Education in Era of the McTeacher
by Theresa Runstedtler and David J. Leonard | NewBlackMan
“It’s a Biblical principle. If you double a teacher’s pay scale, you’ll attract people who aren’t called to teach.” – Alabama state Senator Shadrack McGill (R)
Speaking at a prayer breakfast last month, state Senator Shadrack McGill (R) argued that increasing school teachers’ salaries would not only destroy the quality of public education in Alabama but it would be tantamount to blasphemy. (Of course, this position did not prevent him from advocating for a 67-percent pay increase for Alabama legislators.)
To go in and raise someone’s child for eight hours a day, or many people’s children for eight hours a day, requires a calling. It better be a calling in your life. I know I wouldn’t want to do it, OK? And these teachers that are called to teach, regardless of the pay scale, they would teach. It’s just in them to do. It’s the ability that God give ‘em. And there are also some teachers, it wouldn’t matter how much you would pay them, they would still perform to the same capacity. If you don’t keep that in balance, you’re going to attract people who are not called, who don’t need to be teaching our children. So, everything has a balance.
Even though McGill’s theological grounding of the issue of teacher pay is laughable at best, his assertion exposes an underlying tension in current debates over education reform. Ironically, those who demonize teachers frequently deploy this tired mantra of selfless public service to rationalize low teacher salaries, even as they expect the same teachers to operate in an increasingly corporatized, “results-based” environment – without corporate-sized wages.
In other words, they want to have their cake and eat it too, and all on the backs of those who spend their days working in the classroom, often with paltry resources, little support, and the constant threat of punitive measures and public derision. And this pressure to push the rubric of privatization into public education is not just coming from the Right. The “progressive” movement for education reform has also jumped on the corporate bandwagon.
Indeed, the logic of consumerism now dominates the “enterprise” of American education from kindergarten to college. We have entered a phase defined by a client relationship, with teachers becoming akin to academic concierges or service representatives, rather than intellectual leaders and mentors. Schoolteachers and professors must provide information, guidance, and whatever else their student-customers’ desire. More and more we are told that we are in the business of content delivery and job training, rather than social analysis and critique. In “Putting the Customer First in College,” Louis Soares, the Director of the Postsecondary Education program at the Center for American Progress, even argues for the establishment of an “Office of Consumer Protection in Higher Education”:
Students make customer choices based on available information, interests, abilities and life circumstances that will mostly determine whether they succeed in obtaining an education with a meaningful credential. The problem is our higher education marketplace today does not account for this customer focus that is so important to success. In large measure, this is because education policies that guide this marketplace are largely crafted by the dominant voices in higher education—colleges and universities with the resources to sway elected officials. Students as customers have no voice in this policy conversation. (emphasis added)
Writing about the phenomenon of helicopter parents, Afshan Jafar links the rise of hovering moms and dads to the heightened consumerism in U.S. education. “This trend is clearly the manifestation of a consumerist mentality: I’m paying for this, so even though I am a sophomore, I should be able to take the course that is open to juniors and seniors,” writes the assistant professor of Sociology at Connecticut College. “Or: I’m paying for this, so this better be good (and “good” really means a good grade here). This consumerist mentality explains the sense of entitlement that we perceive in some of our students and their parents.” While often attributed to the increasing costs of higher education and the recent string of consumer-fraud class actions brought by students, this “retail” ethic runs much deeper. It reflects a substantive paradigm shift in the language, practice, and structure of American education.
With this emphasis on benchmarks, quantifiable results, and customer reviews, it is no surprise that attacks on teachers, whether at the university or public school level, have escalated in the past few years. Whether measured by standardized tests or student evaluations, teachers are now expected to produce immediately recognizable “results,” even as the funds dedicated to the classroom (as opposed to testing companies and college administrations) continue to shrink.
continue reading @ NewBlackMan: Education in Era of the McTeacher.