Gary Gutting’s NYTimes essay, “The Real Humanities Crisis” describes the sad reality that there are fewer and fewer jobs available for those who major in humanities in college… and that is contributing to a viscous circle whereby fewer students are drawn to that major in college. Sadly, public education is cited as one area that is no longer appealing to humanities majors. Why?
…As for non-college teaching, the sad state of so many of our K-12 schools — with their unprepared and undisciplined students, overcrowding, lack of funding and obtuse, test-obsessed bureaucracies — make teaching there a path to frustration and burnout.
So public education, which Gutting believes SHOULD be a logical place for humanities majors to work, is no longer a viable option because of budget cuts and the obsession with tests. As readers of this blog realize, this observation warranted a comment:
You need to talk to your colleagues and editors about public education reform. They all seem to think we need to run schools like a business and advocate the creation and expansion of the “obtuse, test-obsessed bureaucracies” while cutting wages and benefits for teachers. This “reform” package makes teaching a “path to frustration and burnout” and makes learning a monotonous progression of mandated common core lessons based on a students chronologic age instead of their interest. Until we abandon our obsession with testing we will repel humanists from entering public education altogether. Fortunately for some of them, the affluent school districts and elite private schools who ignore the tests will be able to employ humanistic teachers and pay them a decent wage.
Gutting offers a remedy for public schools, one that sounds like the “Finland” plan:
We could open up a large number of fulfilling jobs for humanists if (as I’ve previously suggested) we developed an elite, professional faculty in our K-12 schools. Provide good salaries and good working conditions, and many humanists would find teaching immensely rewarding. Meeting the needs of this part of the cultural middle class could, in fact, be the key to saving our schools.
Alas, our “reformers” believe that testing and measurement is the road to school improvement— NOT “good salaries and good working conditions”. As any business minded person knows, wages and working conditions cost money and that money has to come from taxes and taxes are a drain on the economy. Measurement, though, costs little and, as Tom Friedman asserts, will yield improvement by “striking fear into the hearts” of teachers and administrators. If only it were that easy….
Tom Friedman’s column in today’s NYTimes celebrates reforms taking place in the totalitarian governments of Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai, and features this paragraph (with my emphases added) to illustrate:
Talk about reform — in Dubai, the government has set a strategy for 2021, and each of the 46 ministries and regulatory agencies has three-year Key Performance Indicators, or K.P.I.’s, they have to fulfill to get there, ranging from improving the success of Dubai 15-year-olds in global science, math and reading exams to making it even easier to start a new business. All 3,600 K.P.I.’s are loaded on an iPad dashboard that the ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, follows each week. Maryam al-Hammadi, 48, the director of government performance, strikes fear in the heart of every minister in Dubai because each month she ranks them by who is making the most progress toward achieving their K.P.I.’s, and Sheikh Mohammed gets the list. You don’t want to be at the bottom. Hammadi showed me the dashboard and explained that Sheikh Mohammed is demanding that “every government agency perform as well as the private sector in customer satisfaction and service.” The public will get an annual report.
Chainsaw Jack Welch is alive and well and living in Dubai! But reading about the Arab method of school accountability compelled me to make this comment:
The Arab countries, China and the US are all converging on “reform” using data analyses whereby the “director of government performance strikes fear into the heart of every minister” based on “progress ratings”. This all sounds eerily similar to “education reform”… and also eerily familiar to the stack ratings Microsoft recently abandoned because of their ineffectuality…. and “striking fear into the heart” of subordinates hardly sounds like a step forward to me, especially if you aspire to a democracy where everyone is free to share their ideas and opinions.
Tom Friedman wants us to believe that data collection and reporting will magically address the inter-related root causes of social problems: inequality, poverty and culture. Regularly measuring the effects of inequalities and poverty won’t eliminate them anymore than weighing oneself daily will reduce ones weight…. and the cultural norms that won’t allow women to drive a car will not change through the use of metrics either. Publicizing measurement of student performance will only dishearten those who work with those children who face adversity— or “strike fear in their hearts” if there is a “director of government performances” cracking the whip over them— but like Microsoft the governments will soon discover that rankings based on “objective metrics” do not accurately capture the work of public servants any more than they measure the performance of technology workers.
Here’s the bottom line: if “striking fear into the hearts” of people is “reform”, we need to abandon “reform” ASAP.