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Monday, September 30, 2013

Charters and treehouses

Who's in control, them or us

Locus of control is actually a term with specific meaning for use in Personality Science studies. But we can use it to develop a perspective on the Charter being developed in Costa Mesa. Let’s start with a model.

One summer two six-year-olds build tree houses on opposite sides of the city, and use them as headquarters for “private clubs.” One names their club “Avenging Pirates” and the other paints “Bestest Club of All” on the walls. Both recruit friends to join their clubs.

The Bestest leader relies on her mom, who tells her to invite the “little girl across the street because nobody likes her.” Mom also bakes cupcakes, makes lemonade and takes the small group on outings. They learn to tolerate the members mom chose and to be entertained by trips mom suggests. They carefully follow all of mom’s rules, like “be home for dinner” and “don't run up the ladder” and “don’t argue with each other.”

The Pirates do -- but not always smoothly or well

The Pirates club attracts kids, who enjoy being together, and they tend to break a few home rules – for example they all carry pocket knives and sharpen sticks, and they make pea shooters from weeds to torment their siblings. Generally, though, they're governed by parental guidelines – and local laws. They organize fishing excursions, dig caves, and have fun together.

When school starts the Bestest’s get a teacher’s advice and begin recruiting “those of different ethnicities.” Their club grows until contentions surface and mushroom. The club dissolves before Halloween from the widely differing opinions with no ability among the leaders to gain cooperation. They haven't learned to lead or compromise; mom always intervened and smoothed things over – until the rifts got too big.

The Pirates grow, too, and their activities wax and wane. At Halloween they “trick or treat” together, and by Christmas season they’re selling trees to raise funds for homeless dogs.

Internal or external locus of control 

So the Bestest believed control of their direction and operations should be from authority; mom and then teacher. Both mom and teacher had the club’s best interest at heart, but they also had personal agendas that affected the club. Mom didn't want the unpopular girl’s mom to compete with her in the upcoming PTA elections, and the teacher wanted to add “diversity promotion” to her resume.

The Pirates solved problems, making mistakes but developing better techniques as they went. They succeeded because of their commitment, independence, and enterprise. They believed that control of their direction and activities lay with them.

Both clubs had the similar populations to draw from, both were governed overall by parental rules (and city laws), and both started well. Over time, the differences in what they accomplished (and learned) lie in whether they believed they could handle their own affairs and direct their own course.  Internal or external locus, if you will: perception of whether what happens depends on “us” or on “them.”

Now consider the difference between a charter city and a general law city. Eerily similar, isn't it?


  1. I love the cerebral prose. Made me realize that I would like a charter. And I would also like a tree house ... better call the Pirates

    1. The Pirates want your to solve problems and have fun; the treehouse is just a side benefit to taking responsibility, I think.