Friday, March 28, 2014

I so Pledge

Do you remember, in elementary school, when the teacher would cover a unit, and then with all measure of pomp and circumstance, would pass out a paper for all the students to sign? Perhaps after a unit on nutrition, students would sign a pledge to eat healthy, or after learning about communities, each student may have signed a pledge to be a better neighbor. Or perhaps after a unit in math class, students signed an agreement to practice their multiplication tables.

As a side note, when my daughters would come home from elementary school, I often admonished them to “Be fruitful and multiply.” They would look at me quizzically and ask, “What do you mean?” To which I would reply, “Eat an apple and do your math homework!”

As I have added a few years to my life, and a degree in Psychology to my resume, it is now quite clear to me that these pledges are meant to manipulate behavior. It is a very good thing to eat healthy, be a better neighbor, and know how to multiply. Having a student sign a pledge is a small commitment that, hopefully, encourages the individual to comply with the commitment.

The alternative is to mandate a behavior, and nobody likes to be told what to do. Early in my adult working life, a flyer was put in my mailbox at work. It was an invitation to a class on how to write documentation properly. The flyer was full of examples of good documentation (which is very important in the human services field), and I became more excited about signing up to go to the class. As I finished reading the photcopied flyer, I noticed the little note that our director had penned on the flyer, before she copied them and put them all in our mail boxes.

“This training is Mandatory for all Vocational Services Staff.”

When I read that, I crumpled the paper into a ball, walked past the recycling bin, and threw it in the garbage, mumbling angrily to myself about how stupid the class sounded and how much I resented being told I had to go to this class. At that moment I wouldn’t have gone to that class if they paid me to go, but I did, becuase I was mandated and they paid me.

In the program I work in currently, we have twice monthly staff meetings -- mandatory twice monthtly staff meetings. In our most recent staff meeting, we were reminded that the individuals we work with are people first. We should not define them by a deficit or a disabilitly, nor to treat them as children; we should treat them as adult people.

Then with glee, we were handed a pledge to sign, complete with curly-que border and a faux seal, signifying our commitment to treating the people we work with as adult people.

And suddenly, I flashed back to elementary school and felt very much like a child.


  1. I'm thinking those pledges laid the groundwork for living duplicitous lives without a troubled conscience.

    1. As long as I say I will do it, I will feel good, even if I don't do it?

    2. "Nobody will ever check, and it's the most expedient path." Like clicking that you have read the End-User-License-Agreement (EULA), so you can get on with installing the software. Right. Sure you did.

  2. They call it a pledge, I call it covering the rear. That way anything you do from a child through adult is not their fault and they can prove it!

  3. I've never come across this before. To me it sounds like a way to blackmail people into doing things by shaming them if they don't conform. Not the best way forward to gain anyone's buy into behaving in a "better" way.