The Director of my board (a few directors ago) made it very clear that all teachers were employees of the corporation. We were expected to follow the structural precepts of the corporate model. Specifically, we were expected to speak of the board, its members and its decisions at all times with loyalty (even on our own time). The board administration was the only body which could develop policy, design procedures, and implement change. We teachers were expected to march in step – single file, Indian style looking straight ahead. The board would plot our route for us.
When Mike Harris and his Conservatives happened to education, the size of the corporation got bigger. We teachers could rebel and walk out but, in the end, we were still expected to tow the company line. The educational system was to be built on loyalty, obedience, self-effacement, and a rigid network of power relationships. Acceptance of a central authority over education was imperative. Rules and policy statements affected all aspects of education: from the nature of each school board to the expectations of students.
Even though the Conservatives have lost the last few elections, and Dalton McGinty still wants to be seen as the ‘Education Premier’, and even though the shape of education in Ontario is slowly starting to change, the impact of the ‘education is a business’ mentality on us and our students is still being felt. It will take longer to reverse these effects of the time it took to create them.
Consider the changes which have been made in Curriculum. The decisions regarding what is included in course curricula are made by the Ministry of Education. These have been made based upon the perceived view of public demands and expectations of learning. The rationale for these curricula are couched in terms of social adaptability, and what is seen as good and right and necessary. The curricula and course profiles have been developed with the stated goal that all Ontarios tudents will be expected to demonstrate the same skills and competencies
The decisions which give shape to curricula are often driven by political agendae and are made in a vacuum far removed from the students’ environment and interests. As well, the reality is that it is not possible for teachers to cover all the material, concepts, and the expectations in the curricula and profiles in the time allotted for each course. There is simply too much there. The end result is that concepts and skills are often taught once and, having been taught, must be assumed to have been learned and understood by students so that students can apply the skills to other learning situations. If all the expected course material is to be covered, then in-depth discussion must be jettisoned. As a colleague of mine once stated, the material has to be taught “a mile long and an inch deep”.
Further, 70% of the course content of ‘Applied’ and ‘Academic’ courses is the same. While ‘Academic’ may translate reasonably easily to ‘Advanced’, ‘Applied’ does not translate to ‘General’. As my former department head said, “There’s hard and then there’s ‘different’ hard.”
It used to be that the Curriculum Review, Development, and Implementation (CRDI) process was placed in the hands of those who had to deliver the material — the teachers and subject councils in each board. The time lines were short with courses developed, field tested, and any necessary changes efficiently discussed and quickly and effectively made. The current process to review the Course Profiles which govern what is taught in each subject and at each level for all schools in Ontario takes too long. And the ‘review’ process for course profiles has been heavily constrained by the Ministry of Education – who can be involved in the process, what can be suggested, how much impact suggestions made by those in the field will have on any changes. The procedure of calling one or two educators from each board together, asking for answers to a very restricted set of questions, creating proposed changes, vetting these, and then printing new and, hopefully, improved Course Profiles takes about two years. By the time the changes reach the teachers, there could be a need for more changes. It reminds me of ‘new’ computers which are obsolete the minute they come off the assembly line.
Teachers, within the corporate, industrial model could be considered ‘shop foremen’. They manage a line (students), ensure quality control (test and evaluate), file reports, and incorporate the philosophy of senior management into their classes. Accountability is the rule of the day. Teachers must be able to show that they have covered the course material, taught the concepts, evaluated their students sufficiently, and managed and maintained order in their classrooms. They must show that they have established yearly personal professional goals, and that they have taken the necessary steps to meet these goals (usually on their own time and out of their own pocket).
Consider that, if education is a business, then our students are our product. They are expected to be obedient, busy workers who can follow rules, meet the expectations set for them, and become respectful, responsible, industrious, persevering, honest, empathetic, fair, optimistic and courageous citizens. (All hail, Character Education!). Students must accept the needs and requirements of the bureaucracy if they are to succeed within the framework of this system. ‘Good’ students are rewarded with good grades and opportunities for outside-of-class experiences. Deviation from the expected norm is punished with poor grades and attempts at behavioural modification.
As these students have had to grapple with the demands placed on them by the new course curricula, too often, they’re getting confused and frustrated. The learning situation is governed by the demands of management (curricula, standardized tests, order) rather than the needs of the learners. Thus, if students don’t ‘get it’ immediately (whatever ‘it’ is), they may never really understand the concept or skill. Since many of the concepts which students are taught scaffold on each other, eventually, there can develop a weakness in the structure of their knowledge. When this happens, students may give up or they may act out. Whatever their response, the value of education and learning becomes distorted when ‘the stuff’ becomes more important than ‘the learning,’
In the final analysis, our creativity and inspiration often suffers from this demand to be accountable for everything that happens in our classrooms – from order to our students’ success. The Professional Learning Program may be gone, but the Annual Learning Plan, Teacher Performance Appraisal, and the other forms of professional testing and accountability are still with us. Teachers may not like what has happened to education inOntario, but we have become the product of what has happened.
‘Education as business’ exhibits these essential elements: the leader (Ministry of Education, board of education, principal, teacher) sets the work to be done and the standards for performance without significant and meaningful consultation with those who must do the work; the expectations are set and are not very flexible; the workers (students, teachers) must adjust their work habits to fulfill the expectations set for the required work; workers are told what to do and their suggestions for change or improvement are not solicited; major evaluation of work is completed by the leader alone without much input from the workers regarding the criteria for evaluation. If workers resist then the leader institutes an escalating series of coercive responses designed to end the resistance.
It is difficult to imagine a more ludicrous situation. The current educational system (still) tries to get as much work from us all while giving us as little input and substantive power as possible. In the end, we often end up doing the expected work with little grace or ‘a lick and a promise’ while seeking ways to confound the system.
As knowledge continues to grow exponentially, as the world seems to get smaller and the pace of life increases, our students need to learn how to learn and how to find the answers to questions which have not even been thought of in the present. The Business Model was suitable to the industrial age of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is not a fit for the technological age of the 21st century.
Sheila Winter Wallace says
Wow! I read your words and I know that what you are saying is correct. Education does lie in the domaine of a rigid and dogmatic business model, which actually encourages competition [and bullying, I might add, through that competition] and punition. We send our children into political land mines – inside our schools – and expect that they will leave – after 12 years of disrespect, dishonesty and little generosity – feeling competent, confident and good about themSelves. Like any retail business, it all adds up to inventory, quotas and sales made… nothing more. It is about watching your back to see what the competition is doing. There can be no meaning in that… and without meaning, it cannot know any sustainability.
I appreciate your willingness and courage to call it, as you see it… and I know that what I am reading is the truth of a highly experienced educator, who carries respect, integrity and generosity of spirit for herSelf, such that she is willing to see well beyond past and current results to what is truly possible. I know that, ’cause you were willing to exhale and to walk away from the very thing that promised and demanded respect, but which blatantly modelled otherwise. Lies do not support life… neither does the educational ‘system’, as we now know it. The illusion is that we even believe that there is a ‘system’. It is not real, unless we say it is. So, walking away IS the first step to creating what we want.
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