A la Recherche du Temps Coercive

[From Rick Marken (980627.0015)]

Bill Powers (980626.1903 MDT) already responded to Tom's open
message to Bill and me that was forwarded to CSGNet by isaac
kurtzer (980626). I've decided to respond based on my memory
of the recent discussion of coercion and RTP rather than by
going back to the archives to quote chapter and verse, because
there are probably chapters and certainly verses that I wrote
that I regret. I don't think I am writing scripture when I post;
I think I am engaged in a discussion -- or a lively debate --
and I know that I can get so caught up my attempts to make a
point that my rhetoric can reach new levels of florridity.

According to PCT, when a debate like the one over coercion and
RTP becomes heated, it's a good bet that the parties to the
debate are in conflict over the desired state of a perceptual
variable. In this case, the perceptual variable in contention
seemed to be "the coerciveness of the RTP program"; some (like
me) wanted to see agreement that the RTP program is coercive;
others wanted to see agreement that it is non-coercive.

As I recall, the debate started when Bill made a comment about
the impossibility of implementing a non-coercive program in the
context of a system the was fundamentally coercive. This led
to an argument about whether systems (as opposed to people)
could be coercive and (somehow) to the continuing argument
about what coercion is. The argument about the coercivness of
RTP centered around (and often strayed far from) the question of
whether giving a child the "choice" of staying and following the
rules of the classroom or going to the social skills room was

In order to make their points (that RTP was _not_ coercive or
that it was) the opposing sides of the debate mustered many
arguments; to rebut these arguments the opposing parties often
took more and more extreme positions. This led to some rather
bizarre behavior, such as my own argument that a victim need not
even be present for there to be coercion. I was arguing this to
make the point that coercion refers to the controlling done by a
coercer, whether the victim finds this controlling coercive or not.
But this extreme position is obviously absurd in terms of most
colloquial understandings of coercion; a policeman sitting and
eating donuts would _not_ be called coercive; the same policeman
pulling over a speeding motorist would.

At some point in the argument I was apparently seen (by Tom, isaac and
possibly others) to be saying that RTP is equivalent to Nazism and
Stalinism. I am very sorry if I gave that impression. Actually, I
think it was Bill who first brought up the Jews being led to the gas
chambers as an example of the fact that there can be coercion even
when there is no resistance. As I recall, my own use of the Nazi/Stalin
analogy to the RTP teacher was to point out that all were doing
the same thing -- controlling behavior (which at that time I took as
a synonym for coercion). I used the analogy, not as an indictment of
RTP, but to show, as dramatically as possible, that control of
behavior is happening whether you like the reason for doing it
(producing a good environment for learning, as in RTP) or not
(eliminating European Jewry or capitalist pigs). I was trying (way
too aggressively, I'm afraid; but such is the behavior of parties to
a conflict) to get RTP practitioners to be honest and face the fact
that the RTP teacher _must_ control the behavior of the kids in the
classroom, control that will probably become coercive if a disruptive
kid refuses to "choose" to leave. Even if this has never happened,
it probably would if a kid were persistently disruptive. But this
can be tested; the question of whether the RTP teacher controls
(coercively if necessary) is an empirical question; RTP people should
at least be aware that its a very good possibility that this is
what's going on; indeed, the instructions for being an RTP teacher
_require_ that the teacher remove disruptive kids from class -- nicely,
if possible, but removed nevertheless. This is an instruction to
control behavior; it's what I thought of as coercion.

So I apologize if my rhetoric about Nazis and Stalinists caused
a problem. It was not intended as a smear to RTP. In fact,
persistently unnoticed in this whole debate (and apparently
unnoticed by Tom and isaac) was my lavish praise of the RTP
program in the one post to which I will refer:Rick Marken (980518.1100).
In that post I used phrases like "genius", "insightful", and "works
so well" to describe the RTP program. Bill independently posted a
similar paen to the RTP program at almost the same time --
independently coming to the same conclusion as I did about why
the program works so well; not because it is not coercive but
because it reduces conflict by taking the teacher gently out
of the control of behavior loop. Absolutely no discussion of
Bill and my hypothesis about RTP followed either of these posts;
the discussion went immediately back to the conflict -- with the
usual suspects trying to get their perception of "coerciveness of
RTP" right back to where they wanted it.

So why do some people want to see RTP as coercive and others not?

From my side of the conflict it is a matter of theoretical honesty;

the RTP teacher is clearly _required_ to control the level of
disruption in class (keeping it a zero). If we can't admit that
control is happening when it is then what good is PCT to RTP?
If we can't be honest about what is going on in RTP (whether we
like it or not) then how can we think of other ways to do RTP
(if we want to consider it)? For me, PCT is a tool for
understanding behavior -- all behavior, including the behavior
of the RTP practitioners. If some conclusions about the behavior
of RTP practitioners are simply forbidden, then I think RTP has,
indeed, moved out of the realm of science and into that of
religion. That's why control of the perception of "coerciveness
of RTP" has been so important to me; I want RTP to be a _scientific_
(testable, revisable) application based on PCT principles.

Of course, it's possible that the RTP teacher is _not_ coercive.
It may be that the RTP teachers are not controlling perceptions
of the kids behavior in class. The way to show this (I think)
is through the use of PCT techniques (testing to see if there is
control -- coercion? -- of some perception) not through anger
and condemnation.

I'll end by repeating (once again) that I think the RTP program,
as described by Ed, is, by and large, GREAT. I believe your (Tom's)
data and I am sure that schools where RTP is correctly practiced
are orders of magnitude better than non-RTP schools. I love RTP.
I think what you, Ed and the RTP practitioners are doing is
SENSATIONAL. I would send my kids to an RTP (as opposed to a
non-RTP) school in a New York minute. But I think it's great
for reasons that are different than yours; I _think_ RTP is
great because it eliminates classroom conflicts between teachers
and students and makes the schools less a place of confrontation
and more a place of learning. I don't think it works because
it is non-coercive -- because I don't think it is non-coercive.
But I think our differences are much better settled by _test_
than by testiness. The tests I am thinking ofare not tests of the
success of RTP -- I already have seen those test results and they
convince me that RTP _is_ successful. The tests I am thinking of
are, of course, tests for controlled variables -- those that are
controlled by the students and (more pertinenet to this discussion)
those that are controlled by the RTP practitioners.





Richard S. Marken Phone or Fax: 310 474-0313
Life Learning Associates e-mail: rmarken@earthlink.net