Excerpts from

Utilization of Dissatisfaction

Chapter 10 in "Human Relations in Curriculum Change" (pages 58-59, 62-63)

The intentional process of radical social change demands continual tension or crisis. These may be spontaneous or manufactured. This book helped lay the foundation for the psycho-social strategies that have transformed education and culture around the world. See also Facilitating permanent social change.

Much more promising in most cases than philosophizing as a way of securing initial interest in deliberate social change is capitalizing upon dissatisfaction. Men do not change their social arrangements so long as they are perfectly satisfied with them. Dissatisfaction with existing conditions seems to be a prerequisite for intentional change.

      Now it is easy to see that the present period is one in which the sources of dissatisfaction are not lacking. Maladjustments in our culture are numerous, varied, and on the increase. Yet, it is not a simple matter to make dissatisfaction function actively as a motivating force in our complex modern society. Dissatisfaction may be present in greater or lesser amounts in different social groups or in different individuals within the same group. The quality of the dissatisfaction, that is the degree of urgency associated with a possible change, will also vary greatly from person to person and group to group. At various times and in relation to various problems different individuals and groups may be arranged on a scale stretching all the way from a tendency to be controlled by tradition, habit, inertia, social pressure, fear of and hostility to innovation to a tendency to become bored and discontented with the old and curious about innovation....

     In utilizing dissatisfaction as a factor in producing change the student of society must learn to deal with these two types of conservatism,

  • the conservatism of those with a stake in present arrangements and

  • the conservatism of those who do not wish to be bothered with change.

     Then, too, the scale seems not to provide a place for our honest skeptic, who realizes full well the undesirability of present arrangements but who has no confidence that change for the better is likely to come about.

     Nevertheless, what Lynd calls a “general emotional receptivity to change” is closely related to the extent and intensity of dissatisfaction present in the population. The problem is partly one of helping people to arrive at a “common definition of the situation” through analysis of conditions and making explicit the maladjustments involved. In the case of the more apathetic persons, much new information and many new experiences will be necessary if they are to become actively dissatisfied. It will be a matter largely of converting a vague sense of discomfort and unrest into strong convictions that certain specific ills should be attacked.

     Mary P. Follett believed there was really no such thing as the apathy of the average citizen of which people talk. “Every man has his interests,” she wrote; “at those points his attention can be enlisted.”9

     In case of those who cling to established ways because they are the only security they have for maintaining the social power they have acquired there is involved the delicate task of helping them to become dissatisfied with their present definition of self-interest. As for the skeptical, dissatisfaction is already present but will not operate as a positive force unless there is some assurance of success in reducing cultural maladjustment.

     Fortunately for human progress, there is a fourth group of persons in whom already exist dissatisfactions of such nature that they are ready to be utilized at once as motivations toward action, other conditions being favorable. This group can be counted on as a nucleus for hastening the process of change.

Dissatisfaction—Implications for Curriculum Change.

    As with attitudes toward social change in general, emotions with regard to curriculum change are mixed. The wise administrator will study the teachers, learners, and community adults with whom he is in direct contact and will attempt to determine in what stage of readiness for change they are. He will likely find two rough groupings at first—those who are rather dissatisfied with the present school curriculum and those who are apparently rather complacent about it.

     It will soon be apparent that both of these grous may be subdivided [into "Persons Dissatisfied and Willing to world of for Change" and "Persons Dissatisfied but Skeptical"]...

Methods of Arousing Dissatisfaction.

     There seem to be three worth-while methods for helping people to begin to see need for curriculum change. One promising approach is through a study of the social scene. There is much evidence that both teachers and administrators are in need of such a study on a continuing basis. If the study also engages the attention of community adults and learners, it will be that much more effective in stimulating interest in curriculum change on the part of all who must be sympathetic with change in order for that change to be its most effective.

     Now study of the nature of society may be as remote and abstract as the formulation of philosophy to which objection was raised earlier. In that case, it will be more academic than motivating. Rather, people should approach community study as amateurs, not sociologists. The study should be begun on a familiar and meaningful level. In other words, social phenomena should be observed and data gathered in the local community. In that event curriculum implications of the findings should be so obvious that they will furnish strong drives for curriculum change...

     A second promising approach to curriculum change is to encourage study of human development. A better understanding of the learning process, of principles of mental hygiene, and of the nature of growth should in itself motivate much curriculum change. In the case of teachers it probably is better for study to begin at the local level with children whom they knew. Generalizations and principles can emerge from such a study and carry fuller meaning as a result....

    A third approach is to utilize some dissatisfaction felt by the persons associated with the school to motivate interest in group problem-solving. Some persons object to this approach on the ground that it results in the expenditure of energy on insignificant enterprises. Yet experience has shown that this Is not an inevitable result. Many groups, who have had the benefit of skillful, evocative leadership have moved rapidly from their early “low” level of concern to consideration of more basic sources of difficulty. Since some things are easier to change than others and since early success is Important to high morale, it seems wise to tackle the simpler problems first.

    Choice among the three methods of approach in utilizing dissatisfaction as a motivating factor in curriculum improvement will depend upon a number of circumstances. In some instances people need the satisfaction of moving on problems of real concern to them, minor as they may be. In other situations, where there has been a tendency to amplify petty criticisms into major issues, dissident factions may be united in working toward some goal that is beyond and larger than the trifling irritations of the moment.

Cautions to Consider.

    Two cautions are in order before we leave the matter of dissatisfaction. it is one thing to help groups of cooperating individuals to identify problem areas and it is another to make a teacher or group of teachers feel inadequate if a problem cannot be produced immediately upon someone’s request. Much time has been wastefully expended on problems “manufactured” to save the face of individuals put in the embarrassing position of having to have a “problem.”

    A second caution is that dissatisfaction should not be regarded merely as a factor operating to furnish initial motivation. It should be utilized at all stages of the process to keep crystallization from setting in. Groups should be encouraged to make use of valuable solutions to problems only so long as they serve a useful purpose. The process of curriculum change should provide for periodic review and evaluation of such solutions as well as regularized opportunities for expression of dissatisfaction at any time by any participant in the process....

Compare this with Julian Huxley's plan for global education in UNESCO: Its purpose and Its Philosophy

 (From Alice Miel, Changing the Curriculum, Appleton-Century-Crofti, Inc., 1946, pp. 40-47)

See also Force Field analysis and

Facilitating permanent social change