Teachers As Dictators

Thousands of teachers traveled across the country to protest in front of the White House on Saturday. … Their message boiled down to one point, which was summed up by the sound check before the first speaker took the stage: Tap. Tap. “No testing, no testing, 1-2-3.” … Under that “failing” label, Romero’s school has cut back time for physical education and recess, and she has been required to use a new reading curriculum, she said. The regimen “stifles imagination,” she said. (more)

Schools are designed to, and do, stifle student imaginations. So why would we care much if teacher imaginations get stifled in the process? Do we care if prison guard imaginations gets stifled? This makes more sense once you realize just how much autonomy teachers were used to having:

In the early 1970s [sociologists] carried out a large survey of superintendents, principals, and teachers in San Francisco school districts. The initial reports indicated that something was amiss in these organizations. Reforms were announced with enthusiasm and then evaporated. Rules and requirements filled the file cabinets, but teachers taught as they pleased and neither principals nor superintendents took much notice. State and federal money flowed in and elaborate reports went forth suggesting compliance, but little seemed to change in the classrooms. Studies of child-teacher interactions in the classroom suggested that they were unaffected by the next classroom, the principal, the district, the outside funds, and the teacher training institution. (more)

In a [2011] study of nearly a million Texas children, … researchers found that nearly identical schools suspended and expelled students at very different rates. … The analysis used more than 80 variables, including race, economics, test scores, attendance, teacher salary and experience, and expenditures per student. ….

While some high-poverty schools suspended students at unexpectedly high rates, others with strikingly similar characteristics did not. The same discipline gap was clear for prosperous, suburban schools and small, rural schools. … Suspension or expulsion greatly increased a student’s risk of being held back a grade, dropping out or landing in the juvenile justice system. …

97 percent of disciplined students got in trouble for “discretionary” offenses, which can include serious fights but often refer to classroom disruption and insubordination. Fewer than 3 percent were ousted for violations with state-mandated punishment, such as bringing weapons or drugs to school. … African American students had a 31 percent higher likelihood of being disciplined for a discretionary offense, compared with whites and Hispanics with similar characteristics. (more)

So why do we tolerate dictator levels of teacher autonomy? As with our tolerating excesses in homework, early hours, and frequent evaluation, this makes much more sense as a way to train and select compliant workers than to teach course “content.”

Note our love of teacher autonomy even deters us from having independent bodies administer the tests by which we evaluate teachers are – they test themselves, which of course leads to lots of cheating.

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  • nazgulnarsil

    the purveyors of certain sacred values in a society are not meant to be questioned. doctors, teachers, etc. lawyers used to fit this bill but made a laughingstock of themselves.

  • Foseti would say that’s the inevitable outcome when you can’t fire employees, they become their own bosses.

    I recall reading once (I think at the blog formerly known as Austrian Economists) that universities are like the worker-owned co-ops of old Yugoslavian market socialism. Which at least had a market the different organizations could compete in.

  • Drewfus

    So why do we tolerate dictator levels of teacher autonomy?

    In Western society, we have implicit assumptions on fundamentals of individual and group behavior, and the management of the social heirarchy. One of those assumptions is that someone, or more likely, some group, is to be deemed the expert on all substative social, political, technical and scientific issues. Know-it-all Western civilization has experts on everything. Expertism is deterministic. With the implicit assumption that someone knows best on almost everything, the social order is structured to arbitrate who the experts will be, and depending on how unlikely that expertise actually is, by more and more elaborate and arbitary means, until expertise can be named, by pointing to those at the top of the social heirarchy, or sub-hierarchy, as the case may be. Most striking about the West is that expertise does not mean ‘high skill level’, rather it means ‘high social status’. For a supposedly scientific society, this is extraordinary.

    For schools, teachers are defined as the experts, not just on learning but to some extent on child social and cognitive development in general. The question then is, if not teachers then who? Answering ‘no one’, is not a valid position, culturally speaking. Once again, to relate this to one of my pet ideas – determinicity drives out quality. That is one reason, btw, that process oriented firms function poorly, because the rigidity of process makes internal demand patterns deterministic. The same is true for compulsory education. Compulsory anything is necessarily low quality. I challenge anyone to name a single example that contradicts that assertion.

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  • Minicrit

    This post doesn’t make much sense.

    Schools are designed to, and do, stifle student imaginations.

    When? How? What? Could you provide a bit more of an explanation?

    • He gave some of his view on the purpose of school here.

    • Noah Yetter

      Did you GO to school? It’s obvious.

  • nazgulnarsil

    drewfus, do you have a blog?

    Minicrit, http://www.johntaylorgatto.com/underground/toc1.htm

    • Drewfus

      No. Why?

  • Ian

    I absolutely hated elementary school, for exactly this reason…

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  • I guess there must be great changes that the department of education in US will have to implement because there are many teachers are strongly affected by the system of their education. Changed is the only solution for this problem.