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The “Leader in Me” program, inspired by Stephen Covey’s renowned book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” has been embraced by many American schools with the intention of nurturing leadership qualities and character development in students. Yet, its rapid adoption has been met with a spectrum of critiques, challenging its efficacy and potential implications on student growth. John Dewey, a prominent educational philosopher, posited, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” This perspective seems to diverge from the “Leader in Me” approach, which some argue might oversimplify the intricate journey of preparing children for real-world challenges and leadership responsibilities.
In this article, we will critically evaluate the “Leader in Me” program, drawing from various expert opinions, academic research, and the concerns that have surfaced. We aim to present a comprehensive view of the program’s potential shortcomings, such as its reductionist approach to leadership, its dependency on rewards and punishments, and its inadvertent promotion of stereotypes and social disparities. This analysis seeks to empower educators and parents with a deeper understanding, enabling them to make well-informed decisions about leadership and character education for children.
A Brief Overview of the “Leader in Me” Program
The “Leader in Me” program, rooted in Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” endeavors to instill leadership capabilities and character virtues in students. It seamlessly integrates these seven habits into daily school routines, aspiring to mold students into responsible, efficient, and successful individuals. The habits are:
- Be proactive
- Begin with the end in mind
- Put first things first
- Think win-win
- Seek first to understand, then to be understood
- Sharpen the saw
While the program’s objectives are commendable, it hasn’t been immune to criticism. Detractors argue that the 7 habits, though presented as novel, are essentially repackaged age-old wisdom. They further contend that proposing these habits as universally applicable oversimplifies human behavior’s intricacies and the diverse contexts in which individuals function.
Criticisms of the “Leader in Me” Program
A significant concern surrounding the “Leader in Me” program is the substantial financial commitment required for its rollout. Schools often grapple with allocating resources for training, materials, and continuous support. The initial investment can vary between $40,000 to $75,000 per school, contingent on the school’s size and the depth of training needed. Moreover, sustained support and training can incur an annual cost of around $10,000 to $15,000. Given the financial constraints many educational institutions face, it’s imperative to juxtapose the program’s potential advantages against other educational initiatives that might offer more tangible and evidence-backed outcomes.
Stephen Covey’s association with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) has raised eyebrows, leading some to question the program’s suitability for public schools, where the separation of church and state is paramount. While the program doesn’t overtly propagate religious beliefs, the underlying principles rooted in Covey’s personal convictions might not align with every school community’s values.
The “Leader in Me” program’s impact on student development and its overall efficacy remains under-researched. Limited studies have been conducted, with some finding no significant influence on student academic performance or behavior. The program’s promotional materials often highlight anecdotal success stories, which might not holistically represent its broader impact. Given the financial implications and the concerns voiced, there’s a pressing need for more rigorous research to ascertain its true value.
Simplistic Leadership Model
The program’s approach to leadership development has been criticized for being too linear, offering little understanding of leadership’s complexities and societal change. Jennifer Gonzalez, in her article on Cult of Pedagogy, pointed out that the program’s overemphasis on these habits could lead to a superficial understanding of real-life challenges. Moreover, the 7 habits aren’t evidence-based, and their universal application might not resonate with every student.
Reliance on Extrinsic Motivators
The program’s heavy reliance on rewards and punishments to drive student behavior has been criticized. Such an approach might foster extrinsic motivation, potentially undermining students’ intrinsic drive to learn and hone their leadership skills.
Promotion of Conformity
The “Leader in Me” program has been critiqued for emphasizing conformity over genuine leadership skills. Its focus on individual responsibility often overlooks systemic factors like poverty and social injustice that play a pivotal role in shaping children’s experiences. Some educators have expressed concerns that the program’s rigid adherence to the 7 habits might stifle creativity and independent thought.
Narrow Worldview and Systemic Neglect
The program’s narrow focus on individual success might inadvertently promote a self-centric worldview, sidelining the importance of community engagement and collective action. Critics argue that its emphasis on personal responsibility doesn’t account for systemic challenges like poverty and discrimination. Such critiques are further bolstered by findings from Van Hook, Pankake, and Hinton, who argue that the program perpetuates neoliberal ideologies that prioritize market-driven solutions while neglecting structural issues.
Questionable Academic Impact
Despite its widespread adoption, there’s scant evidence supporting its efficacy in enhancing students’ academic performance or behavior. The program’s promotional materials often spotlight anecdotal success stories, which might not be emblematic of its broader impact.
Reinforcement of Stereotypes and Social Inequality
The “Leader in Me” program might inadvertently perpetuate certain stereotypes and social inequalities. Some studies, such as the one by McClelland et al., have found that the program’s gendered language and emphasis on traditional leadership roles can reinforce gender stereotypes. Additionally, Erwin’s research suggests that such programs can reproduce power dynamics that privilege specific groups while marginalizing others. This raises concerns about the program’s alignment with principles of social justice and equity, suggesting that it might contribute more to maintaining the status quo than challenging it.
Increased Burden on Teachers
The “Leader in Me” program also places an added strain on educators. Teachers, already navigating a myriad of challenges from curriculum standards to diverse student needs, now have the added responsibility of integrating the “Leader in Me” program into their daily routines. This includes undergoing training, modifying lesson plans, and weaving the 7 habits into their teaching methodologies. Such additional responsibilities can lead to heightened stress levels, potential burnout, and could even impact the overall quality of teaching. The program’s emphasis on rewards and punishments further pressures teachers to ensure strict adherence to the 7 habits, potentially compromising their ability to foster a nurturing and inclusive classroom environment.
Detriment to Academic Instruction Time
A significant critique of the “Leader in Me” program is its potential to encroach upon academic instruction time. The integration of the 7 habits into daily school activities can divert attention from core academic subjects like math, science, language arts, and social studies. As schools grapple with meeting stringent academic standards and equipping students for a competitive global landscape, it’s paramount to ensure that precious instructional time isn’t diluted by non-academic initiatives. Critics contend that the time and resources dedicated to the “Leader in Me” program could be more effectively channeled towards evidence-based strategies that directly enhance academic achievement.
In light of the extensive criticisms and concerns surrounding the “Leader in Me” program, it becomes evident that this initiative is not the transformative solution it claims to be. While it may be marketed with compelling rhetoric and anecdotal success stories, the underlying reality suggests a different narrative. The program appears to be more of a commercial endeavor, capitalizing on the genuine desires of educators and parents to foster leadership in students. However, its approach, rooted in oversimplifications and questionable methodologies, raises serious doubts about its genuine commitment to student development.
The substantial financial investments required by schools, coupled with the lack of concrete evidence supporting the program’s efficacy, further paint a picture of an initiative that prioritizes profit over genuine educational advancement. Described by some as proverbial “snake oil,” the “Leader in Me” program seems to exploit the vulnerabilities of well-intentioned school districts and superintendents, offering lofty promises without the substance to back them up.
Given the myriad of evidence-based, holistic, and genuinely transformative educational programs available, it’s crucial for educators and parents to approach the “Leader in Me” program with a discerning eye. Investing time, resources, and trust in such a program, without critically evaluating its claims, could lead to missed opportunities for genuine growth and development in students. It’s imperative to prioritize initiatives that have a proven track record, transparent objectives, and a genuine commitment to fostering leadership, character, and academic excellence in students. The future of our children and the integrity of our educational systems demand nothing less.
Erwin, H. E. (2018). Exploring the experiences of elementary student leaders: An ethnographic inquiry. Education and Urban Society, 50(8), 700-721. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013124517714854
Gonzalez, J. (n.d.). Leader in Me: A critical review. Cult of Pedagogy. Retrieved from https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/problems-with-leader-in-me/
Johnson, D. W. (2015). Reaching out: Interpersonal effectiveness and self-actualization. Pearson.
Leader in Me Concerns. (n.d.). About. Retrieved from https://leaderinmeconcerns.wordpress.com/about/
McClelland, M. M., Tominey, S. L., Schmitt, S. A., & Duncan, R. (2017). SEL interventions in early childhood. The Future of Children, 27(1), 33-47. https://doi.org/10.1353/foc.2017.0003
Nelson County Gazette. (2019). Leader in Me program faces questions at OKH. Retrieved from https://nelsoncountygazette.com/?p=40004
Pavelka, S. (2019). Critical pedagogy and youth leadership development: Issues and opportunities in a rural school-community context. Journal of Transformative Education, 17(4), 306-325. https://doi.org/10.1177/1541344618777833
Rizk, S. S. (2018). Developing student leaders in elementary school. Journal of Character Education, 14(1), 17-27.
Van Hook, S., Pankake, A., & Hinton, C. (2019). The Leader in Me: A critical discourse analysis of power and ideology. The Journal of School & Society, 6(1), 1-15. Retrieved from https://journalofschoolandsociety.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/van-hook-pankake-hinton-leader-in-me.pdf