On Developing a Worldview is proving to be a blog essay with legs. It’s time to reveal the impetus for that piece. In waning days of 2009, I received an e-mail:
Hello Professor Albrecht,
My name is Garrett D.; I am a recent graduate of an undergraduate accounting program currently serving in public practice as an audit associate in the Chicagoland area, and am interested in potentially pursuing a career in accounting academia. I have not applied to any programs as of yet, but am rather looking to acquire a fuller understanding of what it means to become an academic, and an accounting academic in particular. Hitherto, my exposure to this way of life has been limited to Stephen Zeff’s biography of Henry Rand Hatfield, fairly intermittent reading of the Financial Accounting Standards Research Initiative blog, and sporadic digestion of select accounting articles and monographs. Your blog has been of interest to me for a while now, and, upon reading your most recent post, “On Being a Blogging Professor,” I was struck by the emphasis you placed on developing a mature worldview as an accounting academic. Though I might be mistaken, I also recall you discussing the development of a “coherent worldview” as an accounting academic in previous posts. This “worldview development” imperative, alongside an intrinsic interest in education as a process, calling, and as a social phenomenon, is, as far as I can tell, primarily driving my interest in academia.
I am curious, if it is not too much trouble, if you will perhaps aid me in this effort to develop a coherent accounting worldview. Would you mind providing me with a recommended reading list of “accounting essentials” to add structure to my excursions within this discipline?
Thank you for your consideration.
Such a well-intentioned request. I delivered On Developing a Worldview, in which the focus is on the process by which a person can acquire a worldview. I promised a second essay in which I described the path I took in developing my own worldview. But I didn’t promise a third essay, offering a reading list so that he could start working on his. I never said never, I just didn’t say yes.
I delivered (and promised) only in part for two reasons. First, I immediately saw value in a more general response for readers of The Summa. I didn’t want to scare anyone off by being too detailed in my first essay. Second, he was asking for something I didn’t have on hand. So I shirked. After I published On Developing a Worldview, Garret wrote back:
Thank you so much for your well-considered response. If I may, and I hope I am not over-stepping my bounds, I would like to share my reaction to your post:
Firstly, I think that I understand and am in agreement with your definition of a worldview when you state, “A worldview is one person’s mental model of his/her reality. It is a personal framework for organizing ideas, attitudes and theories about some aspect of the world in which a person lives. When viewed in its totality, it is a personal description of the way all things work.” Furthermore, I also believe that no two worldviews are alike (a corollary of the fact that every individual inhabits a unique existence)–which is consistent with your likening worldviews to snowflakes.
However, I am failing to understand your implicit contention that one cannot aid (or partake) in the development of another’s worldview. Surely one who has wrestled with the problems of life, and those particular to a given discipline, through processes of research, analysis, and synthesis with an objective of attaining a coherent understanding of them (and has consequently developed a mature worldview (both with respect to a discipline and life in general)) has something to impart to those just beginning this journey. Indeed, this is partly how I’ve conceived of the ideal student-teacher relationship: a teacher (one with a mature worldview) serves to guide and shape the course of the student’s “worldview development” journey through the identification and transmission of those theories, concepts, studies, definitions, skills, etc. that carry the most import for successfully comprehending experience.
Also, in further cementing your point, you state that, “Neither one of us can tell the student what to read, for that depends upon the student’s interests. A worldview is as dependent upon attitudes as it is on ideas. Passion is an exceedingly overused term. Never-the-less, it is apt here. You have to care enough about something to put in the time necessary to properly brew a rich worldview.” However, given my earlier contention that teachers, ideally, do have a mature “enlightened” worldview to share (insofar as it is more consistent with empirical reality and has been duly tested by such), it would seem to me that they are in a position to not only develop the “curriculum” for the student’s worldview-development journey, but also to inspire particular interests (after all, inspiration often comes through observation of and affinity for another’s achievements). This view seems to be supported by your subsequent assertion that, “Because we grow and learn from interaction with others, our worldview can grow and develop from sharing.”
Therefore, I do not see why a reading list of “accounting essentials” cannot be offered from a teacher to a student–a list that is selected by one with a refined and weathered worldview to enable one without such a worldview to more successfully develop one. [emphasis added] Perhaps though, you are coming from more of a post-modern vantage point wherein a worldview cannot be empirically tested with any validity as each worldview is uniquely created by an individual (not developed within an empirical context).
Incidentally, I appreciated your friend’s suggestion to sit in a library for ten years and read, read, and read some more–I actually just shared this desire of mine with a colleague the other day!
As far as your final comment, I would have to agree that worldview development is a long-term project. Having a background in the arts, I do appreciate the “journey is the destination” mentality. I hope that I have not conveyed to you that I am “…waiting for the world to appreciate” me. An intrinsically-motivated approach, embedded in due humility, seems to me the only way to sincerely pursue worldview development.
I thank you again for all of your consideration, and I look forward to the second part of your response!
Happy New Year!
Well said, Garrett. You are a reflective thinker and a thorough writer, two characteristics necessary for becoming a professor. I’d say you are well on your way.
Here is a brief telling of the journey I took in developing my worldview. A contemporary reading list for the aspiring student will need to wait for a future time (and I’ll try to get it out soon).
Garrett, in reading the following paragraphs, please excuse me for it being a general summarization instead of a complete bibliography. During my 30 year journey I read a lot, but didn’t keep well organized notes. I had a good memory at the time and thought I would always remember that stuff. Well, I’m older now and I realize that time erases most memories. I’m embarrassed about not remembering more detail.
Back when I was in my Masters program (1978-1980), everything seemed so big and important. I guess that’s natural. Even though the first steps of a baby are truly baby steps, they are quite large and significant for the baby. And I was a neophyte in the accounting area. Although I don’t recall most of the sources I read, something that had a lot of impact was a concept called Income Smoothing. The gyst of it is that companies manage earnings in order to create a trend line that is expected to continue into the future. I don’t remember where I read it, but it was in George Foster’s good book Financial Statement Analysis (1978 1st and 1986 2nd; Prentice Hall). I recall reading and and coloring every page (with highlighter fluid). Bill Beaver had a couple of working papers out that discussed theories underlying financial disclosure in capital markets (one of his working papers I read while a grad student at Iowa was incredibly good, but I never saw it in print nor did I save a copy).
At that time, popular issues included opinion shopping, the expectations gap and neutrality. Other papers out at that time dealt with securities regulation. That’s where I learned about things such as the economic consequences of accounting info (as counterpoint to FASB’s neutrality). Believe it or not, but I just threw out boxes of photocopies of old papers (including some I made in the late 70s) when I made my move to my new school. If I still had those papers, I actually would spend 9 or 10 days going through them and compiling a reading list. But alas …
I also recall reading some of the papers dealing with the Politicization of Accounting (Solomons). Great stuff at the time. A lot of those guys were arguing for neutrality of information. Although they paid lip service to the economic consequences of accounting information (and accounting standards), they never really believed it. They thought they could find optimal accounting standards. Back then we had access to a different type of publication in The Accounting Review. Published papers could be described as think pieces. Professors wrote about theoretical issues. After Ray Ball’s piece (Ball and Brown, Journal of Accounting Research) in 1968, everything had to be empiric. Accountics, Bob Jensen now calls it.
During the eary 1980s, I was an assistant professor at Andrews University, and I used several accounting theory books. I recall rereading the Foster book, and Prentice Hall had a paperback series out on financial accounting theory. There were 2 or 3 of them that were pretty good. Also, there were two Irwin Accounting Theory books out at that time. One was by Hawkins, the other by Bernstein. The one with the really intriguing practical cases was the most influential on me. There were a lot of really good accounting theory books from that period of time. And Steven Zeff edited a reader on Accounting Theory (it came out in three or four editions. These were always good reads.
I think at this time (early 1980s) the first of Ahmed Raihi-Belkaoui’s Accounting Theory books came out. Eventually it was issued in a number of revised editions. Belkoui made significant revisions to each one. His theory books were popular in Masters of Accounting programs of the period.
Although I didn’t realize it until 1985 or 1986, some good stuff had come out dealing with agency theory. Of course there was the Jensen and Meckling’s classic. I read that so many times I had it memorized. Then Watts and Zimmerman (they had their own journal!) were writing lots, and calling their book was published: Positive Accounting Theory (some of it has since been debunked). And Dan Thornton had a really nice piece out in Dec. 79 and Jan 80 in CA Magazine that interpreted agency theory/porsitive accounting accounting theory for the many of us that weren’t smart enough to read the mathematical papers. I just don’t believe that I threw out boxes containing about hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of journal articles. Also, I threw out all my old journals. I could be using these right now to write this summary.
I also remember reading a lot of finance stuff, stuff like signalling theory. Linda DeAngelo had some really good papers out. The working papers were always the best, as the theoretical reasoning was always cut out before it was published. There was a guy at University of Arkansas that did some good stuff. Interlocking directorates was a notion I picked up somewhere.
Since 1995, much of my maturation as resulted from association with Bob Jensen. He has spearheaded a wonderful e-mail listserv called AECM (Accounting Education Using Computers and Multimedia). Over the years, it has evolved into a really good discussion dealing with accounting theory. One of the things I picked up there is the importance of a solid grasp of current business events. Since I had no great amount of work experience, I was forced to learn about the world from reading about it in newspapers (and later, web sites). I learned a lot. Much of my world view changed after trying to fit academic theories onto current events. Most of the theory stuff from the 60s on has proven be so much nonsense.
So, I would add Bob Jensen’s web site to the required list.
I’m sorry not to remember a lot of the details. But the details aren’t as important as the journey that you take. For a while I bought into the income smoothing argument (and I had a couple of papers out on it). Although I later did a 180 on it, I was much better for having studied both sides.
I did an auditor change dissertation, and I learned so much about the ineffectiveness of auditors over the decades. In addition, I read 4 or 6 thousand 8-Ks and proxy statements reading, and learned so much from the details. There is nothing like going to source documents and not relying on the conclusions of others. Anyway, I drew a lot of conclusions, but there is no way to document how I got there.
These days, if I wanted to read about the dubious nature of audit firms, I read Francine McKenna (re: the auditors), and a lot of Bob Jensen and Ed Ketz at their web sites.
And, this discussion ignores all the material I’ve read on higher education in general, and how to teach undergraduates in particular. I’ve read 80 books and 300 journal articles in the area. The two books that have had the biggest influence are L. Dee Fink’s masterpiece, Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses (Jossey Bass Higher and Adult Education Series, 2003), and Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do.
Debit and credit – – David Albrecht