Put any 2 homeschooling parents together & you’re bound to get some incrdibly enlightening discussions on education. I was honored to strike up a Twitter convo with Author D.A. Adams. Even more, I am blessed that he agreed to write up a post for this blog. What follows is one of the most articulate posts on education that I’ve read to date. Read on to be enlightened, motivated, & if you homeschool, validated! Stop by Amazon & get acquainted with his books.
Thank you, D.A.!
Before I launch into the main point of this post, I want to make one thing exceptionally clear. Most people who work in administrative and staff roles in education are just as dedicated and hard-working people as teachers. Many of those I work with I consider friends. This is not an attack on them personally, and I do recognize that many of the decisions and pressures being placed on educators come from sources higher than those who oversee day-to-day operations. My umbrage is more with the system, more specifically the focus of the system, which has become more about profitability than academics and long-term sustainability.
I’m making this point to illustrate a fundamental flaw in the path education is currently taking. Decisions about classroom effectiveness are being decided by high level administrators more interested in the bottom line than in educational quality, and faculty input is dismissed from the discussion. Please, pay attention to that last point: faculty input is dismissed from the discussion. As a graduate teaching assistant at the University of Memphis, I had more classroom autonomy than I have today after 15 years as a highly effective educator. Today, decisions about how my class should operate are being made by people who have never taught one section of composition — and possibly may have never taught any class period — yet they supposedly know more about how to teach writing than I do. This phenomenon is not limited to English, and no matter how loudly we as teachers scream that our classes are overcrowded, that too much of our time is being taken up with menial tasks, that standardized testing does not work, that homogenized curriculum stifles critical thinking, our pleas are consistently ignored in favor of policies that improve bottom line efficiency.
Here’s one example. For five years, I personally have begged the college where I currently teach to change the flawed system of dual enrollment. As it functions now, we compress two semesters into one, go to the high school, and teach five days a week, following the high school format. This five day, in-the-high-school format takes an undo toll on college faculty, and despite a plethora of proof to this point, including excessive turnover of faculty charged with this role, both the Board of Education and the college refuse to compromise or budge on this issue because of money. The Board of Education is in effect one of the college’s largest customers, and by outsourcing their teaching to the college, the Board saves thousands of dollars by not having to pay its own faculty.
What angers me is the callousness both the Board of Education and administration show toward faculty on this issue. We plead with them; they claim they’ll look into it but make no changes. Faculty quit in frustration; they hire new folks, burn them out, and repeat. We compile clearly stated, well-reasoned, empirical arguments for why the format doesn’t work; they dismiss our input with a pat on the head. I cannot fully express in words the anger and frustration I feel at being really good at something, knowing the right way to do it, and having a deeply-rooted passion for doing it well, only to be treated like a disposable commodity over money. Both the college and the Board of Education prefer to lose good teachers than change the current format due to its financial efficiency.
As I’ve stated, faculty are left feeling as if administration does not listen. We are merely peons in the process despite being an important component. Good teachers are experts in our chosen disciplines, and we have a passion for and dedication to sharing our knowledge with others, which is the only reason the whole system hasn’t imploded already. However, we are being crushed by the demands of this system that wants to speed up the process, maximize efficiency, and focus on the bottom line. The only way this direction will change is with outrage from the public. Until civic and business leaders recognize that administrators are weakening the quality of education and producing an inferior product, students incapable for the most part of competing in this new global economy, our voices will continue to fall on deaf ears, and administration will continue to pat each other on the backs for their financial acumen, while educators burn out from the relentless pressures of more, more, more.
Most people who know me know I’m not anti-business. Capitalism and competition are good when the invisible hand is left alone. In the real world laboratory, capitalism proved itself superior to communism, and those who believe otherwise are deluding themselves and living in the world of abstract ideals, not in the tangible world of human complexities. However, that said, education has no place as a for-profit enterprise, and we are crippling the long-term sustainability of our economy by viewing it through those prisms of fiscal efficiency.
I’ve often heard friends say that if their children don’t attend public schools, why should their tax dollars be used to support it? On the surface, that question may seem reasonable, but my response to that argument is that we all rely on public education whether we directly have children in the system or not. If you expect 911 to function properly, you rely on it. If you hire employees for your business, you rely on it. If you ever conduct any form of business transaction in any public setting, odds are that you’ve relied on public education because you have an expectation of competence from the other party. Right now, as business models and manufacturing principles are applied to the system, our teachers are incapable of effectively teaching what really matters. Instead, they are busy stuffing minds full of quantifiable information and prepping for the standardized tests, and we already have enough experience with this model to see that it is failing.
Currently, the trend in education, implemented by the top-down hierarchy, is to apply lean manufacturing principles into the system. In short, it means speed up the system to find where it breaks, improve that area, speed up some more until it breaks again, and repeat. In manufacturing, where speed and efficiency are keys to success, this process makes sense. However, real learning is not as simple as adding this part to that part to get this widget. I’ve taken a look at students’ notes after I’ve gone through a lecture, and even though multiple students heard the exact same words at the exact same time, they have often written down something far from what I said. In order for real learning to occur, a good teacher must be able to identify where students are straying off course and steer them back accordingly. The faster the system runs and the more students per section, the more difficult this becomes. As a result, curriculum must become simplified and homogenized to ensure all students can follow along.
In business, customers must be pleased. Angry customers typically will not be repeat customers. That’s a fairly simple concept. If education runs like a business, how do you make the most customers happy in the short-term? Well, you make learning fun. You make sure students pass. You make sure you don’t make the customers angry. Those of you above the age of thirty or so, please think back to your best teachers, the ones who really taught you the most, the ones you appreciate today. Did they ever hurt your feelings? Did they ever push you to do better even when you thought you had done well? Did they ever make you angry? Those teachers are the ones being squeezed out of the system because they don’t keep the customers happy. Real learning is hard work. Real learning requires the occasional bruised ego. But that’s not good for business, so guess what’s happening to real learning?
This year, the college where I teach removed all pretense about our current modus operandi during our start up week. To begin, our president, a man who I typically admire as a real education professional, laid out our four primary objectives: 1) get the students enrolled; 2) get them to show up on the first day; 3) keep them attending; and 4) get them across the stage. Anyone notice what is missing? After his opening, we were treated to a marketing presentation on how to make the workplace more exciting. It was reminiscent of the morning meetings we would have when I worked in sales, a “go get em” pep rally type thing. The marketing guy–a true pitch man if I’ve ever seen one–then proceeded to tell us that education is in fact a business and that our job is to make money from enrollment and also from alumni. Again, no mention of actually teaching them anything. During his presentation, I felt a little piece of my soul die. After that, faculty were treated to a four hour presentation on how we need to make learning “fun” for the millennials because they bore easily. The old methods, tried and tested over three thousand years of human development, are now obsolete because this generation prefers Google and YouTube to lectures and guided discussions. Instead of challenging the students to learn, teachers need to stoop to their level because the college is a business. Our jobs as teachers are now that of customer service reps.
Good teachers today are throwing up their hands and either giving up or walking away entirely. Until community leaders recognize the abysmal failures of this new model and demand that education reverts to producing critical thinkers instead of test takers, we cannot properly do our jobs. Until community leaders recognize that we cannot compete on a global scale with an ill-trained workforce, the system will not change. Education is not a business. It’s a long-term investment for businesses and communities, an investment that pays for itself through the innovations and efficiencies of the citizens it produces. Until community leaders learn that lesson firsthand, we are headed for disaster under this current model.
D.A. Adams is the bestselling author of the young adult fantasy series The Brotherhood of Dwarves and soon-to-be-former college instructor of English. You can find him on daadams.com and @authordaadams on Twitter