12. Overcoming Feelings of Inadequacy Through the Pursuit of Quality Learning

Quality and mastery learning are the same. The way quality products and services generated by industry are the result of mastery workmanship.

Mastery workmanship is not the result of assembly line employees who routinely do tasks as expected by supervisors. Employees held accountable to meet a supervisor’s expectations. Penalized when the product fails to meet inspection criteria at a checkpoint down the line.

Functionaries, automatons, or human robots only do what they are programmed to do.

Nonhuman robots can perform precise functions the way they are programmed, and some industries use them for that purpose. However, there is a reason the best products are built by human experts using their hands and brains. The quality of a handmade Lamborghini far exceeds anything assembled on a typical automotive assembly line.

The “hands” that built the Lamborghini from the wheels up belong to exceptional engineers and technicians. They know what they are doing. And are committed to perfection in even the smallest detail.

Deming attempted to find a middle ground by devising an organizational model in which ALL employees are somewhat like those who build Lamborghinis. He did it by creating teams of workers committed to quality so much they demand the best of each other. Teams of people who discuss quality all the time, and how it can be improved each day. Human beings who give allegiance to quality because they do not want to disappoint the team. Or themselves.

Building quality children and young people is not like assembling a car or washing machine. It is infinitely more complex. It involves interpersonal and interactive connections so convoluted they can defy ordinary logic. 

Good technicians must be intuitive to solve problems. But nowhere nearly as intuitive as a good teacher. The technician can solve a problem by using a different part, creating a better software program, or rethinking an entire mechanical system.

Intuition teachers use to solve a student learning problem is psychologically intricate and emotionally sensitive.  

There is rarely an instantaneous “ah ha” moment of clarity. Building quality students takes time and patience, fits and starts, success and disappointments. Each victory is gained over time filled with temporary failure and confusion. That is why measuring quality learning in a student is never a onetime thing established by a single test score.

Quality is the result of an intermingling of mind and emotion. Teacher and student. That is the next insight Mary gains and benefits from.

Mary Chapman’s Story Part 10

One of the workshops in which I participated during my teacher preparation program examined a frequently ignored piece of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

When it comes to quality and mastery, Bloom’s cognitive domain dominates: Remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.

The often-ignored part is called the affective domain:  feelings, values, appreciations, enthusiasms, motivations, and attitudes.  Those categories pertain to how we receive and respond to phenomena. Listen to and genuinely engage with others. Modify our viewpoints through deep interactions with individuals and groups. Allow ourselves to be positively motivated by diverse viewpoints.

The affective domain includes problem solving. A skill most schools limit to tangibles, like math and science, using cognitive domain categories such as applying and analyzing.

But our workshop leader said problem solving is as much emotional as rational.

The same is true of the ability called organization. It is easy to think of an “organized” person as being smart in the cognitive sense.

But priorities we have about organization bubble up from how we feel about managing our personal environment.

Problem solving and organization are related abilities. They merge with cognitive skills like applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.  They are in some ways like a reflective, underlying catalyst introduced into a situation that changes its appearance or character.

What is caused by the interaction of the emotive catalyst and logical thought operates in mysterious ways. Manifested differently in different people.

Anything in the affective domain is an unpredictable variable. And that drives some Americans crazy. Derogatory terms like “touchy, feely” are used to depict a behavior that depends too much on emotion or intuition. It is considered a weakness that debilitates and hinders a person’s problem solving and organization skills.

Conversely, “strong” individuals are straightforward, decisive, clear headed, and have a kind of commanding presence. The word “analytical” even connotes that type of response.

The notion only hard as nails personalities can be accurately decisive, making judgments using data-based and crystal-clear problem solving and organizational skills, is a dangerous fallacy in human society.  That thinking has opened the door to many opportunistic military, political and business leaders revered by their followers for their toughness and self-assuredness.

Even when they are blatantly wrong or demented.

Our workshop leader elaborated further on the importance of the affective domain. It is the power of introspection and reflective thinking, not unbending dictates, that produces proposals for consideration and action. It is the willingness and ability to offer ideas suitable for molding that brings other people into the decision-making and action-taking orbit.

The leader of our workshop had been in the military and was also a historian. She used two World War II American generals as examples: Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower.

MacArthur was egocentric and convinced he could do no wrong. He considered his subordinates to be members of his own fiefdom, and even those superior to him in constitutional rank to be weaklings. “Lightweights.” Any mistakes he made were never of his making, but the result of subordinates or political leaders making bad decisions.

During World War II, in his Australia-based headquarters, he spent more time devising strategies for how West Point’s football team could win, than how his armed forces in the Pacific campaign could avoid being slaughtered by the Japanese. Only his personal priorities mattered.

Eisenhower was promoted to the rank of Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe because he sought and used the ideas of others in shaping strategy. He valued his subordinates and their opinions, not only for their cognitive knowledge but because of their values and deep insights.

All members of his staff, which included military leaders from many nations, were listened to. And their comments were noted as being valuable. He accepted responsibility for making final decisions and followed through on them. Eisenhower had his own values to which he committed. But could modify them as circumstances required.

In terms used in Bloom’s affective domain, Eisenhower could compare, relate, and synthesize values. Which allowed him to create a value system unique to the challenges ahead. Not only that, he created ethical standards to serve as guideposts for himself and others. Eisenhower led by example, which is an oft-used term rarely followed in reality.

Our workshop leader told us that the essence of accountability is not simply meeting the expectations of someone else. Accountability can include an external set of guidelines to be followed when and where feasible and appropriate. But superseded by other proven values as conditions merit.  And those values become visible when people demonstrate their own commitment to discernably successful actions and beliefs.

Or accept responsibility if those actions and beliefs somehow fail. And then learn from those failures to do things differently. To make adjustments in the context of persistence.  Traits repeated often, as in the adage, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

That should be the measure of accountability for both teachers and students.

Sadly, that is not the case in American education today. Fixed standards, high stakes assessments, and other kinds of “expectations” prevail. Thereby short circuiting a REAL accountability for learning and becoming.

Quality learning, in the context of mastery, involves the whole package! From both the cognitive and affective domains. The teacher or student who continually says, “failure is not an option.”

My workshop leader’s favorite line from the movie, Apollo 13.


With few exceptions, most human beings begin life feeling inadequate. The culture in which we grow up either reinforces that view of ourselves or helps us overcome it.

As a young woman, I wonder what it would be like to grow up and live in Saudi Arabia. And societies with similar value systems based on gender, race, personal preferences, religious beliefs, and other kinds of diversity.

Even here in America during the 21st Century, diversity continues to be a problem. While we women are better accepted in domains now more inclusive, there are still what a friend of mine calls microinequities.

Microinequities gnaw on us around the edges. They are like an insidious, almost transparent gas that hangs in the social atmosphere and seeps into our pores. Microinequities have been studied in the corporate world and discussed in governmental agencies and even churches. But they are persistent and odd little prejudices that hang on and pervade attitudes, policies, regulations, laws, and even day-to-day interactions.

Microinequities bolster feelings of inadequacy, and those feelings degrade the possibility of achieving quality in learning and becoming. Among both teachers and students.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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