Tag: commodification of education

Our Miss Brooks

After the War, teacher self advocacy remained muted but other sectors of the culture ramped up to alter public education as the primary tool for building a modern society, and with it, the public’s perception of what it meant to be a teacher.

 

high-school

The movie movement began in earnest to influence the perception of public education. In 1955 Hollywood chose to highlight violence in “The Blackboard Jungle”. Rather than providing an impetus to problem solving, it became a rationale for criticism and downgrading of public education’s image. On Broadway Continue reading “Our Miss Brooks”

The 1930s

We see today the same resistance to women teachers’ authority and autonomy. This is the history of education in America. One surprise in the 1930s  was Hitler’s view of homeschooling.

50s school

Like today, those who went into the “profession” rapidly discovered the contradiction Continue reading “The 1930s”

Diane Ravitch…and all the rest of us

Maine Teacher Wins $1 Million Prize, Advises Young People Not to Enter Teaching Because of Common Core and Testing

Nancie Atwell, a teacher of literacy in Maine, won the Varkey Foundation’s $1 million prize as the Global Teacher of the Year. This is like the Nobel prize of teaching. She was interviewed on CNN about teaching, and she talked about encouraging children to read and write, following their interests and passions. She is donating the $1 million to her school, which needs a new furnace and other improvements. When one of the interviewers asked her what she would tell a young person interested in teaching, she said she would tell them to go into the private sector, not into public school teaching. The interviewers were taken aback. Atwell explained that the Common Core and the testing that goes with it had turned teachers into “technicians,” making it hard for them to teach the best they knew how. She would urge them to find an independent school where there is no Common Core and no state testing.”

Nancie Atwell’s comments, which any seasoned teachers and most new ones recognize as absolutely accurate, were then criticized by male teachers as either misguided or irresponsible. As in nursing, a man’s experience in a female profession is not the same, but they feel free to think it is because, well, they have de facto the right to evaluate women’s work.

Ravitch,  a leading contributor to the teacher status debate, articulates perhaps more clearly than most how teaching reflects the cultural resistance to women receiving professional equality. She joins over a hundred years now in the discourse about teachers’ low and undeserved status accompanied by studied determination to keep it that way.

Why is teaching’s low status so intrinsically intractable in our culture? Because it has always been a gendered servant role. Men were only teachers until they could move on. Allowing women to teach was acknowledged as a lower cost alternative early on. We will be looking at the foundational attitudes toward teachers and why, even after severe protests and costly effects of ignoring teachers’ professional wisdom, teachers will remain a servant class.

Not only overt historical development of public education but educational reform movements and research are primarily instituted by men: men in law, men in business, men in legislatures, men in psychology, to name a few of the fields. Most of the time men who have never taught or have never taught at the level they are trying to reform. While anyone can find reams of books, articles and other materials about what should be done in education, very few materials are available on the teacher’s actual experience or on ways for teachers to have professional autonomy and authority. This is because the teacher doesn’t have time to pursue writing books and articles and developing programs because they are teaching. So the reality is not that those who can, do and those who can’t teach; the reality is that those who teach, are; and those who aren’t, study it and mandate the latest “classroom innovation”. This amounts to not much more than hubby coming home and telling wifey how she can do better. A gross simplification? Perhaps. But see if you find very many exceptions to the management of education that do not smack of this attitude.

It has been long understood that the younger the child, the more women are prevalent in their education.  Women became preschool and elementary school principals earlier than at other levels. With each level up, the number of women decreased while the number of men increased, until we have many male professors studying teaching and introducing
“reforms”, which earn the college lots of positive PR, until that comes under attack and the next horse on the carousel comes around.

In subsequent posts, I will list some of the historical milestones, educational reforms, and cultural contradictions and whether or not a woman educator with experience in the classroom was the originator. Hopefully this will help demonstrate that a teacher who thinks there will be an improved status change in our country should look elsewhere for professional fulfillment. This does not negate the influence that women have made; it demonstrates that there is a foundational commitment to keeping women out of any major authority in their profession. Like nurses, we can only dispense medicine if the doctor says so. And when we begin to become doctors, the status and pay in the field decreases and the amount of oversight increases.

My hope is that those who have an opportunity, will stop burying their talents in the ground without demanding proportionate respect, acknowledgement and compensation. And if that means not teaching, it may have to.  History will show that there are as many pressures to remove teachers as there are pleas for them to stay underemployed. A teacher needs to face the fact that she is disposable and will never be acknowledged in any numbers as an autonomous professional; in fact, every attempt will be made to remove her ability to made decisions about using her skills.

Atwell appears to understand this, but she still gave away the million.

The Real Estate Board and Your School

Working in community development for a Midwestern urban government, I had my innocence shattered around the illusion that the school district, as an agent of the state government, was actually operating quasi-independently of other major groups in the city.

I soon learned how the collusion of the real estate board with controlling media outlets affects schools. Here’s how it works:

People like to live in a good neighborhood. A good neighborhood is one that has a good school. People may be very content with their school. However, their home may be getting old. You can’t charge as much to live in an older home as a new one. The real estate board exists to promote the interests of the realtors. Realtors like to sell new homes.

Q: How do you get people to move out of their house often enough to sell enough new homes to keep you going at the level you want?

A: You start trash talking the school, or even the district.

By reporting on problems and not reporting on strengths, the reading and viewing public begin to question the quality of the school. The quality of the school, mind you, may not have deteriorated at all. Or any negative stories about schools in outlying areas are suppressed.

Soon homeowners with children begin to get nervous. “Perhaps we had better begin thinking about moving out to a neighborhood with better schools,” they say.

Glowing reports of the fabulous quality of the school in the developing residential area begin to flood the news. Simultaneously, trouble, trouble, trouble is publicized about the school or district designated for downgrading. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negative media leads to negative parental and student perceptions leads to more hostility toward the school leads to making the job harder, you get the picture.

I have personal experience with this. I worked and lived in an urban district. I knew firsthand about the skill levels of the teachers, their dedication, the innovative and effective techniques they used, the programs the district had that offered opportunities to the students.

While it was true that students from less affluent families attended, that did not equate with those students being inferior in character, behavior, desire or skill levels. It didn’t mean the teachers didn’t care. It didn’t mean good teaching wasn’t going on. Not yet anyway. But the forces were at work.

Our urban district had had a preschool for decades. An outlying district decided to provide a preschool program. The news media lauded it as the most progressive program to be seen in decades. No mention was made of the older district’s programs or their successes.

Then my coworker moved to a suburb with a “premium” school district. Their security guards did not wear uniforms so the parents didn’t know they had, or needed them, or if they did, they didn’t want the image of needing them. Their student problems never made the news. Their students crashed cars, tore up property, and generally were teenagers, but it wasn’t publicized. The desire was to keep the property values up so the news about the school had to always be stellar.

Before “A Nation at Risk,” the state was pretty much content to let the schools do their job. They did not overtly participate in the campaign. However with pressures increasing, and consulting with business groups including real estate boards, the state legislators and administrators began to pressure  ill-advised and ill- planned “reforms” or “improvements” on the urban districts especially. Most of these were invented by college professors who had not taught in the demographic, not teachers in the district. Each year was a revolving door of a new program when the previous program had not been given a chance to succeed. States were afraid to be seen “behind the times” so whatever educational fad was being touted was enforced. Thus began the instability which the urban school or district was then blamed for and which compromised the educational process itself. This contributed to the attack on older districts as well.

Then, after No Child Left Behind, the state, relying on the merciless and useless testing programs (which also made money for testing and textbook companies by mandating changes every year) the state began to “grade” districts and the schools in them. Of course the urban districts always got the worst grades.In an “add insult to injury” move, they tied the funding formula to this. So districts that were already challenged because the property values of older areas were declining (schools are funded through property taxes) were now doubly beat up by the state.

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One urban district decided to fight back. They had good schools, good teachers, and good kids. The parents wanted their kids to get an education. They had motivating programs and activities for the students. In other words, they kept doing a good job. But each testing season showed their ranking declining…and their funding and possible accreditation. Why? Because they were in an older residential area.

They took the state to court for unfair practices…and they won! They challenged them to show how the same measures were not begin applied uniformly. They challenged the evaluations. They challenged the definitions and the formulas. They challenged all these things, not because they were against good education, but because they recognized a political game when they saw one.

Kudos to those who stand up and fight! A home does not depend on the house. Education doesn’t depend on how new the school building is. In both cases, it’s the people inside that make it made with love.

 

A Week of Disconnects

2015-01-01 17.35.37A 71 year old teacher trips over a pre-K special needs child and is arrested; a university professor emerges from  the “n” word debate, and the greed of a for-profit college leads to its demise. What could these three incidents tell us about the climate around educational expectations today?

There is scarcely any mother or adult who has not been trying to walk somewhere who has not felt a small child in front of them. In fact, the common phrase “children under our feet” refers to this. 71-year-old Amelia Stripling in Tifton, Georgia’s Pre-K Center resigned after bumping into a small child in front of her as she was trying to go through a door to leave the building. She probably hoped that the powers that be would be appeased. Not so. She was arrested after the mother alleged she pushed her knee in the child’s back, even though the child was not hurt. A sane approach would realize that the mother herself might have had the same experience, but the witch-hunt mindset seized this moment as another excuse to browbeat a teacher who already regretted her misstep and who in no way intended any harm to the child. A simple mistake by a tired teacher was blown up out of proportion and with no empathy for any human mistakes.

A University of Kansas professor, Andrea Quenette, had been on paid leave since November 12th for using the “n” word in a class discussion focusing on helping undergraduates talk about sensitive racial issues. One might say that she was not doing a very good job if this sparked a backlash. However she would not be the first white educator who has been forbidden to use the word in an instructional setting and as part of an effort to encourage tolerance and commitment to create shared understanding. It is the old idea that one’s family can insult each other but don’t let anyone outside do it. It is the same reasoning behind other positions that are allowing only one party a voice at the table. Only blacks should adopt black children; only Latinos should teach Latinos; only Asians should…. Shared cultural backgrounds are very important in communication and education, but we also have to make room for allowing members from other cultures to learn, especially those who value multicultural relationships. Any other position is a one-way street and not communication for mutual understanding.

More damaging than these individual cases, though, is the lack of education that consumer students have when making institutional choices. For-profit colleges like Corinthian, only one of many, operated on a treadmill of financial aid, churning students like fodder to keep the till full. The slick advertising can appeal to busy adults looking for a quick degree and a promotion. But that is the wrong message:  the commodification of education. Education is not a product; it is a process, a lifelong process. Some students have gotten so misinformed or misled as to believe that they are actually paying for the piece of paper called a diploma. There have been news reports of individuals selling GED diplomas up to college ones. It began with buying term papers and turned into diploma mills. Colleges like Corinthian are not much above this mentality.  An entitlement attitude is now expressed  even to college professors as “I am paying your salary; now given me my grade.” And it better be a good one.

How we view the teacher reflects how we view education as a whole. How we view education as a whole, is how we will survive, thrive, or die as a nation.

 

 

 

Parable of the Hoop Jumpers

Parable of the Hoop Jumper

Once there was a young man who decided he needed to make more money.

He had been told that he could get a promotion by going to school. So he went to enroll in school but thought he should check on a class first.

When he got to his first class, he read the directions, which to him seemed like a lot.

He went up to the instructor and said, “How little can I get for my money?”

The instructor looked at him in confusion. He asked the student what he meant.

The young man said, “Well, how many classes can I miss and still pass?”

“If I only do half the assignments, can I pass?

“If I submit a term paper I have bought, can I pass?”

“If I fail the exams because I am working two jobs and have a family, can I pass?”

“In other words, how little can I do and still make it? I just need the credit.”

The instructor looked at him for a moment and said, “Wait here just a minute.”

He took out a very old book and began to read to him.

“Once there were many very poor and suffering people in a kingdom. The king could treat them very harshly because they were uneducated. They had very little food or work. They got tired of this and went to a new country where they set up the delicious privilege of learning. Some of them fought and died to be able to go to the schools they set up. And after a person got an education, they spoke better, they were better citizens, they were better parents, they knew how to get along with people, they knew how to read and evaluate a proposal, they contributed to their towns, they had, in short, improved themselves because they have participated in a process called education.”

“Then a businessman came into town. He called the people together and said,

‘You don’t need to know about your history. You don’t need to read the great writers from your culture. You especially don’t need to know anything about anyone from another culture for they are your enemies. All you need to know how to do is this job I want you to do for this small wage. In fact, I plan on sending the lowest paying jobs overseas.

‘Those of you, however, who will sit in a room, pay a lot of money, and wait it out, can get a piece of paper that says you have been to what we call a college. You will then earn more money. Because the idea of college is to train you for a career, not to get an education. You don’t have to train your mind to understand the relationship of ideas, or how one event influences another, or how one situation came out of another, or what will happen if you pursue a course of action. You don’t have to value thinking at all. In fact, we don’t want you to really learn to critically think. We just want you to do your job for us. And some of our jobs need higher skills until we can figure out a way to automate them.

“So just jump through the hoops they give you. Those hoops are called assignments, papers, projects and tests. You don’t have to understand how one lesson relates to the next lesson. You don’t even have to remember anything. You can be watching a movie, taking a selfie, or listening to music while you do the work. Your mind doesn’t have to be on it at all. Just do it and get it over with in the easiest way you know how.”

So the young man decided that even that was too much work. He put his money back in his pocket and switched schools. He enrolled in the free University of YouTube.

Shirley Fessel. All rights reserved. 2016

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