What Does A Principal Do?
Memetic Engineering
(without realizing it)

Hello and welcome.

Inquiring minds want to know, “What does a principal do?”

I want you to share with you something that you do as a principal without even realizing that you are doing it. 

I want you to consider answering the question about what you do in a new way.

I want to share this with you because when you do something without realizing you are doing it, you don’t know if you are doing it well, or doing it poorly.

And if you can’t tell good performance from bad then getting better ONLY HAPPENS by accident.

I want to help you get better on purpose.

The thing that every principal does, without knowing they are doing it, is memetic engineering.

Give me a moment to unpack that phrase “memetic engineering” before we talk more about how you do it as a principal without knowing that you are doing it.

Workshop Handout PDF (300kb)

What Does A Principal Do, Memetically Speaking?

My name is Don Berg.

Memetic engineering is analogous to genetic engineering. 

Both are based on finding a set of basic units that can be mixed and matched to change the forms and functions that emerge at higher levels of complexity.

On my webpage for this video I have posted the handout for my memetic engineering workshop.

The handout includes a table called The Memetic Code which has a side-by-side comparison of the codes for memetics, genetics, and the alphabet.

The key to using all three codes is knowing what the most basic units are, then developing the ability to skillfully manipulate them. 

Across all the examples in this analogy there is a set of basic units that are mixed and matched in some way so that evolutionarily meaningful forms and functions emerge from the aggregations of those units at higher levels of complexity. 

The basic units in the alphabet are letters, in genetics they are the base molecules, and in memetics they are needs. 

If you know what you are doing, being able to effectively operate at the lower level in these types of systems enables you to make powerful changes at higher levels. 

When a geneticist manipulates base molecules changes occur at the higher levels within an organism. 

In the case of memetics we are talking about a basic unit in psychology. 

The most basic components of your mind.

Your needs are the components that combine to make up who you are and how you behave.

Powerful differences are made at the higher levels of organizations and societies when needs are either systematically supported or thwarted.  

In my model of memetics there are four key kinds of needs. 

Primary, secondary, derivative, and particular. 

Within the category of primary needs there are two kinds; physiological and psychological.

You are probably already familiar with the physiological needs for air, water, food, and shelter. 

If your physiological needs are systematically thwarted then you will die. 

Psychological Needs

You are probably already familiar with the psychological need for sleep. 

There is no credible scientific evidence that you can die from a lack of sleep, but you will get more anxious, depressed, and experience other forms of psychological distress. 

If you die while sleep deprived it is because of the indirect effects of the psychological distress, not directly because of the lack of sleep.

There are three other psychological needs that have been subjected to rigorous scientific research over many decades to verify that they are also primary, meaning that they contribute to well-being when supported and detract from well-being when they are thwarted. 

Those needs are for relatedness, autonomy, and competence. 

Relatedness is the need to belong to a group and be recognized within that group for who you are. 

Autonomy is the need to be the causal and volitional source of your own behavior. 

Competence is the need to be effective at achieving your goals and aspirations. 

Secondary, Derivative, and Particular Needs 

There have been many other needs that have been proposed as primary, but I will mention just  two that have recently come up short and can help us understand the other categories of need.

First, beneficence, or benevolence, when it was supported was shown, above and beyond the good effects provided by the other three established primary psychological needs, to consistently boost well-being. 

When the researchers finally got around to testing the effects of THWARTING the need for beneficence there was no effect.

That means that beneficence is good to have, but it is not missed when it is gone. 

That makes it a secondary need. 

The second candidate need was meaningfulness, or purpose.

The researchers looked at it along with relatedness, autonomy, competence, and beneficence. 

When they mathematically controlled for the effects of the other needs on well-being, they found that there was nothing left over to be explained by the presence of beneficence.

In other words, meaningfulness is actually the result of meeting all the other needs. 

Meaningfulness is a derivative need because meeting the other needs satisfies it.

It is still OK to talk about meaningfulness, or purpose, as a need, but it is merely derived from the primary and secondary needs. 

It does not add anything to well-being beyond what those needs already provide. 

The final category of needs in this model is “particular.” 

All the primary needs are universal, that is one of the criteria for being considered a primary need. 

Particular needs are those that arise out of the uniqueness of an individual, the specific cultural dynamics of a group, or the properties of a given situation. 

In memetics the primary needs are the most basic unit, like the letters of the alphabet or the molecular base molecules of DNA. 

They are mixed and matched to create patterns of behavior, activities, roles, et cetera. 

In the same way that the replication of genes through cellular machinery is always going on within a principal without their awareness, every principal also lacks awareness that their mental and social machinery are constantly replicating memes. 

This brings me to the other word in the phrase we’re examining: engineering.

What Does A Principal Do, Engineering-wise?

What if the principal of a school could be as consistent and reliable in his socially helpful output as: 

an aeronautical engineer creating a commercial passenger jet by practicing applied physics,

a pharmacist compounding a pain-relieving medicine by practicing applied chemistry, or 

a doctor using gene therapy to cure a deadly disease by practicing applied biology? 

My goal is for you, as a principal, to lead your school by practicing applied psychology.

This dream can come true with a proper understanding and application of the psychology of engagement. 

Sidenote: Let’s acknowledge that there is a history of questionable practices that have followed from similar ambitions in our historical past. 

Social manipulations have been known to cause more problems without necessarily solving the original ones. 

In this case the suggested management practices are going to avoid that ignominious fate by directly monitoring the well-being of those who are subjected to them. 

In fact, the monitoring of the well-being of those subjected to these suggestions is not merely an afterthought to protect against potential backlash, but rather, it is a central design principle of the whole idea. 

Enacting the moral imperative of being an education leader is central to memetic engineering, so it is critically important for the well-being of those subjected to memetic engineering to be both supported and monitored.

Cognitive linguists have found that morality is fundamentally about well-being. 

What makes any action moral is creating or maintaining well-being.

What makes morality tricky is that we live at multiple levels of existence simultaneously.

What I think is good for my well-being might not be good for someone else’s well-being.

What I think is good for the well-being of my group might not be good for the well-being of someone else’s group. 

The highest moral aspirations are aimed at creating well-being for the largest possible group of people, but taking all the ways that humans diverge from each other seriously makes that a tricky proposition. 

But, what is important right now is the fact that we have a better understanding of the components of well-being.

That means that we have a better chance at systematically supporting it and developing systems that more consistently produce moral benefits.

You know more than you think

Memetic engineering is a lot closer to common sense than other forms of engineering. 

The scientific basis is not esoteric theories in physics, chemistry, or biology, though it is consistent with those. 

The basis of memetic engineering is psychology, which has some parts that are difficult to understand, but the primary subject matter is you and your mind. 

You have a unique perspective on the science of psychology because all your experiences are the result of events that happen in your own mind; no particle accelerators, test tubes, nor petri dishes required. 

When you look at the list of memetic engineering techniques presented in the handout, available on my site, what you will see are the best-supported means of basic memetic engineering. 

You will find that many of them are just the kind of common sense actions that you would expect from any reasonably competent leader. 

You were a memetic engineer all along, you just didn’t know it. 

And since you did not know you were an engineer, you did not know how to deliberately get better at the engineering you were doing.

What this science offers you is a better way to fit all of your leadership ideas together and help you refine your understanding to better achieve the outcomes that you want for your school.

If you aspire to being a good memetic engineer then you will strive to create a pervasive cultural norm in your school that supports deeper learning for everyone.

Building Professional Capital 

Deeper learning for children is the transformation of playfulness into professionalism by building professional capital. 

Playfulness is the starting point. 

Without playfulness learning is always shallow. 

Once playfulness has been established as a baseline expectation, then the deepening of the learning process can proceed. 

For adults we simply proceed from the shared premise that professionalism is the shared goal that we have committed to achieving together.

In their book Professional Capital Andy Hargeaves and Michael Fullan use an analogy to capital in the business sense. 

What I call the basics of memetic engineering in the handout is simply a mapping of their three components of professional capital onto the three primary needs from Self-Determination Theory. 

When you suspect that psychological needs are not being satisfied, you will examine the list of capital building behaviors to choose how to offer better support or to evaluate suggestions from others.

What Does A Principal Do to Create Equity?

Another consistently stated goal in education today is building equity. 

Memetic engineering provides us with a clear four-step process for building equity:

1. Define needs scientifically

2. Distribute resources fairly to satisfy needs

3. Remove structural barriers to need satisfaction, and

4. Satisfy needs with parity among groups

In order to ensure that needs are being satisfied, triangulate school climate measures that incorporate need satisfaction, motivation, and engagement instruments derived from Self-Determination Theory.

When measures indicate unsatisfied needs, more external motivations, or lower quality engagement, it is necessary to analyze the situation to figure out which form of professional capital building will be necessary to correct the pattern of non-optimal experiences. 

If more relatedness is needed then relational capital building is indicated. 

If more autonomy is needed then decisional capital building is indicated. 

And, if more competence is needed then the indication is for human capital building. 

There are a variety of specific techniques for building professional capital that are well-supported by a substantial body of research.

I won’t go into them here but if you are interested you can find them listed in the handout I mentioned earlier and you are welcome to contact me about presenting a workshop.

When asked, “What does a principal do?” the correct answer is that the principal is the lead memetic engineer that makes his or her school work. 

Memetic engineering is a new model for more consistently facilitating deeper learning.

All schools that succeed at this task and have the data to prove it are examples of what I call “Catalytic Pedagogies.”

You can learn more about how to create a catalytic pedagogy at HolisticEquity.org

Thanks for watching.

This article was printed from HolisticEquity.com

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