through Appreciative Inquiry); and is a fellow of the New Age styled World Business Academy. The founder and president of the latter mumbo jumbo outfit, Rinaldo Brutoco, also resides on the welcoming committee of consciousness-guru Barbara Marx Hubbard’s group, Birth2012 (along with ruling-class mystic-lovers like Ervin Laszlo).

Another Taos Institute associate who, like Dr Luckcock, is keen to apply the insights gained from Appreciative Inquiry into classrooms is Dr Marge Schiller; who as the head of Positive Change Corps uses Appreciative Inquiry “to support strength based approaches and methods in schools.” Here it is informative to recognize the type of educational consultants Dr Schiller is impressed by… as her second most recent tweet announces: “Rita Pierson delivers an AMAZING TED Talk about relationships being essential for learning. Fantastic!

While British teachers may not be aware of Mrs Pierson’s phenomenal success in incorporating New Age (feel-good) platitudes into the American schools, critical teachers in her home country are all too aware of her compatibility with their highly corporatised educational system. This is because Mrs Pierson is a member of the educational leadership consultancy, aha! Process, Inc., which was founded and is headed by the even more influential school reformer, Dr Ruby Payne.

Dr Payne has achieved some level of international fame for her book and associated workshop, A Framework for Understanding Poverty (1996), which as critics argue is “based on a racialized ‘culture of poverty’ model that attributes the failure of the poor to their lack of middle-class behavior and values, a claim argued for centuries.” Never mind oppressive issues of class warfare that enforce brutal socio-economic pressures upon the lives of the poor; it turns out that the problem is simply that poor school children aren’t being optimistic enough. Such cleverly written and inspirational bourgeoisie arguments have thus meant that “Payne has amassed a multimillion dollar empire by pimping poverty for profit.” (For further criticisms of Payne and her motley crew, see the recently published edited book, Assault on Kids: How Hyper-Accountability, Corporatization, Deficit Ideologies, and Ruby Payne Are Destroying Our Schools (2011).)

Fittingly, given Dr Luckcock’s own obsession with management trainings derived from the work of the Armenian mystic George Gurdjieff, it is interesting that Dr Payne derived the inspiration for her own work from spirit channelers no less. Thus a highly celebratory review of her work published in the New York Times magazine observed how…

in 1993, after moving to Texas, Payne read a book that had a profound effect on her: ‘Creating Money,’ a New Age-infused guide to ‘the spiritual laws of money.’ It’s an odd book, ostensibly dictated to the authors by two “spirit guides” named Orin and DaBen. But Payne was inspired. “The book said, Make a list of what you want in your life and ask the universe to bring it to you,” she told me. ‘So I did. I wrote: “I want a life without financial constraints. I want a life without institutional constraints. And I want to make a difference with children.” And it happened!’

As the “authors” of Creating Money: Attracting Abundance clarify on their web site:

Orin and DaBen, Sanaya Roman and Duane Packer welcome you to their official website. Learn to awaken your light body and chakras; to channel; to create abundance; to live your life purpose; learn mystery school teachings, meet your soul, improve your relationships, transform your personality, and much more as you work with their tapes and books. Orin and DaBen are two non-physical guides brought to you through Sanaya Roman and Duane Packer.

One of the three people who Sanaya Roman claims has enhanced her own metaphysical explorations into the realm beyond is none of than theosophist Alice Bailey (1880-1949), the keeper of the “Ageless Wisdom,” and founder of the Arcane School. Bailey coming from same “intellectual” milieu as Gurdjieff, a milieu which has always found ample supporters from within ruling-class elites, who seem to follow such authoritarian gurus to escape from the dreariness of the everyday exploitation of the working class. A good example of a spiritual seeker who crossed back and forth between Bailey and Gurdjieff’s work is Seymour Ginsburg, the founding president of Toys R Us (for more on this see his autobiography, The Masters Speak: An American Businessman Encounters Ashish and Gurdjieff).

Another interesting connection comes through “sustainable capitalism” advocate, Gordon Davidson, who has formerly worked for Bailey’s Lucis Trust, served alongside Ervin Lazlo on the governing board of the New World Alliance, and is presently a fellow of the aforementioned World Business Academy (for more on his background see my forthcoming article “Capital’s Spiritual Enablers”).

It seems there is no end to the merry-go-round of capitalist nonsense; and in response, no end to vigorous signs of resistance to capitalist oppression, be it in Turkey or closer to home at Uplands Junior School. So while you may not be able to travel to stand in solidarity with the people of Turkey, hopefully you might consider popping down to Uplands School (by Highfields Community Centre) on Tuesday and Thursday to show your support for their determined strike action.

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