Teaching is Not a Business OR Nature Wants Children to Be Children before They Are Men and Women!

Dear Commons Community,

David L. Kirp, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has a New York Times op-ed piece today, entitled, “Teaching is Not a Business“. He posits that the so-called school-reform movement of the past dozen years, has failed mainly because it has pushed aside the teacher-student human relationship focus of schooling and replaced it with a business model based on high-stakes testing, competition, and technology. His position has been sounded many times in recent years but is worth repeating so as to minimize the harm being done to a generation of public school students who attend humorless, factory model schools promoted by school reformers such as Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Bill Gates, and others. Here is an excerpt:

“TODAY’S education reformers believe that schools are broken and that business can supply the remedy. Some place their faith in the idea of competition. Others embrace disruptive innovation, mainly through online learning. Both camps share the belief that the solution resides in the impersonal, whether it’s the invisible hand of the market or the transformative power of technology.

Neither strategy has lived up to its hype, and with good reason. It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.

Marketplace mantras dominate policy discussions. High-stakes reading and math tests are treated as the single metric of success, the counterpart to the business bottom line. Teachers whose students do poorly on those tests get pink slips, while those whose students excel receive merit pay, much as businesses pay bonuses to their star performers and fire the laggards. Just as companies shut stores that aren’t meeting their sales quotas, opening new ones in more promising territory, failing schools are closed and so-called turnaround model schools, with new teachers and administrators, take their place.

This approach might sound plausible in a think tank, but in practice it has been a flop. Firing teachers, rather than giving them the coaching they need, undermines morale. In some cases it may well discourage undergraduates from pursuing careers in teaching, and with a looming teacher shortage as baby boomers retire, that’s a recipe for disaster. Merit pay invites rivalries among teachers, when what’s needed is collaboration. Closing schools treats everyone there as guilty of causing low test scores, ignoring the difficult lives of the children in these schools — “no excuses,” say the reformers, as if poverty were an excuse.”

The school reform movement of big business, venture capitalists, and their crony foundations has failed. Let’s truly put students first and treat them as developing young individuals who need nurturing and support more so than carrots and sticks. As Jean-Jacques Rousseau said:

“Nature wants children to be children before they are men [and women]. . . Childhood has ways of seeing, thinking, and feeling, peculiar to itself, nothing can be more foolish than to substitute our ways for them.“ (Emile, 1762)



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