Posts tagged “control theory

Unpublished Glasser Article

Bill Glasser 1977 (contributed by Jim Roy)

Bill Glasser 1977 (contributed by Jim Roy)

Going through some of my Glasser artifacts recently I came across a short article he wrote over 30 years ago. Based on the author bio info at the end of the article I would say it was written in 1980. The article was typed, maybe by Glasser himself, but probably it was dictated by him and then typed by someone else. By 1980 Glasser had met William Powers and had been introduced to the ideas of control theory, ideas that deeply influenced him.

Bill Glasser 1981

Bill Glasser 1981

I don’t think the article – titled Some Thoughts About Raising Children – was ever published. I am sharing it with you, exactly as it is written, for several reasons.

1. It is enjoyable to read Glasser’s ideas, especially a potential article that may have slipped through the cracks and gotten overlooked.

2. Do you detect a reason why the article may have been filed away or even rejected? You will be reading the exact draft that I have. Would editing help make the article stronger?

3. Do you think Glasser would have written this article 20 or 25 years later? Did he end up modifying any of the ideas expressed in the article in 1980 later in his career?

Ok, those are the thought questions to get you started; here’s the article.



William Glasser, M.D.
President, Institute for Reality Therapy

     What do we owe our children and what do they owe us? Book after book, from the Bible to Spock, has attempted to answer these questions and the parade continues because no book seems to satisfy any parent for long. We wish there were a child-rearing manual like that which comes with a Mercedes but we are not machines. We are living creatures driven, as no other creature is, by strong, often conflicting forces. Because we must discover an infinite variety of ways to satisfy these forces the definitive how-to book will never be written. It follows, therefore, that we will never know how to raise our children. If we can accept the uncomfortable premise that here there are no right answers then I believe we have the chance to succeed reasonably well in this difficult task. And even if our success is minimal we will do them less harm than if we tried to follow any current “truth.”

Regardless of what we do, and granted that there is no universal way, most of us want our children to be happy, to love and respect us, and to be successful in some way that we define success. Because we tend to love them extravagantly most of their lives most of us will have no trouble accepting that we owe them food, shelter, safety and our companionship. But, as hard as this may be to accept, they, I believe, owe us nothing; if we want their love we must earn it. This is not hard to do as long as we do not attempt to cajole, coerce, or force them to be the people that satisfy us.

What we should be sensitive to from early on is what they want. Then as much as we can, rather than to give them things we should make an effort to take the additional time to teach them how to satisfy their needs themselves. If, however, what they want is in conflict with what we believe, as it often will be, as they mature, we should, in words they can understand, state our beliefs. But along with telling them what is important to us we should encourage them to try to convince us that their needs are worthy of our support. This means that we should listen to them and if they are at all convincing help them to get what they want. If we are unconvinced we should continue our argument but also make an effort (and it will be an effort) not to criticize them or to use our parental power to stand directly or indirectly in their way.

Assure them from the time that they can comprehend it that we believe in the way we live our lives, but that our way is not necessarily the best way, the only way or the way for them. And as our way changes, as it will, show them that we can be tolerant of ourselves as we change. From this they will learn that they too have a way but that it is not the only way and that they should be tolerant of themselves as they change.

Assuming that we can do this, especially to refrain from criticizing them, we have a chance, even a good chance (there are no sure things in this delicate process) to enjoy the reward which is a child who loves us, respects us, and enjoys spending time with us. But if we achieve this reward we should be cautious and resist the temptation to gain more, that is to convince these “good” children that they also be what we want them to be. It is our failure to resist this ever-present temptation that causes most of us who succeed for quite a while eventually to fail. If we are getting along well and then they start to slip away it will be because it is so difficult in raising children to keep the ancient proverb, “let well enough alone.”

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William Glasser, M.D. is the President and Founder of the Institute for Reality Therapy, incorporated in 1967. His major books are Reality Therapy, Schools Without Failure, The Identity Society, and Positive Addiction. All are published by Harper & Row and Reality Therapy and The Identity Society are available in German translations. Two new books have been written. Available now is What Are You Doing?, a series of cases written by Reality Therapists and edited by Naomi Glasser. To be available in March of 1981 is Stations of the Mind, a new book linking how our brain functions to Reality Therapy. Both are published by Harper & Row.

Dr. Glasser has worked in schools, correctional institutions, mental hospitals, and rehabilitation centers. He teaches and lectures all over the world and still conducts a small private practice. People interested in further information about Reality Therapy and training programs can write to:

Institute for Reality Therapy
11633 San Vincente Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90049


Don’t write to the above address. There are no Glasser offices on San Vincente anymore, although some of you reading this will remember that place fondly.

If you are so inclined let me know how you respond to the thought questions before the article. Would Glasser have written this article 20 years later?


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4 Reasons to Choose Misery


People spend billions of dollars on creams, and even surgeries, to look younger from the outside-in, yet maybe our aging has more to do with what’s happening from the inside-out. For instance, a recent study indicates that people who are depressed appear, at a molecular level, to be biologically older. An article in the journal, Molecular Psychiatry*, which reported on a study of over 2,000 subjects, concluded that depression can make us older by speeding up the aging process within our cells. So much for creams and scalpels.

There may actually be good news in this molecular view! Glasser believed that we choose our misery. Could it be that in the process of negotiating life’s twists and turns, and that as we choose to be happy or choose to be miserable, we are actually choosing our age? This is not the stuff of science fiction movies; this is a very real possibility.

Glasser described in Control Theory* (1985) that it can make sense to choose misery. In fact, he listed four reasons for people making such a choice.

1. It keeps angering under control

Rather than expressing our anger outward, and maybe even threatening and hurting other people, we turn it inward. We don’t know how to deal with our anger in the public arena, so we direct it to a private location.

2. It gets others to help us

When we show up as miserable or depressed it can serve as a cry for help, which can be especially appealing for men, who often don’t like to just come out and ask for help.


3. It excuses our unwillingness to do something more effective

The more miserable or depressed we become, the more helpless we become, too. We convey that we are not capable of doing much when we are overcome with misery.

4. It helps us regain control

When we feel out of control because of how someone else is treating us or because of the difficulty of a circumstance, choosing to be miserable or to depress can very much increase our sense of control. No one can challenge us when we are helpless.

Any of these behaviors can make sense at the moment. We are desperate for a behavior that will help us feel better and we rummage around in our behavior system for something that will give us even a smidgeon of control. Being miserable doesn’t feel that great, but it feels better than the alternative, whatever we perceive the alternative to be. Somehow, misery is need-satisfying.

Of course, it is not usually a good idea to tell a person who is in the midst of being depressed or miserable that he/she is choosing it. A miserable person can become quite defensive of their misery. But there will come a time, when things are better or when the pressure is off a bit, when he/she will be more open to considering their role in the misery process.

And what a special moment it is when you first realize that misery isn’t something that just happens to you. An awareness begins to dawn in your thinking, an empowering awareness that maybe, just maybe, you can literally choose your state of mind. As you grow in your understanding of choice theory, it’s like you become immunized against misery and even depression. Yes, it can be scary to realize how much power and responsibility you have for your own mental health, but the trade from victim to empowerment is well worth it.

Without this kind of immunization our misery can sap us of the life force within us and quite literally age us way too quickly. I say go for the choice theory immunization. It keeps you young and happy all at the same time.

* The article about depression and aging can be found at

* Control Theory has been re-printed as Take Charge of Your Life: How To Get What You Need with Choice Theory Psychology. It is available in paperback and electronically through Amazon and other booksellers.



My thoughts have been directed toward Beirut, the schools there that I had the privilege to visit recently, and to the incredible people who work and teach in those schools. My heart goes out to them as tension and violence once again impact the region. I am praying that the Spirit will give you courage, comfort, and protection. I am praying that your schools will continue to thrive!



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December 7

William Glasser: A Life to Celebrate

Bill and Carleen Glasser (2007)

Bill and Carleen Glasser (2007)

William Glasser passed away on August 23, 2013. He was 88 years.

As an every-man psychiatrist, Glasser was appreciated by people around the world for his views on mental health and his strategies for counselors and especially educators. A progressive before it was in fashion to be progressive, he rejected commonly held beliefs that blamed mental disease for people’s behavior and instead described methods whereby people could recognize their own role in returning to wellness.

Glasser’s ideas on mental health began to form in the late 1950s when he worked with veterans in a mental hospital in Los Angeles and with delinquent teenage girls in a prison school. He burst onto a national stage, though, when he published Reality Therapy in 1965, and then Schools Without Failure in 1969. Reality Therapy was like a psychiatric shot heard around the world and he began to receive a lot of attention, especially from those working within the helping professions — counselors, social workers, corrections officers, addiction clinics, and especially teachers.

Reality therapy went on to become one of the main talking therapy options that future therapists learned about in degree programs and established Glasser as one of the most well-known psychiatrists in the world. He believed that the concept that people suffer from a mental illness was actually a road block to effective treatment, rather than being a help. Glasser wanted to compassionately help people become stronger and more responsible. To that end, reality therapy emphasized the need for a warm, caring relationship between therapist and patient; was built on the belief that people are capable of becoming responsible for their behavior; focused on the present and future, rather than the past; focused on present, conscious thinking and behavior, rather than trying to discover “unconscious” thought patterns; and desired to teach patients ways to fulfill their own needs within an effective (personal) moral framework. It was a groundbreaking approach that ultimately led to many others also building on the site that he began.

School principals and teachers recognized something special in reality therapy that could make a positive difference in the lives of students and when Glasser received a large grant to improve public education in 1967 the Educator Training Center was established and he embarked on a lifelong quest to show educators the importance of providing a need-satisfying environment for students. Of his 23 books, five of them were exclusively school related.

Glasser came to be known for control theory, the theory that he felt explained why reality therapy was so effective. Control theory described how people are internally motivated and are always acting in a way that they think will best meet their needs, which may even include choosing to be miserable. He became known for his emphasis on the idea that the only person we can control is ourself. Mental health, or happiness, is maintained as a person learns to stop trying to control others behavior and instead learns how to form and keep good relationships with the important people in his life. Glasser liked the details of control theory, but not the label, and in 1996 he changed the label to choice theory, which he felt more accurately described the essence of his beliefs.

Glasser was a prolific writer and lecturer and leaves behind a body of work–23 books, multiple booklets, and many, many journal articles– that will provide support and challenge traditional approaches for years to come. Besides eight active regional organizations throughout the U.S., the Glasser Institute also has a presence in more than 20 countries on six continents. Australia is one of the countries that has especially embraced Glasser’s ideas.

Glasser became a board-certified psychiatrist in 1961, and while he was well known in the popular press, he was not embraced by his own field. Writing books like Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health (2003) may have something to do with that. Being progressive has a price. Yet, even though he was somewhat ignored within psychiatry, toward the end of his career he received a great deal of official appreciation. In 2003 Glasser received the Professional Development Award from the American Counseling Association for his significant contributions to the field of counseling. The following year the ACA conferred to him the Legend in Counseling Award for his development of reality therapy. In 2005, along with being one of the faculty for the esteemed Evolution of Psychotherapy conference, he was presented the prestigious Master Therapist designation by the American Psychotherapy Association. He received two honorary doctorates–one from the University of San Francisco in 1990 and the other from Pacific Union College in 2006.  And in May, 2013, Glasser was officially recognized by the California state senate for a lifetime of achievements and his meritorious service to humanity.

Glasser was preceded in death by his first wife, Naomi, and his son, Joe. He is survived by his wife, soul mate, and co-author, Carleen; and his daughter, Alice, and son, Martin; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; as well as his brother, Henry, and sister, Janet. He is survived, too, by the many who heard him talk and read his books and articles and who, in some small way, felt like they were his soul mate as well. To his loved ones and close friends, and to every one of his “survivors” — Here’s to a life of choice!


What could be added to this tribute to make it even better? What did I leave out?


Thank you to those of you who responded to the initial announcement of Bill’s passing away. Some very heartfelt and eloquent thoughts were expressed in those comments.


If you haven’t, I hope you’ll take a moment and sign up to follow The Better Plan blog. It’s also easy to register for WordPress, which then allows you to click on the LIKE button of blogs you appreciate. I think this would be especially good for the blogs about Glasser’s passing away. WordPress is the biggest of all blog sites and a blog like this one being LIKED by a large number of people would alert  a huge blogging community to the life and work of William Glasser.

There Is Something About Grandparents

Grandma Maggie and Charlie, who is several hours old in this picture. (Charlie, that is.)

Grandma Maggie and Charlie, who is several hours old in this picture. (Charlie, that is.)

Yesterday was truly a birth day, as my daughter gave birth to my second grandson yesterday afternoon. (Sometimes you hear people say, “I wasn’t born yesterday,” but Charley can’t say that. He was born yesterday.) As you can imagine, it was a day of joy, celebration, love and belonging, thankfulness, and, yes, there was some concern mixed in there, too. It was so good to have mother and son healthy and cuddled together following the procedure’s successful conclusion.

Given that my grandchildren will be doubling in number, I thought it might be appropriate to think about the role of grandparents, and more specifically, how grandparents, when it comes to loving and supporting children, seem to “get it right.” Grandparents have in common that this is our second go-around with the whole “little people thing.” It’s like we’ve been given another chance to get it right when it comes to kids, or at least get it better. We learned some stuff the first time around and now is a chance, as summarized in the following list, to show what we know.

We have seen it all. We survived our children and a host of their dramas, some of them real (Ok, some of them very real). We realize the journey is doable, though, and that life goes by faster than you think. Now we want to live in and enjoy the moment.

We recognize the importance of the relationship, and we are careful to not let children’s little mistakes and learning blunders threaten our connection with them. We are more apt to live in the moment and treasure the many ways in which children grow and mature. We are less concerned about controlling children and more aware that they are in the process of becoming who they will be.

We seem to accept that children aren’t placed on earth to fulfill our job descriptions. It is so easy for parents to want to have their own needs met through the accomplishments of their children. Children can hear early in life about the kind of role – doctor, administrator, Indian chief, etc. – they are expected to fill in society. Grandparents have learned that helping children form a healthy self-identity is much better than pressuring them into a certain role in life. Coming into a sense of your identity, of who you are and what you stand for, as a child is way better than postponing this process into adulthood. I know people in their 50s that are still desperate for this kind of self-knowledge.

Well, actually we don’t discipline much at all. We joke about getting to do all the fun stuff with the grandchildren without the headaches of discipline that parents have to deal with. There is truth in this joking, but the joking hides the fact that we discipline differently, too. It’s not that we ignore bad behavior in our grandchildren. We just keep things in perspective in ways that we didn’t the first time around with our own children. We strategically overlook some behaviors, gently deal with others, and for the behaviors that just can’t be ignored we confront them in a way that will not harm our relationship.

We get accused of giving too much stuff to our grandchildren, having too much fun with them, being willing to help them in any way at the drop of a hat, and being too interested in them. Guilty. What we are is grandkid-centric. It’s not about spoiling kids. They can see through that. It’s about love and support. We literally give ourselves to them. We love to hear about our grandchildren, talk about them, show pictures of them to others, and most of all, spend time with them.

Not all grandparents are into choice theory, but choice theory gives us insight into a lot of grandparents. Grandparents have a patience and a flexibility when it comes to their grandchildren that a lot of first time parents would do well to emulate. Here’s to parents who can show up like grandparents!

Thanks Choice Theory for a Happy Fathers’ Day

My son and I at a New York City subway stop (2008)

My son and I at a New York City subway stop (2008)

A dad I knew once said to me –

“When my kids say Happy Fathers’ Day to me I want them to be able to mean it.”

When I asked him to elaborate a bit more he continued –

“It isn’t rocket surgery. I just want to have treated them in such a way that they would be comfortable wishing me well. I want to care for them and appreciate them in the hope that they would want to care for me, too.”

I have admitted more than once that the concepts of choice theory saved my relationship with my own children. I began really reading about choice theory around 1992 (it was actually known as control theory until 1996), and received Quality School training a short time later. In 1995, when the school in which I was principal embraced choice theory, my daughter was 16 and my son was 13. The timing here is significant. I was coming into a deeper knowledge and understanding of choice theory at just the time my children were dealing  with the angst of adolescence. When conflict arises, as can happen between parent and teenage children, I am just as capable as the next guy of being arbitrary and controlling. I am capable of wanting to take charge and be in control.

It was rare that I would do something like this, but one time I asked Glasser for some personal advice. After graduating from high school my son wanted to buy a very old van with two other friends and move to Southern California to make it in the music business. I could tell he was serious. I really didn’t want him to do it, for a number of reasons, but I wasn’t sure what to say or how to say it. Glasser listened as I described the situation and when I was finished he said –

“You want to keep two things in mind. The first thing is stay connected. Whatever you do or say, do or say it in a way that keeps the two of you connected. The second thing is to not say anything that in any way smacks of I told you so. In other words, don’t come across in a way that would ever make it harder for your son to come back home.”

I thought that maybe I understood enough about what Glasser was trying to get across to me and I decided to talk with my son. What I said went something like this –

“You already know that I don’t really want you to do what you have described to me, and that I would rather you get started in college. Instead of belaboring that, though, I just want to say a couple of things. It might sound like it isn’t smart for me to say this, but I think you are very capable of making this idea happen, of buying the van and carving out an existence in Los Angeles. I would worry a bit about how you were doing, but you are resourceful and resilient when the going gets tough. I also think you are an excellent and entertaining musician. If you didn’t get discovered it wouldn’t be because of a lack of talent. There are just so many excellent athletes and musicians that never make it to the big show. If you do decide to go ahead with this plan, please remember that whether you get discovered or not, you always, always have home to come back to. Thanks for listening. Let me know if you want to talk more about this.”

Glasser and choice theory helped me to say my peace in a way that not only kept my son and me connected, it actually brought us closer. Choice theory taught me to listen, to respect, to accept, and to negotiate. I wanted to understand the basic need that was urging my son to come up with this plan. I wanted to understand the quality world pictures that he wanted his life to match. The ideas of choice theory helped me, I think, to be a better dad.

If you are interested, my son eventually decided not to head to LA in a 1965 van. The van was already purchased, so there was momentum in the plan, but it was like our talk had taken the fight out of it. I acknowledged his ability and talent, yet stated my preference. He knew that I knew he could do it if he chose to. I believe that if I had come across in a traditional, controlling way, that he would have headed to LA, if only to prove that I was wrong.

Waiting for the next train, New York City subway (2008)

Waiting for the next train, New York City subway (2008)

It’s been 12 years since this took place and my children have gone on to begin lives and families of their own. It meant a lot to me that both of them wished me a happy Fathers’ Day yesterday and that our relationship is such that I think they meant it. Thanks, choice theory for being a part of our family.

Heredity loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger, BUT . . .

Ruth Rittenhouse Murdoch

Ruth Rittenhouse Murdoch

After graduating from Pacific Union College in 1977 I headed to Andrews University to get a Masters degree. While there I had the privilege of taking classes from Ruth Murdoch, a retired professor who by then was an icon in education and psychology. (The large elementary school in Berrien Springs had already been named after her.) On a day that she was scheduled to give a presentation, it just so happened that my father-in-law was visiting us and attended the talk with me. He had been attending psychiatry meetings in Chicago and drove up to Andrews to say to hi.

Her presentation was about the nature vs. nurture question and at one point in the talk she stated that “heredity loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger.” It was a catchy phrase that emphasized her point well. (So catchy that I still remember it 35 years later.) Although it was not necessarily a discussion format I noticed that at this point my father-in-law, Charles Lindsay, was raising his hand. I hadn’t been a part of the Lindsay family that long (Maggie and I had been married only a few months then) yet I had heard of Charles legendary antics. At that moment I could only wonder what he had in mind as Dr. Murdoch stopped her presentation and acknowledged him.

“I think heredity is important,” Charles began, “and I think environment is super important, too, but I also think that the power of choice can overrule both of them.” Dr. Murdoch affirmed the point Charles had made and went on with her talk, but I don’t think  I went with her, so to speak, because what Charles said made a real impression on me.

At this time in my life, early 1978, I had not even heard of William Glasser (although I would read Schools Without Failure for one of my MA classes in April of that year), yet there was something in me, the very young version of me, that resonated with the theme of choice and freedom. I would learn later that it was in early 1978 that the power of choice began resonating with Glasser, too, as it was then that he started working with William Powers. Powers introduced Glasser to control theory and mentored Glasser as the new ideas took hold. It would be a few years down the road before control theory would take hold of me, too, 14 years to be exact. As a young principal I read The Quality School in 1992 and I have been on a distinct journey ever since.

Charles and Rae Lindsay (circa 1995)

Charles and Rae Lindsay (circa 1995)

Charles Lindsay, a psychiatrist and to me an icon in his own right, said something very significant that day. Our heredity may be flawed and our environment might have been troubled, but we need not be captives of dysfunction. Our power to choose can be a part of overcoming a painful or frustrating past. I say “part of” because I believe Jesus was right when He said that without Him we can’t do anything. (John 15:5) And Steps to Christ reminds us that “Education, culture, the exercise of the will, human effort, all have their proper sphere, but here they are powerless. They may produce an outward correctness of behavior, but they cannot change the heart; they cannot purify the springs of life. There must be a power working from within . . that power is Christ.” (SC 18) Our power of choice does have an important role in our lives, but it can only go so far. Real heart change comes when our choices are tied into the Holy Spirit’s leading and power.

Heredity is important, and environment is important, but the power of choice can overrule them both.

Happy Birthday, Bill!

On Saturday, May 11, William Glasser turns 88 years of age. Since 1960, when his first book, Mental Health or Mental Illness?, was published, and even before when he began to give presentations to youth authority staff around the state of California, Glasser has been a distinctive, ground-breaking voice in the fields of mental health and education. Books like Reality Therapy (1965), Schools Without Failure (1969), Control Theory (1985), The Quality School (1990), and Choice Theory (1998) appealed to millions of readers and offered clear, reasonable approaches for those working with the mentally distressed, for counselors and therapists, for social workers, and for educators. Some of his best work turned out to be for schools. Millions of students have benefitted from his non-coercive management approach, an approach that improved the lives of teachers as well.

One of my favorite pictures of Bill, taken while we watched the Superbowl together.

One of my favorite pictures of Bill, taken while we watched the Superbowl together.

I became friends with Glasser in 2000, which led to our working closely together, beginning in 2003, on what would become his biography. I read most everything he wrote, all of his 23 books and many of his journal articles, and interviewed family members, friends, and colleagues about his career, however it was the almost 60 interviews that he and I did together that formed the backbone for the book. The timing of our work turned out to be important, as he was still strong and sharp as we looked back into his long and impressive career. To pick his brain on important topics in such a personal setting is a privilege I shall always treasure. The book (I think there is a good possibility it will be called William Glasser: Champion of Choice) should be available in a few months.

Taken of me and Glasser as I present him with a copy of my dissertation, which was a biographical study on the development of his ideas.

Taken of me and Glasser as I present him with a copy of my dissertation, which was a biographical study on the development of his ideas.


Something significant occurred within the psychiatric community over the last couple of weeks and it reminded me, in a roundabout way, of Glasser’s basic message. The “something significant” was that the director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Dr. Thomas Insel, has come out against the long-awaited DSM-V. Rejecting the most recent version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), referred to as the bible of psychiatry, seems to admit what Glasser said for so many years, that it described symptoms, but didn’t define mental illness. People may act differently and even strangely, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their brain is diseased. Psychiatry and the psychiatric drug industry is desperate to discover the biological connection between behavior and disease in the brain, but as yet no connection has been determined.

William Glasser and Thomas Szasz at the 2005 Evolution of Psychotherapy conference. Glasser and Szasz were not close during their careers, but they did agree that there was no such thing as mental illness.

William Glasser and Thomas Szasz at the 2005 Evolution of Psychotherapy conference. Glasser and Szasz were not close during their careers, but they did agree that there was no such thing as mental illness.

A recently published book about how the DSM is compiled, The Book of Woe: The Making of the DSM and the Unmasking of Psychiatry (2013), states simply that “Psychiatric diagnosis is built on fiction and sold to the public as fact.” Gary Greenberg, the author of the book and a psychotherapist himself, reminds readers of what people like Glasser have been saying for a long time, that while the public seems to believe that psychiatric diagnosis is based on scientific data and comprehensive research there is still “not one biological test for a DSM disorder.”


My hope is that on this day, Glasser’s birthday, we will appreciate him for creating and refining such an empowering and hopeful explanation of how our brains work and why we behave the way we do. Rather than our being victims of a diseased brain, we can begin to take steps, however small, toward responsibility and happiness. For fifty years he has pointed the way to mental health, emphasizing the importance of the relationships with others in our lives and explaining the power and freedom of our choices. His ideas have meant a great deal to me personally and have added value to my life.

Thank you, Bill. May this day be special in every way!

Competition, Cooperative Learning, Control Theory, and Choice Theory

(Before I write anything today I want to emphasize that the “What is the purpose of Bible class?” discussion has been very interesting and even helpful. It has been interesting as your comments and explanations have stimulated our thinking and challenged us to really examine our approaches. It has been helpful because I have shared your comments with my “Teaching K-12 Bible” class. Your points, suggestions, and admissions have provided excellent springboards and gateways into class discussion and deeper learning.)

We aren’t done with our Bible class discussion (e.g. – we haven’t even mentioned Bible class and choice theory yet), but today .  .  . well .  .  . today is my 40 year reunion at Rio Lindo Academy. And, apparently, with 40 year reunions comes reflection. What have I experienced in the 40 years since I was 18? What did I make happen? What did I let happen? How have I changed? The change question got me to thinking about the big ideas that led to significant changes in my life. I don’t know how complete this list is, but these areas definitely stick out in importance for me. For some reason, they each begin with the letter C.

I was very much involved with sports and competition as a young man (it was basically my life), yet by the time I finished college I had come to the conclusion that competition was unhealthy for me, and basically unhealthy for everything and everyone it touched. This was a remarkable epiphany for me, given the extent to which I had come to rely on competition. Coming into a better understanding of how competition shows up in our lives and ways in which it affects us marked much of my early career. I did some writing on the topic. See Should Adventist Schools Be Involved with Inter-school Sports? Review & Herald, Oct. 13, 1988.

Cooperative learning was a huge discovery for me. I remember feeling like the little boy (I’ve heard a story about this somewhere) who was playing beside a puddle on a foggy morning, but as the fog lifted he could see that the puddle was connected to a pond, and then to an inlet, and ultimately to the ocean. It was incredible to me that someone who had fought for competition so vehemently could now be seeking to turn people on to cooperative formats. In 1986 I began to get training in cooperative learning (from the Johnson brothers) and soon thereafter I started The Cooperation Company, a mail order company with a catalog of over 130 books, games, and resources, all of them focused on cooperating. I let the company go when I became an associate superintendent in 1996, a mistake, I think. Two of our blog family, Dick and Anita Molstead, I actually met because of The Cooperation Company. I did some writing on topic. See the April/May, 1995, edition of the Journal of Adventist Education.

I read Schools Without Failure, for an MAT class I was taking at Andrews University in 1978, and it did have an impact on my thinking. During my early years of teaching–Kingsway College, in Oshawa, Ontario, and Feather River School in Oroville, California–I adjusted my grading practices because of Glasser. But I didn’t in any way see the big picture, the more far-reaching implications. In 1991, though, I read The Quality School and not only re-discovered Glasser, I also began to get a glimpse of the importance of his ideas. This era would have been during my time as principal of Foothills Elementary in Deer Park, California, and especially during my time as principal of Livingstone Junior Academy in Salem, Oregon. I began to try and apply the concepts of control theory at home and at work. I liked the results, especially how it seemed to affect my own thinking. I began to see that I could be less controlled by my feelings. The faculty and staff at LJA participated in a control theory in-service and I don’t think Livingstone has been the same since. Control theory certainly helped me to begin to be a better husband and father, too. I began to write Soul Shapers during this time.

I can remember how surprised I was as an associate superintendent in the Upper Columbia Conference to learn that Glasser had changed control theory to choice theory, and that he had rejected school discipline plans, in general, and especially a management approach known as Restitution. I had been drawn to his ideas, even applied them as a principal and presented them as a superintendent, yet now I wondered was going on. I wondered from a distance, as I had never met Glasser and didn’t know anyone with whom he was close. I certainly had no idea then that I would meet him in at the 2000 NAD convention in Dallas; that we would become friends; that I would begin a doctorate and conduct a biographical study, with his involvement, on the development of his ideas; and that I would become his authorized biographer as a result. Since 2000 I completed training to become a faculty member for Glasser International, Inc., completed the doctorate, and after years of interviews and research, completed the manuscript for Glasser’s biography, which is being published this year.

It is interesting that I would think of these guiding ideas, these big idea eras, on a nostalgic day like a 40 year reunion. Apparently, my basic need for purpose and meaning is pretty high. When you look back, what are the big ideas that have influenced you? Is there one in particular that has been significant for you? I would love to hear about your big idea list!


Mama G

Reviewing the edits in the Glasser biography this past week, I was reminded of story that took place on Glasser’s first day of his first job. His non-traditional views may have bothered some at UCLA’s School of Psychiatry and at the last second an offer for him to become one of the teaching faculty was rescinded. With a young family to support he needed a job and followed up on an opening at a prison school for girls in Ojai, California, 65 miles one way from where he lived. The Ventura School for Girls needed a psychiatrist and, although not a prestigious position, Glasser jumped at the chance to work there.

Bill, 1950ish                                                                                                                           William Glasser, shortly before he began at the Ventura School in 1956.

Some might think that the famous William Glasser went in there and turned that school around, but that was not necessarily the case. For one thing, he wasn’t famous yet. For another, his beliefs and ideas were just forming. As it turned out, the Ventura School for Girls would have an incredible impact on the formation of the principles of reality therapy, which I shared in the last blog, and in preparing him to see the importance of the principles of control theory. He did help the school, a lot, but he is quick to point out just how much the school helped him. He didn’t start working there with a full understanding of the need for a warm, caring relationship between the staff and the girls, nor had he embraced the idea of punishment being counterproductive, but he witnessed first hand how these elements worked and how much they mattered. This brief excerpt from the book gives us an inkling as to how the school could have been such an important part of his life.

     On his very first day at the Ventura School, Glasser was a part of a significant incident that revealed the impact the school was going to have on him. He had arrived a little late, but Mrs. Perry encouraged him to go down to one of the cottages and meet the housemother and the girls. Since he had gotten there late, it was the afternoon and the girls were either already in their cottage or were drifting back from classes. One of Miss Perry’s assistants took Glasser to one of the cottages and introduced him to Mama G. The housemother titles often started with the word Mama and then the first letter of their last name. The assistant headed back to the office, and shortly thereafter a new girl was brought to the cottage. She had just arrived from Norwalk, California. Glasser remembered it like this:
“She came in and Mama G said hello to her. Mama G sat in the day room with the other girls, except she had a little table, about 24” by 24”, which she sat behind so she could write notes on it and things like that. They had certain paperwork they had to do. And, the girl, a big girl, I mean, 5’8”, like not an ounce of fat on her, must have weighed about 150 or 160 pounds, I mean she was a tough looking girl, and she was angry.
I’ve never seen anyone as angry as her. I’d never seen anyone like any of these girls before. I mean, they were all full of tattoos, which I’d never seen before, self-tattooed with India ink. But anyway, this girl, I don’t remember if she had any tattoos on her, but she just started to curse Mama G and threaten her, and I, you know, I knew there was nothing I could do, but I was still nervous. Cuz this woman, I don’t think Mama G weighed more than, you know, 80 or 90 pounds, 4’10” maybe, and 75 years old. I mean, she was a frail old lady, and this girl is cursin’ her. And as I say, the other girls—‘cuz by that time I was one of the girls—the other girls were watchin’ and I was watchin’, too. They seemed interested, but no one seemed nervous or upset, you know, as if this is not such a big deal. And so she must have cursed the woman—Mama G, I mean—she must have let her have it for 30 or 40 seconds, which is an eternity.
And then Mama G got up from her little table, ‘cuz the girl was kind of leaning on her little table and cursing her right in the face, you know, threatening her, and Mama G got up and walked around the table, around the big girl that was standing there leaning on it, put her arm around the girl’s waist, which was pretty tall for her, you know, and gave the girl a hug and in a very sweet voice said, “Honey, is something bothering you?”
And, then, the girl, dealt with such kindness and total lack of, you know, being angry or punishment, you know, as we would say now, no external control at all, she just started to cry.  She cried and cried, and the tears ran down her face, and Mama G had to take a box of Kleenex and kind of settle her down, and the other girls, including me, wanted to help her, and Mama G dragged her over and said, ‘Now here are the girls you’re going to be with. It’s a nice cottage. These are nice girls. They knew you were coming, and they’re looking forward to meeting you, and this is Dr. Glasser, our new psychiatrist.’ And, I did talk to her a little bit. She wanted to talk to me, and I talked to all the girls, and then I had to leave.”
One of the keys to Glasser’s counseling approach is recognizing the need for the therapist to establish a relationship with the client, to become involved in an understanding of the client’s life and challenges. On his first day at the Ventura School, Glasser witnessed how powerful it can be when the relationship is focused on first.

Mama G sounds like a very special lady to me. So much confidence combined with so much tenderness. She knew that things were going to work out and that love was going to help them work out sooner than any of the other options available. Mama G and God have a lot in common. It is powerful when relationships are valued in the way Mama G valued them. Glasser learned something that day he never forgot. He then passed it on to you and me. And now we can pass it on to others.

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