Sunday, March 27, 2016
Schools : Social Institutions or Businesses?
Years ago, when I was going through numerous education classes to get my Masters at Lehman College, I became involved in a heated debate with several students and our professor. This was the early 1990s and there was a push to have teachers become involved with students holistically. In other words, not just teaching them. Helping them through individual difficulties, no matter what those difficulties might be. Several students in the class balked and basically said they were training to be teachers, not priests or social workers. I came from an era where my teachers were rigid, feared and respected. The professor went on and said the students should call us by our first names. Some of my African friends nearly fainted on the spot. It took one a full minute to retrieve his power of speech, at which point he let out a scream that could be heard in Queens. I thought about it and thought it was a humanistic view. I wasn't keen on the first name basis, as that could blur the boundary lines for the students, but as a new teacher I thought it was ok.
One of the first and many subsequent observations I received always commented on my close rapport with my classes. I cared about my students and most of them seemed to care about me. I never got too friendly, but I had many close relationships with my students. Many times they would come to me before their guidance counselor. I always let them know that if they told me anything that put them or someone else in danger I had to report it. Of course, I usually got a suicide threat once a year, usually right before Thanksgiving or Christmas break. One came to me as I was walking out the door at 4PM before Thanksgiving day. No one was left in the guidance department and the AP was gone. I followed the procedures and got her help. I knew it wasn't anything other than the bleak depressing thought of going home that had caused this. Schools were social institutions, meant to be caring centers of learning.
Fast forward 20 plus years, same kids with the same problems. Teachers are fixated with their ratings, which are contingent on student test scores. Teachers are rigid again, but certainly not feared or respected. The rigidity is from stress and their own fear. Will this school close down? Will I get tenure? Will I lose my job? This is the business model of education. These are the same things the clerks in retail shops all over the city ask themselves. Each school has its own brand and if the statistics aren't high enough, it will be shut down. What about the students? Well they can go to a different school. No big deal, it's like buying a cheeseburger.