Holism and idealism: a different paradigm

Standing in front of a crowd of around 600 students seated in an auditorium, I held up my hand to silence them. In the quiet atmosphere of nervous silence, one of the girls sitting in the front row looked at the test and began to explain (in a rather loud voice) her displeasure at the nature of the test, speaking in a loud voice and prompting students behind her to peer over their desks like curious cranes at the little squawking bird flapping her wings. In all my years of teaching, that girl wasn’t the last outburst during a test I encountered – but never had I witnessed such an emotional reaction to an exam. Little did I know how important the test was in Chinese culture, even as I angrily told the girl she had to leave the auditorium (and therefore, I most likely sealed her fate). I probably should have realized the importance the next semester when one of my students (again, sitting in the front row) began crying over her test paper as she stared with huge weepy eyes at an abstract diagram of vocabulary and pictures, continuing her sad session until she had to pull out a handkerchief and wipe away her tears.

According to Gao and Watkins, student achievement is a public event in China, measured chiefly by the exam at the end of the year. Most teachers (according to Gao and Watkin’s research) view their job as teachers in five key areas (listed from student-centered to teacher-centered): Conduct guidance, attitude promotion, ability development, exam preparation, and knowledge delivery. To generate data, the authors used a mapping-plane as well as Kember’s “conception of teaching” as a guide (1997), then based on interviews and a questionnaire (School Physics Teachers’ Conceptions of Teaching, SPTCT) generated responses from student-centered to teacher-centered from keywords and phrases. Kember’s “conception of teaching” involves six separate categories: the essence of learning, the essence of teaching, the role of the teacher, outcomes, content, and teaching methodology.

While the authors are critical of China’s test-culture, they also recognize that the system has lasted for more than 1,000 years (from the Tang Dynasty), when the Kefu was used in order to promote scholars into positions of the government, and lasts to this day known as the gaokao (high school test). Gao and Watkins suggest two different orientations from their research: a cultivating orientation (composed of conduct guidance, attitude promotion, and ability development) and a moulding [sic] orientation (composed of exam preparation and knowledge delivery). While the authors do show comparisons between the variant orientations and western models of teaching, they also recognize the uniqueness of the five key areas, due to the complex context of China’s history and culture. However, while western models of teacher are generally centered around knowledge transmission, they do not contain the holism embedded in Chinese methods. Hence, for the teacher aiming to work in China a new paradigm of teaching must be recognized.

Teachers of Chinese students (even Chinese students abroad) would do well to remember Han Yu’s words from the Tang Dynasty: “What is a teacher? A teacher is the one who shows you the way of being human, teaches you the knowledge and enlightens you when you are confused” (Shi Shuo, published 1973). In China, the teacher is admired; this admiration does not come from vacant authoritarianism, but from the tradition of teaching as an Ideal. Confucius, China’s greatest teacher, considered the goal of teaching to achieve ren (or humaneness, a self-actualizing state that can only be achieved through holistic scholarship). Teachers from the western tradition look back on Socrates in admiration: a man constantly surrounded by eager learners, seeking to unravel the secrets of the universe who in his self-centered idealism caused so much disharmony in his society that he was forced to commit suicide; his pupils continued his tradition of critical scholarship, breaking down structures and unmooring their minds from the proverbial dock of history, into Aristotle’s dream. Confucius, on the other hand, relished in harmony, died an old man happily surrounded by his pupils who eagerly copied his words into what would become the most powerful continuation of culture on the planet.

Gao, L.B., & Watkins, A. (2002). Conceptions of teaching held by school science teachers in P.R. China: identification and cross-cultural comparisons. International Journal of Science Education, 24(1):61-79.

Kember, D. (1997). A reconceptualisation of the research into university academics’ conceptions of teaching; Learning and Instruction. Journal of EARLI, 7(3):255-275.

Liu, Z. (1973). The way of being a teacher in China – the way of teachers. Taipei: Chung Hwa Book Co. LTD.



Professional isolation: the mysteries of teacher collegiality

A city is a lonely place. Towers of steel and artifice, standing side-by-side in the horizon, surrounded by throngs of hearts and souls all begging for some semblance of meaning to be found in passing shadows. In many ways, teaching in a class is much the same – a profession of multiple shifting persona, learners filtering through the educational system to some mysterious end, staying awhile and then walking out the door. For the teacher, Fallon and Barnett argue, professional isolation is a reality. Teachers become experts in their particular environments, astride mental carriages of their own design; while they may pass by another carriage on the road to learning (and perhaps throw a wave or two) they remain safely ensconced in their particular spheres. Fallon and Barnett argue, however, that the professional isolation of a teacher is supported by the organizational structure of the school, and so with restructuring that isolation can become collaboration. The authors set about an experiment wherein they conducted interviews at a school, prompting the teachers to use their weekly meetings not as trials-by-fire (as faculty meetings go) but as creative and collaborative storytelling sessions, devising ways to build leadership capacity and begin the “shifting of professional boundaries.”

Fallon and Barnett’s goal was to encourage the teachers at the school to move from Little’s weak collegiality into strong collegiality (1990). Weak collegiality is defined by the literature as sharing, storytelling, and assistance, while strong collegiality is defined as joint work. To do this, the teachers restructured the leadership at the school, endowing those with power and authority as “sponsors” while lifting up normal teachers as “champions” (intending, of course, to encourage sponsors to uplift the teachers rather than use their authority to demean them). In their weekly meetings, they discovered new strategies to interact more frequently, although perhaps not to the end the authors desired.

Fallon and Barnett recognized that the key failure in the experiment was the lack of value. When instituting any change, the members of that change must have a value commitment, as values are core to critical discourse, which in turn is required for what Lavie calls a “discourse of possibilities” (2006). Smith (1996) also argues that “critical collaboration” is necessary in order to, as the authors explain, increase the level of collegiality from weak to strong as “critical collaboration” allows for collaboration to grow rather than fester, or what Fullon and Hargreaves term “comfortable collegiality” (1992). Of the five discourses Fallon and Barnett discuss (culture, effectiveness, school-as-community, restructuring, and critical) I believe the foundation is effectiveness, with school-as-community as a goal, culture/critical as mediators, and restructuring as methodology.

In my work as a teacher, I fully recognize the simplicity and ease of weak collegiality. Encouraging another teacher to change without the necessity of a systematic restructuring towards effectiveness is like trying to move a mountain. Furthermore, in a multicultural setting culture acts like temporal variables altering the streams and paths constantly lending credence to a critical understanding of how culture interacts with effectiveness. The restructuring model must be centered around the goal, if the goal is for the school-as-community.

I have often shared my ideas with other teachers, and they have shared their ideas with me. We have “comfortable collegiality,” but in order to truly be effective we need organizational restructuring. Setting up classes so that we can visit other teachers’ classes, writing personal evaluations, meeting school standards, and being able to critique department rules in a positive, encouraging, and non-threatening capacity are all key to an organizational restructure. Lightening the load of the leadership by delegating tasks (with reward, such as reputation/additional pay), squashing the vertical threshold by inviting leaders to informal events, but most of all creating community as a role model within the cohort of teachers and encouraging community within the classroom – with using culture not as a hammer but rather as a language, learning to communicate with each other through the heart.

Fullan, M.G., & Hargreaves, A. (1992). What is worth fighting for? Working together for your school. Toronto, ON: Ontario Teachers’ Federation.

Lavié, J.M. (2006). Academic discourses on school-based teacher collaboration: Revisiting the arguments. Educational Administration Quarterly, 42(5):773-805.

Little, J.W. (1990). The persistence of privacy: autonomy and initiative in teachers’ professional relations. Teacher College Record, 91(4):509-534.

Smith, B. (1996). What did we mean when we argued for “critical collaborative communities”? In J. Smyth (Comp.), Schools as critical collaborative communities. Adelaide, Australia: The Flinders Institute for the Study of Teaching.

The Teacher’s Identity: a review of Palmer’s “Courage to Teach”

My first “real” teaching experience was standing in front of a crowd of four year-old children, holding up cards of colors and numbers, and then dancing until my audience was giggling so hard that they forgot they were speaking a foreign language. While not all teachers may have had origin stories as kindergarten teachers, my journey into the teaching profession began quite unexpectedly. What you realize (even as a kindergarten teacher) is that teaching begins with relationship and only after a relationship has been established can learning take place. When the eyes of the teacher lock with the child and there is a spark of trust – then, only then – can learning begin.

As children grow older into adults, they fashion more poetic and artistic ways of learning, but in the end relationship continues to be the keystone, even in university and postgraduate studies. Parker Palmer recognizes this key fact, as the thesis to the book “The Courage To Teach” centers around the community that grows and is watered by the teacher. Even though I teach in a different country, culture, and sometimes language, the relationship between student and teacher is still tantamount, albeit interpreted and visualized differently. Even though expectations for what that relationship means may differ from culture to culture, the student and teacher can never be separated.

As a teacher, I have struggled with the concept of who I am as a teacher. Am I an instructor? Am I a friend? Am I a spiritual guide to help my students reach the next plateau in their lives? Am I the sage on the mountain, or the muse that whispers secrets into the hearts of learners while remaining at a distance to observe a transformed life? Palmer explains that the core of a teacher lies in his or her identity. “Identity and integrity have as much to do with our shadows and limits, our wounds and fears, as with our strengths and potentials.” (p. 12) In other words, identity forms the central axis upon which teachers revolve around: how far they can grow, their possibilities of self-actualization, how they relate to their subject material, and the extent to which students can grow under their tutelage. However, teachers are not the impact mechanism which affects students, according to Palmer; rather, once the teacher identifies the work of teaching as a vocation where “deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet,” (p. 30) then the result is what Palmer describes as good teaching. Good teaching is the penultimate goal, because the beauty of education lies in the subject-based classroom, where ideas are met with passion from both teacher and student. While Palmer wouldn’t necessarily say that the content of the lesson is more important than the teacher, neither would he say that the teacher is deserving of authority because of privilege or status; rather, in the mashing of paradox and fulfillment, within that tempestuous storm lies the diligence of purity and true knowledge, keys to unlocking true learning.

Perhaps the most insidious barrier to true learning is the atmosphere of the classroom. Teachers often complain of toxic environments, where students are uncompromisingly stalwart in erecting and rebuilding barriers to learning the teacher attempts to pursue. Sometimes these barriers are as simple as a consistently snide attitude toward the material of the class, and sometimes these barriers are as poisonous as repeated attempts to derail other students through an elaborately orchestrated coup. However, such grand dreams of Hell are merely illusions from the teacher’s fear, transformed into monsters and shadows that if not countered lead to a true malformation of bad teaching, where the teacher loses all credibility in not only the students but in himself or herself as a bearer of knowledge. Palmer classifies this barrier as “the teacher’s fearful heart” (p. 47), and reflects that the only true counter to fear is a change in attitude. Rather than combating the toxicity of the environment, the teacher should treat good teaching not as benefiting the student, but rather as benefiting the teacher. “Good teaching is an act of hospitality toward the young, and hospitality is always an act that benefits the host even more than the guest.” (p. 49) However, Palmer doesn’t say that the teacher shouldn’t attempt to care for the students, as “a good teacher is someone who can listen to those voices even before they are spoken – so that someday they can speak with truth and confidence” (p. 46). In other words, a teacher has priority, but if the teacher is at risk of falling to fear, confidence falters and only the strongest student survives, if survival can even be called a hope.

Wisdom is generally found in paradox. Many view this as the “wise man’s crutch,” with popular sentiments such as “during peace, prepare for war,” or “the wise man knows he is not wise.” Simplistic philosophical algorithms which propound great thoughts by abusing the existence of unspoken space are the sage’s artillery. As a teacher, I am held to account to the things I teach and often see myself on that distant high hill; what the wise man on the hill often fails to perceive however, is that while he chose solitude over community (as many scholars do), he stands out as he is the only one on that hill. According to Palmer, paradox is the key to good teaching; creating environments of tension in which learning can occur. He mentions six different kinds of environments of paradox: protected but open, inviting but dangerous, self-led in community, realistically archetypal, a community encouraging solitude, and a place of active discourse and quiet reflection (p. 76-78). Tension is the key to unlocking potential; tension for tension’s sake does not create potentials, but neither does tension for learning’s sake. Rather, exercising one’s abilities in the medium between light and dark, while aiming the mind at a goal allows one to critically assess the virtual environment, and through that assessment, self-knowledge is increased, which when utilized as a source of energy, helps create bridges over rivers of mystery and encourages us forward into the mist. In the end, the ability to learn can never come from any other but the self. However, the teacher must take full responsibility over the environmental design.

Palmer asserts strongly his Quaker identity, and perhaps nowhere stronger is his dedication to his faith in his preaching of the community of truth. As a teacher, I operate primarily in community but also outside of it – a class is a scheduled activity, required by the state, encouraged by the culture, and associated with shame and honor in the social spectrum. The student has no choice over the material studied, nor choice over the tasks assigned, and no choice over the time of the prescribed learning nor the length of that learning. In a true community the voice of the many act as one, but in a classroom, community cannot be understood in traditional terms; if purported as such, such definitions serve only to act as a rationalization for a more positive teacher and student relationship rather than a communal activity. For this reason, Palmer explores the concept of community not as a commune of individuals but rather as “the community of truth, the grace of great things, the transcendent subject, the ‘Secret that sits in the middle and knows,” and the sacredness of soil that Palmer believes community is rooted in not as physical and objective fact but as the numinous energy at the heart of reality, which binds all together, teacher and student alike. (p. 112) While this definition may seem obscure and philosophical, heis not claiming that community shouldn’t be held accountable as a collection of individuals working in harmony, but rather the spirit of community must be central to the reason why all parties are gathered. In other words – attitude. The classroom cannot be understood as a social requirement without the prescience of why and how that gathering of hearts and minds is necessary for personal growth. Even a person who hates learning must find an apple in a dry orchard if he seeks to become more than what he was; for this reason, community doesn’t spring out of the ground like a well of water; a teacher must, like a focusing iris pointing a laser of light at a spot on a wall, create an atmosphere of an “eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline.” (p. 105) For Palmer, that conversation deals with a particular subject, but I believe the teacher, as a leader, must also know how to wield the power of the iris wisely; a teacher does not exist in a vacuum.

In our modern society, we are inundated with data. Wikipedia boasts millions of pages of information, our liberal arts colleges offer hundreds of different majors, each major holding under its wings several different disciplines, even a field such as engineering must now be understood as mechanical engineering, biomedical engineering, structural engineering, coastal engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, and so on. The university has responded to this and does its best to offer as comprehensive an education as possible. Palmer asserts that what has happened in our society because of the rise of data collection is backward; rather than being more knowledgeable, we are less; rather than having more skill, we have trouble knowing how to actually process the data into action. Furthermore, in the university, classes often operate from one of two poles: where the teacher is a bastion of knowledge, or where the teacher workshops the students into pseudo-professors where every emotion or thought has value, regardless of the extrinsic value those ideas carry. Palmer’s solution then, is to offer less meaningless data, but data of value to the community. “The human brain works best with information presented not in the form of isolated data bits but in patterns of meaningful connection, in a community of data.” (p. 130) Hence, the responsibility lies on the teacher to carefully select information for a course that not only is aligned, but mindful that both the learners and the tutor are members of an intricate biological microcosm that grows and changes from the things touched, sensed, and experienced. Hence, the goal of education should neither be the holy hand grenade of knowledge from Heaven’s ambassador, nor should the goal of education be for students to play Battleship with their texts and hope to sink their opponent’s navy. In the center of everything lies the passionate subject, a bendable but intractable member of the learning society which is strategically selected by the teacher while at the same time open to interpretation. After all, the subject won’t go away if a student interprets it into oblivion, but that interpretation may reveal a deeper secret about the student previously unrealized, as long as the student is able to focus on the step-process of the latter obliviated idea.

Teaching is a personal art. Teachers draw from their lives stories, metaphors, experiences, emotions, and fears, in this complex interplay of personal elements a unique teaching methodology is practiced. Each teacher carries different variables into the classroom, and as such, rubrics, selection of curriculum, even priorities and time schedules differ from class to class. One teacher telling another teacher how to teach better can be explained by thinking of an image of a bird telling a beaver how to build a better home out of sticks. While both the bird and the beaver use the branches of a tree to build their homes, they are not the same creature and have different goals even though both are trying to provide for their families. Given these barriers to discussion, how can one teacher benefit from the experience of another teacher, without feeling the need to clone himself after that teacher? Palmer outlines a three-pronged process, which I will restate as preparedness, sacredness, and reflective paraphrasing. (p. 156-160). Preparedness concerns the full background of an issue, even data which might seem non-relevant. Sacredness is an attitude of pure exploration of situation and methodology. Reflective paraphrasing is the final step in the process where the listener tells the focus what she or he said, along with clarifying questions and non-confrontational observations. While these three methods may be useful in bridging the gap between teachers and allowing them a space in which to conceptualize themselves in a different environment, Palmer asserts the necessity for educational leaders to encourage dialogue. “Good talk about good teaching is unlikely to happen if presidents and principals, deans and department chairs, and others who have influence without position do not expect it and invite it into being.” (p. 160) Palmer’s premise, from the beginning of the book to the end, maintains a healthy accountability for those in power, whether those people are the teachers in charge of their classrooms or the leaders in charge of their teachers. As a person who has influence without position, I am encouraged by Palmer’s words.

The dread word for any teacher is invariably reform. It’s not that teachers are enemies of reform, but reform means change and forced systematic change is not a teacher’s bread and butter; much like the amputation of a limb, teachers view reform as a soldier might leer at a medic holding an axe in his hands. Teachers spend a lifetime developing strategies for use in the classrooms – elaborate rituals, choice texts, personal philosophies that others would find ludicrous outside of the tiny spec of wood, metal, and paper that comprises the classroom. Teachers spend countless hours pouring over evaluations, trying to come up with crazy theories in the sometimes haphazard goal of shaping lumps of teeny, naïve, and hormonal creatures into something their societies can be proud of on both an intellectual and a social level. So when words like “educational reform” get thrown around from other teachers (especially those outside the system) often the result is met with cold distance, apprehensiveness, or even outright rejection. Palmer recognizes the inherent weaknesses of reform, especially as reform tends more or less to be institutional rather than carrying intrinsic value. Hence, for Palmer the strategy is not to find ways of incorporating reform within the teacher’s life, but rather reforming the concept of the movement. To illustrate the reformed movement, Palmer uses four stages: institutional rejection in community, establishing support systems and a shared vision, opening goals and vision for public critique, and establishing a reward system outside of institutional values. (p. 172) Rather than working through the institution, Palmer asserts that a movement has value as “movements have the power to alter the logic of organizations because an organization is, at bottom, a system of social sanctions: do this and you will be punished; do that and you will be rewarded.” (p. 186) However, given the foundation of an institution lies in punishment and reward rather than passion and community, movements are to the institution what a shot of morphine is to a man bleeding on the battlefield: a second chance, a reawakening, and a re-purposing of “the power within each of us that in communion with powers beyond ourselves, co-creates the world, for better or worse.” (p. 189)

As a teacher in China, there are further challenges. I don’t have the space to talk in details, but there are five cardinal concepts of social intelligence of great importance in Chinese society: mianzi (face – impression management/self-presentation), wuxing/wulun (holism – social cognition/information identity), guanxi (relationship – attunement/interaction awareness), renqing (favor – influence/behavioral affectation), and yuan (fate – concern/interest management). Teaching in China affords me space; as a foreigner, I am not privy to the intrinsic culture, but I am aware that the culture where I live is far more attuned to social intelligence than my own and as a teacher I must train myself to be keenly aware or face the consequences. I bring this topic up because while Palmer’s model of teaching works well in a Judeo-Christian culture based in the sophistry of Plato, Aristotle, and Adam Smith, the Chinese worldview towards education is very different, founded in the entirely different philosophical petri dish of Confucius, Mencius, and Laozi. While Palmer identifies areas of improvement for the vocation of a teacher, most teachers would welcome his suggestions even though they might balk at their own responsibility to change; in China, I’m afraid many if not most teachers would find Palmer’s suggestions not only amazingly out-of-touch with the ideals of the teacher, but unusable except in particular situations where western ideas are more welcome and schools have been incentivized to test out alternate theories.

For myself as a scholar living in a foreign country, I have come to recognize that Palmer presents two significant challenges to me: firstly, that in order to function as a teacher in China, I must relearn basic concepts about human action. Not only does Palmer explain the inherent spirituality of the teaching profession, but he does so in a way that revitalizes old ideas in new colors. I must learn this language of human action, how to interpret what I see before me, and how to speak that language in such a way that I know who exactly I am, how my fears root me to inaction or backward thinking, how to approach the paradox of east and west and use that so that I can create a more positive learning environment. Concepts like mianzi and renqing are extraordinarily powerful as relationship modulators, while wuxing, guanxi, and yuan establish even the expectations of my own work. Mianzi and wulun alters/limits the extent to which I can affect change among my students, wuxing and yuan influences the amount of power I have as an influencer without position, and guanxi changes the nature of promotion, benefits, and even the concept of the movement.

Secondly, while I do believe that I have the spiritual gift of teaching, I don’t believe I am currently investing myself in it to the fullest extent.  While the culture is challenging, I am not naïve enough to believe the system would be any better in another place – so Palmer speaks directly to my attitude and the necessity for me to be a light to others, no matter how dark the island may be.

An Evaluation of Goodboy’s “Student Use of Relational and Influence Messages in Response to Perceived Instructor Power Use in American and Chinese College Classrooms”

The striking nature of Goodboy’s conclusions come not from the actual conclusions, but rather from what he does not conclude. In “Student use of relational and influence messages,” Goodboy answers his question, “does ‘the model of relational power and instructional influence theory’ (posited by Mottet, Frymier, & Beebe, 2006), from a student perspective, communicate any relevant data to explain relational and social influence from the instructor’s use of power?”, although his conclusions while common (instructors should “use confirming messages which communicate to students they are recognized and acknowledged as valuable and significant individuals”, 202) are striking because of the conclusion not answered. Goodboy posits that instructor uses of prosocial power empower student satisfaction, while uses of antisocial power encourage the use of student BATs (behavioral alteration techniques), a reaction to a lack of trust from student to instructor based on the student’s perception of how the instructor uses power in and outside of the classroom. (195)

While Goodboy concludes that in the United States the most powerful method of fostering student satisfaction is the proper use of referent and expert power, the usage of reward power, previously thought to be a prosocial power base, actually causes an equal amount of positive and negative relationships among students and instructors (200), not helping foster student satisfaction at all. Goodboy also concludes that among Chinese students, the instructor’s use of referent power and legitimate power (previously considered to be an antisocial power) creates positive student satisfaction, while legitimate power and expert power helps to encourage student BATs, which actually has a more powerful affect than the United States in encouraging positive relationships among students and teachers; although no direct form of power has any affect on student-teacher relationships in China.

The two most significant studies prior to Goodboy’s survey on instructor power use was Mottet, Frymier, & Beebe’s model of relational power and instructional influence theory, which served as a foundation to the study by positing that the “instructor-student relationship . . . involves influence . . . [and] . . . by conceding power to one another in that prosocial power use yields long-term influence and antisocial power use yields short term [sic] influence.” (192) The second most important previous study was Golish (1999), as within Golish’s study was provided “19 compliance-gaining strategies, or BATs . . . which reported the students’ use of the guilt, flattery, public persuasion, evidence of preparation/logic, performance, utilitarian justice, punishing the teacher, reference to higher authority, and verbal force/demand BATs.” (195) These 19 compliance-gaining strategies were then compiled into Golish’s Student Behavioral Alteration Technique Typology, which along with the TPUS (Schrodt et al., 2007), SCSS (Goodboy et al., 2009), and SAST (Wanzer, 1998) were used to corroborate interlinked data to find appropriate Cronbach alphas for each subscale and associated power.

The data collection and procedures in calculating the data Goodboy used were highly advanced statistical algorithms and without extensive training, I would not be able to replicate his methods. Goodboy mentions that the coefficient obtained for the legitimate power subscale had low reliability, and “produced low reliability estimates in other research, . . . [so] instructional communication scholars may consider revising the subscale items of this measure.” (204) He also mentions that the questionnaire translation (from English to Chinese) was a weakness of the study, and while the grammar was correct, semantic meaning could have been different. (205) In all, 445 undergraduate students were selected to report on 248 instructors in the United States and China.

This article is a ground-breaking discovery into not only communication studies, but also the study of power. Goodboy’s weakness is the distance he places between pedagogy and standard teaching practices (due to statistical complexity). However, Goodboy proves that use of referent power and not reward, coercive, or even expert power, is the major influence on student satisfaction in both the U.S. and China, while legitimate power only has a positive influence in China if used correctly. As my goal in China is to learn how to foster relationships with students, this helps me immensely.


Golish, T. D. (1999). Students’ use of compliance-gaining strategies with graduate teaching assistants: Examining the other end of the power spectrum. Communication Quarterly, 47, 12-32.

Goodboy, A. K. (2011). Student use of relational and influence messages in response to perceived instructor power use in American and Chinese college classrooms. Communication Education, 60(2), 191-209.

Mottet, T. P., Frymier, A. B., & Beebe, S. A. (2006). Theorizing about instructional communication. In T. P. Mottett, V. P. Richmond, & J. C. McCroskey (Eds.), Handbook of instructional communication: Rhetorical and relational perspectives (pp. 255-282). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

G.B. Caird: The Placement of History Within Biblical Interpretation

Caird presents the reader with an alternate view of understanding the Bible. Whereas Bultmann focused on teaching the application of mythology within the Bible, Caird presents a study of words, or a study of eschatological proportion. Caird claims that the Bible is perhaps, a metaphor for existence and personal reflection. He proves this through different passages, and claims three conclusions about Biblical passages: 1) the Biblical writers believed in a beginning and an end, 2) the words expressed were metaphorical end-of-the-world language, and 3) people misinterpret these metaphors in the literal sense.

Caird understands the Bible in a historical and purpose sense. He believes the Bible should be read and understood in the historical mode. He also believes the intention of the author should be fully grasped, before interpretation. He views interpretative meaning as merely interpretation, and claims the interpretative events are metaphors for something else.

Also, Caird also asserts the eschatology of the words in the Bible – being that, they mean what they are. Therefore, when something is stated in a Biblical passage, then it is truth within that passage for that writer during that time. I believe this is a healthy way to understand the Bible, because you are not thrusting your own experience and your own intentions upon something that did not originate from you or your experience.

I, however, do believe that people can interpret Scripture to their own whims. But I classify this as interpretation, not as truth – the only truth being that eschatological reading based upon history and the intention of the author. Caird asserts any interpretation beyond what is true to history and the author is misinterpreted, and he continues by stating some problems this type of interpretation have caused, such as the ‘day of the Lord’ (Anno Domini) and the ‘latter end of days.’

Eschatology is important for understanding the Bible, especially if you believe the Bible was written by human hands and not divine hands. If you believe solely God wrote the Bible, then neither I, not Caird, can help you, because the divine cannot be questioned. However, if you are willing to believe that human hands wrote the Bible, and each author had their own intentions in writing his or her specific passage, and each author lived in a historical period with an experience and a judgment, then the application of eschatology is important. By understanding the placement and meaning of the words in the exegetical process through the application of eschatology, you can unravel the mysteries behind the lines and passages. There are patterns in the Bible, and the Biblical authors expressively used these patterns to their advantage. There are also literary expressions used throughout the Bible in pattern to other books that, if understood, reveal great details about what the author was intending to say about society and culture. Recognizing these facets is something Caird impressed upon the Biblical world. I thank him.

(This short essay was written for a class on Biblical methods and interpretation throughout Christian history.  Today my feelings are slightly different from when I wrote this back in 2002: using historical criticism of the Bible is a helpful tool, but beyond a tool, we must still rely on the authority of Jesus in our relationship with God as the prime end of how we should interpret the scriptures.  Understand cultural implications and the historical significance is important to illuminating the lessons intended within the specific work, but even our interpretations must be subjected to our own cultural worldview and interpretation of fact.)

Book Review: The Speed of Trust, by Stephen M.R. Covey & Rebecca Merrill

 As a teacher in China, one of my biggest struggles is learning how to build bridges of trust between myself and my students. Trust in China has a very different meaning, one that when taken to extremes can turn to distrust and even abandonment. Growing up in the United States, I was secure in my notion of trust: having life-long friends who without even a thought are willing to continue being a friends after twenty years of not a word shared. In China, such a thing would not be thought possible – there might be a modicum of congeniality among old friends (much like the errant family member who shows up every three years for a yearly gathering) but trust in China is earned, not given. In the United States, trust often is considered primarily a noun, whereas in Chinese trust is a verb. The quest for learning how to establish boundaries of trust leads me into this study of Covey’s notion of trust, and will serve as a bridge I move through his themes.

One note before I begin: Stephen M.R. Covey is a direct descendant of Stephen R. Covey, the writer of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a primal book in the infancy of self-help theory and an archon of a new genre of literature. Covey the elder became famous for splitting his theories into neat segments of seven. His son, Stephen M.R. Covey, refrains from making such an outlandish claims that trust can be neatly categorized into seven different themes. For the son’s sake, I have taken inspiration from the father and split the younger Covey’s book on trust into seven themes: 1)Trust thyself, 2)trust begins in the home, 3)trust is collaborative and fluid, 4)trust must be maintained, 5)trust is an external force, 6)trust is developed behavior, and 7)trust is bound to efficiency. These themes do not appear as such in Covey’s book, but I believe they accurately summarize the most important learning points included within the text.


Trust thyself. The key to trust is self-trust, shown as the absolute central “wave” which Covey asserts governs the nature and flow of trust (34). Self-trust is indelibly linked to credibility, notably four separate cores of credibility which compose close to one quarter of Covey’s book: Integrity, intent, capability, and results. These four cores composite the building blocks of a person’s trust capacity for self-government. Covey describes building credibility as “the second most identified behavior of leaders” (48), showing the important of credibility not only as a solid state, but also as a continual action of improving oneself as a leader so that not only will others trust the leader, but the leader will trust the leader. According to Covey, credibility must be constantly improved, the policy for “reinvention is required for longevity” (93), and in today’s changing world longevity is one of the holy grails of efficiency and success.

Personal reflection is necessary for self-trust. Not only understanding but refining personal motives helps to justify intentions to the self (85), but understanding intention must be understood as a two-way process. The first process step deals with the perception of action, while the second process step is reaction to action, or understanding the perception of action through clarity of reasons for personal reaction (86). Through the act of reflection, leaders strengthen purpose and resolve, a core capability Covey believes is required for self-trust (105). All four cores are part of what Covey calls “the Ripple Effect” (135), a meta-theory which relates how particularities of one part of life echo and cause change in another part of life, with the capacity to create chaos or peace depending on how the parts align with the whole.

Trust begins in the home. While not a central theme, the concept of home is heavily rooted in Covey’s trust theory. In almost every corner of his book, the home appears. Covey believes that the family is an organization, and organizational trust is just as relevant to the family as to the organization (258). In order to engender trust within the family, the leader must declare intentions directly, without any rhetoric or illusion (140). Expectations within the family unit define responsibilities (196), and if expectations are not voiced, they are generally assumed in the lack, with responsibilities which remain undefined but accepted. Trust is broken in the family unit when responsibilities (voiced or unvoiced) are shirked; sometimes parents carry heavy expectations on children but fail to voice those expectations, while other times children expect to be treated in a certain way and the parents do not meet their expectations, leading to distrust and betrayal.

In order to create trust within the family, Covey insists to focus on the “little things” at home such as respect and gratitude (148), which can serve as helpful bridges from misunderstanding to forgiveness in times of family crisis. Family leaders should also follow the “10-year rule,” which aligns vision with the future rather than the present (219). By focusing on the short term (“little things”) as well as the long-term (“10-year rule”) family leaders can create an environment of trust and acceptance even in the harshest of climates.

Trust is collaborative and fluid. Just as in family, in an organization all members in theory are directed towards a single purpose or end-goal. The ties which bind members of an organization together create a strong collaborative bond, and trust therefore is inescapable as members of an organization rely not only on themselves but on each other (4). Covey claims that the importance of credibility within a collaborative organization is not maintained by the results of that credibility, but rather by the awareness of credibility (118). As people walk down the halls or sit in an office, others are watching them and trying to discern and map credibility. Rather than focusing on the product, people focus on the image of those surrounding them, which in turn fosters either collaboration (opportunity) or cooperation (256) as trust grows and wanes. For Covey, trust is intrinsically a collaborative economy (256), in which trust as a currency is shared between an organization and credit (166) and desired accountability (203) are used as variables in a complex exchange of human needs.

Covey is quick to point out however, that trust is not a rooted concept which grows over-time. Rather, trust is fluid and one of the fastest and quickest to change of all behaviors within an organization (25). Trust solutions are created by a process of listening (37), in which all resultant dimensions have been fully considered and weighed (112). Such dimensions include understanding the past, present, and the future, not only in their own separate spheres but together and in coordination with each other. Often, unrealistic expectations are a major breach of trust (196); expectations formed due to a lack of proper listening in which all dimensions were not carefully considered in context. By viewing trust dimensional theory in view of context, the levels of trust from one organization to another organization, from one time to another time, from one leader to another leader can vary wildly; even within the same organization an issue of trust may transpire differently one month later; the fluid nature of trust is that trust constantly shifts as attitudes and desires shift.

Trust must be maintained; it is not absolute or static. Early research into trust during the late 1950s and early 1960s tried to state that trust was a part of absolute science in which if a proper methodology was used, trust could be cemented into an organizational framework (Deutch, 1958). By the late 60s, trust was considered, rather than a scientific formula, as a figment of the personality (Rotter, 1967), yet another static element which while changeable takes considerable psychological seismic change to induce a different state. In the 80s, trust was defined as a sociological concept in interpersonal relationships (Johnson-George & Swap, 1982); as a relational attitude, therefore trust could be influenced through cultural outreach and self-management. Understanding trust as an interpersonal relationship insinuates however, that trust is like a ball passed between two feuding brothers; if they could learn to share the ball, they would be able to trust each other .

While Covey does maintain that trust can be improved through the analysis and adaptation of opportunity, risk, and credibility (297), he also claims that trust must be continually maintained, not only when there are problems but when there are none. Covey captures the idea of continual maintenance of trust through his concept of trust accounts, which serve as depositories of reputation and obligation (130). The trustee standard according to Covey is a playing field of expectations cognizant upon all people involved in the trust game and required of all, but whose rules are defined by the people who populate the field rather than a predefined set of notions delineating official procedures and regulations (83). By listening to others not only to words, but also to the eyes and the heart, trust deposits can be put into a trust account (212); when necessary, Covey believes withdrawals from trust accounts can be taken, and the cycle continues. Therefore no one situation of trust is the same; trust must be constantly watched over, acted upon, and analyzed.

While trust must be internally consistent, trust is primarily an external force. For me, one of Covey’s most interesting realities of trust is that trust is brand. Covey states that trust is built upon impressions, which are shown through integrity, honesty, straightforwardness, and other types of behavior (137). These impressions, when combined together create brand, and brand is the external force and outward expression of an organization. Regardless of whether the organization is a business or a family, personal brand results in solid dividends (265).

High trust equals high dividends, and as brand is an image of trust as an external force, so high trust equals high brand. High brand equals high dividends; the comparison of brand with trust is known as the “trust dividend” (17), a key point repeated in Covey’s text as a barometer of trust success. In order to gain the trust dividend, Covey recommends building brand through the steady application of the Core and Wave Principles in his trust theory, by using them as diagnostic tools for analysis in order to bring the greatest returns (269).

Trust is a behavior that must be developed through action. Academic studies today often refer to trust as an attitude, which is generally settled way of thinking or feeling, typically reflected in a person’s behavior. Some researchers have claimed that attitude is a summative evaluation of the consideration of right and wrong behaviors (Martinez-Tur & Peiro, 2009), which leads to risk and interdependence as conditions for trust (Yamagishi & Yamagishi, 1994; Whitener, et al., 1998). However, Covey has a strikingly different conception of trust, as he believes that trust is primarily a behavior which can be developed and changed; trust is not only a by-product of behavior, but an actual action which when trained properly can create openness and allow for credibility and reputation to increase the efficiency of an organization. Covey represents his belief through nearly 33% of his book taken up with methods of improving behavior (127-232). He divides these methods into the “13 Behaviors,” a subset of one of his five waves entitled “relationship trust” which he believes when improved upon can engender trust (34).

In order to change behavior, Covey recommends viewing behavior externally rather than internally; instead of understanding behavior with belief, he insists behavior should be compared with words, which in turn offer themselves as signals construing worth (128). Therefore, as behavior associates with words rather than beliefs, shifts in behavior are more easily managed (130), but only if done so holistically and in context through which Covey suggests using the 5 Waves of trust starting from the fifth and moving to the first in that order (304). Through a method of applying behavioral changes through an analysis of the 5 Waves, one can not only strengthen trust levels but even repair and restore broken trust. Covey strongly believes that the end more than justifies the means in the quest of mending trust issues, as results are the factor which converts distrust into trust (174).

Trust is bound to efficiency. The title of Covey’s book is The Speed of Trust, and Covey consistently claims that speed is bound to trust, just as love and respect are bound to a marriage or dividends are bound to success. He describes this relationship in the Trust Formula, which is: “High trust equals high speed and low cost, while low trust equals low speed and high cost” (13). Covey states that the view that trust is a slow process, one that is built over many years and lasts for many years is wrong; rather than slow, trust is one of the fastest aspects of organizational life that is both gained and lost, gained in a moment and lost in a moment but more powerful than can be imagined (25). The speed is trust is regulated by three different “accelerators”: commitment, principle, and openness, which when woven together in an act of integrity or absolved in an act of dishonesty or corruption, cause trust to be gained faster or lost faster (72).

Covey relates an interesting fact: in the modern era, “people have learned to trust a complete stranger” just through the sheer power and speed of technology (268). “Stranger trust” therefore is tied directly with efficiency and speed. Just as people have learned to trust strangers because of the speed of reputation, so efficiency can be lowered through the imposition of taxes such as the “spin tax” and the “withholding tax” (139) when people in an organization, having lost trust in leadership because of misinformation and white lies, withhold their own information and skill in an aura of distrust. Therefore in order to create an environment of trust, organizations must strive to foster a “spirit of transparency” (154) where nothing is hidden and agendas are questioned early and improved upon in a collaborative process.

Covey does not claim that trust is only defined by speed, however. Without patience, planning, and careful execution of strategies, trust is lost. While speed is integral in efficiency, so is care. According to a professor at Harvard Business School, when considering speed or careful planning, “it is better to have a grade-B strategy and grade-A execution than the other way around” (257). Furthermore, according to Admiral James Stockdale, “you must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be” (186)1, meaning that only through careful planning, discipline, and confrontation of contextual factors can true efficiency be achieved. Covey also believes that efficiency is fundamentally tied to the art of listening; he refers to Drucker’s rule: “Listen first, speak last” (210). Therefore, as trust is bound to speed, speed is bound to efficiency, and efficiency is bound to patience, logically then trust is a complex paradox composed of disparate elements warring against one another while at the same time complementing one another for the end result.

Themes as tools. Covey sees his themes primarily as methods and strategies for improving behavior and increasing brand reputation. Each section of the book carefully divides ideas into steps and procedures, making each chapter very practical. However for me, I view his themes not as methods or strategies but as tools of analysis. For example, in reviewing trust levels in my classroom, applying the 13 Behaviors directly may cause more harm than good as the 13 Behaviors are founded primarily on western concepts of confrontation, upward transparency, and strength of resolve. In China, the eastern concepts of harmony, hiddenness, and soft power play a far greater role in shaping policy and leadership strategies. In order to accurately use Covey’s themes I must treat them as tools to apply to particular situations, sensitive to context and persons or actors involved in a particular context.


I have several critiques of Covey’s book The Speed of Trust. These three critiques are based mostly on particular errors in the genre in which Covey writes for, as he seems stuck between writing a book for organizations or writing a book for personal self-help. Firstly, Covey overemphasizes the role of self and the role of the home in regards to organizations. Secondly, he falls prey to the Narrative Fallacy in his attempt for creative enterprise as a writer. Finally, he utilizes traditional success listology and business rhetoric, causing his material to appear trite and simple, when in actuality his material is quite extensive and full of new paradigms in considering new theories of trust.

Covey believes the home is also an organization. The home is not an organization. To view the home as an organization does incredible disservice to the home. Children should not be considered assets. The love given between parents and passed to the children should never be seen in economic terms. While the parents do act as leaders, ultimately the leader of a spirit-led household is God. The home is often the absolute opposite of an organization, where grief is allowed, tears are encouraged, the bottom line is forgotten in lieu of grace, and success is reliant not on profit or result but on the journey itself. Successful organizations, while they may consider the journey of some importance, ultimately draw a line when learning impedes progress, rent, and profit. A family must always seek to fill the emotional and spiritual needs first, and trust the engines of society to train children in the ways of the world and the proper way to fend for oneself in a given culture with unique requirements and contexts.

Covey, like many of his contemporary business writers, falls into the pit of the narrative fallacy. The narrative fallacy, according to Taleb (2007), is using stories “to overinterpretation and our predilection for compact stories over raw truths . . . [while looking] at sequences of facts without weaving an explanation into them, or equivalently, forcing a logical link, an arrow of relationship, upon them.” Covey’s book is full of stories, so many stories that often the stories run over and through each other. The problem isn’t that Covey uses stories, but that he is following a pattern in genre where current business writing requires to use of stories to maintain relevance; a pattern which he uses only in tradition. In one chapter, Covey relates over ten stories totally unrelated to each other except through the thin veneer of logic he imposes upon them. Furthermore, according to the notes at the back of the book, only 2.7% of the references are actually academic sources. The other 97.3% of the references are collated articles from newspapers, leadership biographies, business agendas, websites, and random media interviews, including almost 50% of the references dedicated to the quotations Covey inserts throughout the book to serve as bookmarks from chapter to chapter.

The last criticism I have of Covey’s work is his use of success listology and business rhetoric. Success listology is the simplification of complex business principles into simple 1-2-3 step procedures: “by following these steps blindly, you too can be successful and happy.” While many of his tactics may show fruit, maintaining an attitude of follow first, understand later, is too blind for my comfort. Answers are never easy, and if true change is to occur people must wrestle with the difficulties of decisions, or else true change does not occur. Change must begin in the heart, and only then can change transform.

In my work in China, I have encountered a crisis in trust. I am a stranger in a strange land, full of complexity and mystery. My hope is that through careful analysis of each particular situation, I can more fully identify with my students, and through that identification understand their language of trust. While the speed of trust changes everything, the language of trust is everything.


Collins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap . . . and other’s don’t. Harper Business: New York.

Covey, S. M. R., & Merrill, R. R. (2006). The speed of trust: The one thing that changes everything. Free Press: New York.

Deutch, M. (1958). Trust and suspicion. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 2, 265-279.

Johnson-George, C. E., & Swap, W. C. (1982). Measurement of specific interpersonal trust: Construction and validation of a scale to assess trust in a specific other. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43, 1306-1317.

Martinez-Tur, V. & Peiro, J. M. (2009). The trust episode in organizations: Implications for private and public social capital. Social Science Information, 48(2): 143-174.

Rotter, J. B. (1967). A new scale for the measurement of interpersonal trust. Journal of Personality, 35, 651-665.

Taleb, N. N. (2007). The black swan: The impact of the highly improbable. Penguin: London.

Whitener, E. M., Brodt, S. E., Korsgaard, M. A., & Wener, J. M. (1998). Managers as initiators of trust: an exchange relationship framework for understanding managerial trustworthy behavior. Academy of Management Review, 23: 513-530.

Yamagishi, T., & Yamagishi, M. (1994). Trust and commitment in the United States and Japan. Motivation and Emotion, 18: 129-166.

1The Stockdale Paradox, as quoted from Jim Collin’s Good to Great, pg. 86

An Evaluation of Wang’s “Social exclusion and inequality in China”

Wang’s intent is to clarify the problems surrounding the Chinese university entrance exam by using Amartya Sen’s model of social exclusion. This is a curious concept, since he is marrying two different disciplines into the same school of thought (poverty studies and educational theory). While his introduction is short (two paragraphs), his background to the problems related to the university entrance examination is extensive, and is necessary to understand the implications of social exclusion when applied to the policies that surround the test. One of the weaknesses of the paper, however, is Wang’s extensive explanations of historical and economic-sociological concepts. Wang tends to focus more on applying previous literature to support his opinion, rather than creating and using verifiable data and individual case studies in order to show credence to a conclusion.

Two specific categories of literature are used to describe the problem of social exclusion in China regarding higher education. The first category of literature is related to social exclusion itself, a concept originated from Amartya Sen in his paper, “Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, and Scrutiny.” (Sen, 2000) In this way, Wang creates a correlation between poverty and education, specifically as Sen relates poverty through his capability theory by using variations of deprivations that people suffer under political and economic systems.

The other category of literature that Wang employs are economic/sociological statistical literature and political documents which outline state power over education and the dissemination of funds for use in education. In this way, Wang is uniquely advocating a participatory approach to his qualitative study. He utilizes few case studies (although his abstract says otherwise), although he does use political documents and statistics to back up his claims about how the structures of power in China are depriving students of the right to free higher education. His goal however, is to turn heads.

Wang primarily makes use of western scholars who are commenting on the concept of social exclusion (Devaney, Weber, Lenoir, Silver, Popay, Levitas, Rawls, Lindblad, Popkewitz, Vizard, Burchardt, Unterhalter, Robeyns, Saito, Jayaraj, and Subramanian), or western scholars commenting on the value of education (Rothschild, Mellor, Klasen, Healy, Slowey, Bradshaw, and Waters). He does use a few Chinese scholars who write about the college entrance examination (Zhang, Chen, Yuan, Yang, Yin, Liu, Xia, Bao, Chan, and Zhou) although the primary source of his information regarding national statistics is the NBSC (National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2008).

When Sen’s capability theory was applied to the Chinese context, Wang noticed several issues which led to the writing of this study. Those issues derive from an aspect of capability theory which deals with societal deprivations. There are four main problems that Wang describes in his study. The first problem is that the system changed from a free system to a user-pay system, which contributes to what Sen calls constitutive deprivation. The second issue that Wang elaborates on is universities in different regions developing differently and altering their recruitment systems based on familial backgrounds of prospective students, which Wang places within Sen’s active deprivation. The third problem that Wang writes about is the disparity between urban and rural populations, which he fits into Sen’s passive deprivation; what Wang also calls “passive exclusion.” Lastly, Wang speaks about Sen’s instrumental deprivation in the Chinese HE system as schools alter their admission policies and discriminate students according to “migrant status,” or according to their “elite status.”

In conclusion, Wang stresses that HE institutional design, rather than enhancing capability, corrals students to specific states and actions. He states that evaluation for admission should not only be limited to “educational input” and “learning outcomes,” but should return to a merit-based system, and move away from what is now a privilege-based system. Wang offers few solutions outside of system-wide and joint state, market and civil efforts, but he does express that if we apply Sen’s capability theory to HE admission in China, we can view the entire issue through a different lens, focusing on the active and instrumental deprivation within the institutional design of the system itself.


Wang, L. (2011) Social exclusion and inequality in higher education in China: A capability perspective. International Journal of Educational Development, 31, 277-286.

Sen, A. (2000) Social Exclusion: Concept, Application, and Scrutiny. Social development Papers, Asia Development Bank, No. 1.

An Evaluation of Sofo’s East meets West; or never the twain shall meet

Sofo introduces to the reader to the problem of the “mystery . . . with Chinese ways of thinking.” Sofo claims this mystery stems from his understanding that traditionally, China does not have research available with useful frameworks or tools in which to analyze thinking styles. Thinking styles is Sofo’s strong-suit, as over the course of many years (2002-2005) Sofo has developed Thinking Style Inventories (TSI) which he uses to examine leadership preferences. Sofo claims that in order to begin to understand Chinese thinking styles, he must first start from a Western perspective and so apply both his TSI as well as several other scholars’ (who shall be discussed) TSI. His belief that Chinese leaders should think conditionally (just as the party thinks) spurred him into doing this research, with the idea that perhaps they were not so conditional after all.

Sofo’s theory is based on his concept of “reality construction” which states that “thinking is not an ability, but instead a preference to use various abilities in particular ways.” So, rather than perceiving thought as a skill one can build and train, thinking acts as a personality trait which can be either conscious or unconscious, but in either case, creates a framework or structure in which our minds form mental strategies that build our worldview and concept of ourselves in relation to others around us. By postulating that thinking is so fundamental, Sofo believes he can extract leadership thinking styles from Chinese business and education leaders by using various Thinking Style Inventories, or surveys which then rate these styles according to a quantitative scale, although the article did not state examples of the questions nor the structure of the Inventories.

Sofo listed two research questions in his study. The first question dealt with examining the thinking style profiles of Chinese leaders. Part of Sofo’s foundation is that while he is using Western models to do his study, Eastern models will eventually emerge, and through that discovery, he will be better able to construct a profile based on the unique regional differences. Sofo references Hofstede’s framework and the unique but ancient idea that people are nationally motivated; Sofo claims this is an old way of thinking but the only one available, and so he designs himself to discover better, more regional ways to express the thinking styles of Chinese leaders. His second question deals more in specifics, with comparing and contrasting educational leaders versus non-educational leaders, to see if they differ or are the same across the Thinking Style Inventory he personally designed in 2005.

Sofo believes strongly that Thinking Styles are far more useful in determining “academic variables, employment variables, and self-rated abilities” than intelligence tests, and so he begins this study without utilizing tests of skill or logic, but merely by trying to understand motivations and preferences in leadership. Sofo believes that by utilizing Hofstede’s cultural framework, Sternberg’s theory of self-government, and his personal TSI, he will be given key insight into the two research questions he proposed to find answers.

Sofo’s review of literature in his article is vast, far more detailed than can be mentioned in this tiny paper (a good 50% more content than the rest of the paper combined). However, it is worthy to note that in review, he uses the triarchic theory of mental self-government built by Sternberg (1997), Hofstede’s framework for understanding national differences (2001), and the TSI built by himself (Sofo 2004). Sofo’s theory was derived from the work of Boud and Miller (1996), Knowles (1990), Mezirow (1981), and Schon (1987). Sofo also mentioned 31 other researchers who worked over the course of almost 60 years on the construction of “cognition-centred [sic] thinking styles.”

As the process concludes, Sofo concludes and predicts, based on his results, that non-educational leaders in China scored themselves as very independent and exploratory, while educational leaders scored themselves much higher than non-educational leaders in conditional thinking. To Sofo this proves that educational leaders are more comfortable with being told what to do, while non-educational leaders feel a drive to question their society more. While his conclusions are fascinating, his cultural assumptions do create a bias which ends up influencing his results in a negative fashion.


Sofo, F. (2005) Thinking Styles of modern Chinese leaders: Independence and exploration in an historically conditional China. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 45(3), 304-330.