The most disturbing consequence of the contemporary belief that any sort of ‘progress’ in education stems from individual initiative and can be proven by testing is the devaluation of the teacher. Problem is, we don’t learn on our own; learning always involves community. Language itself builds from–and builds–community, and learning is dependent on language. And testing is inherently regressive, for testing can only focus on what already is known and codified, so is of only limited utility and should only be used by teachers themselves for classroom purposes. It cannot embody exploration or experimentation–certainly not when made an end and not a tool. The irony of contemporary attitudes is that it is teachers who guide learners through to mastery of language as practiced within the wider culture and who are necessary for development of tests with significance beyond the tests’ own internal comparisons. Without them, nothing happens. In other words, it ain’t agonna work without teachers, no how, no way. But our leaders, today, don’t seem to believe that.
It ain’t agonna work, not even if you believe that teachers are simply as machines for refining the product (students). But that’s what is happening, what too many believe. Bit it ain’t agonna work.
As protections for the professionalism of our educators erode, they leave the field… no: They are all but pushed out. Reliance on adjuncts and temporary hires makes it difficult for anyone but the most foolhardy to plan on a career in higher education. Instead, it becomes a temporary stop on the way to something else. Reliance on Teach For America in our public schools (which is growing each year) does the same thing, making teaching just a service one does on the way to a more fruitful career. I fear there are even some people among those who have come to despise teachers who believe that, eventually, we can replace all teachers with machines.
That takes all the passion away and makes the teacher just a cog who can be replaced by any other, but that seems to be what many contemporary education “reformers” want.
A decade ago, I taught for a for-profit online school for a bit. It was quite eye-opening. Not only did I have no input on curriculum or syllabus, but I was supervised by people who had no teaching experience at all. I discovered, also, that one of the reasons the classes were so structured was so that teachers could be replaced at a minute’s notice. Someone else could step in without the class losing a beat. The teacher was only a tool easily replaced by another from the same rack.
But, as we all should know, teaching is much more than that. It is unquantifiable… just as learning ultimately is (test mania notwithstanding–for learning is a way of being not a set of answers). I recently posted a link to a short YouTube video speaking to the fact that there’s also much more to teaching than salary. It’s a passion, and a desire to transfer the passion for learning to students.
The title for this post comes from an article by James Cersonsky at Salon called “GOP’s Enron-esque higher ed plan: Fire tenured faculty to fund student dorms.” He writes, quoting political scientist Jean Jones of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania:
“I think it’s going to impact enrollment. It’s all over the press here.” Moreover, “Exciting new young scholars would think twice about coming here to work. I think that applies to administrators as well.” Overall, she says, “Morale is terrible. People are depressed. The thing that worries me in the long term is that this is the new normal. It’s really just destroying the academic community. A number of faculty have told me that they’re just going to punch the clock.”
What’s going on there is chronicled by Kevin Mahoney, who has posted on the system-wide problems in Pennsyvlania on this blog. He gives more background to the situation Cersonsky presents, especially on his Raging Chicken Press (linked to in his post).
The problem is greater than simply lay-offs of even tenured professors, moving all of us into contingent positions. It’s even greater than the “caste system” that has developed between tenured or tenure-track faculty and everyone else (see Leemon McHenry’s post). The problem is that many in business see a cost benefit in removing the educator from education, in making the whole thing mechanical. It’s the Taylorization of education without any understanding of what education really does.
Next up: Law without lawyers? Medicine without doctors?
Don’t be surprised.