Thursday, October 23, 2014

Millionaire Techies, TIME and Education - A Grrr Moment

I like to believe the best in people, and I like to try to find the strengths and positives in most situations.  Today, however, I am struggling to find anything strength based or positive about TIME magazines cover due for release in the US on November 3.  It is currently available online. 

Quite frankly, its a shocker and it has left me feeling disappointed that a magazine of such reputation and quality would resort to such a sensationalist attack on public education, to grab the publics attention.  TIMEs cover states 'Its nearly impossible to fire a teacher.  Some tech millionaires may have found a way to change that.'  As far as covers go, it is a bit of a loaded gun, and it has left me wondering.

I wonder about the motivations behind TIME magazines cover.   I have 3 key wonderings:

1. Was their motivation behind using such an emotive and inflammatory statement, at best case scenario, about selling copies of magazines?  

I understand they want to sell their magazine and like any sensationalist media
'rag' they want to use this byline to entice the public to buy TIME, but I had higher expectations of TIME.  I didn't think they would drop to the level of essentially degenerating the teaching profession (a profession for which all them have to thank for their own career I might add) in order to do it.  Somehow, I thought TIME would be above that.

Their statement implies that all teachers are bad, and not only are they rotten to the core, (hence the use of the apple to portray said imagery), but they are impossible to get rid of.  Furthermore, the judges gavel implies that millionaire techies can be judge, jury and executioner of teacher quality and tenure - watch this space!  As an educator and as an educational leader in charge of teacher quality, I find this highly offensive and a blatant untruth.  It smacks of bad reporting, ill informed research and agendas that favour big corporations.

2. Or, is one of the motivations behind this cover because the editors and reporters at TIME just dislike educationalists?

Perhaps this article that implies all teachers are bad, and that bad teaching is exacerbated when teachers have job security (in this case tenure), is motivated by editors and reporters who have had a bad experience in their own educational history.  Perhaps they have a particular axe to grind?  I am less inclined to believe this would be a motivation simply because I like to have faith in the objectivity and professionalism of the people who work at TIME.  After all, I expect them to apply the same courtesy to my profession.

3. I wonder why TIME would add fuel to the fire that is educational bashing?

It is a hard time to be an educationalist.  Everywhere you look there are bad news stories, media reports about how 'bad' teachers are, and hardly anyone wants to write or publish a story about the wonderful things happening in classrooms all over the world.  Bad teachers are not the rule, they are the exception.  Teachers do fabulous things, every single day, despite ridiculous policy, ignorant political reforms and lack of resources.  Instead of buying into false mythology, how about TIME bust some myths and tell the story as it really is?  In case you missed it I will repeat the statement that bad teachers are not the rule, but the exception.  Whilst the article inside is a little more balanced in terms of the issue of tenure, it's the implications inherent on the cover.  Those with sense will buy it and read it, but many many more will simply see it, make an assumption as they walk past, and the damage is done.  Not just in the Stares, but in bookstores around the world. 

Its not just TIME magazine I have  wonderings about,  I have several wonderings about these 'tech millionaires' as well.

1. I wonder, what experience do they have in teacher quality, teacher appraisal, and teaching and education in general?

Im guessing very little.  Public education is a political hot potato that everyone has an opinion about, an interest in and one which everyone thinks they are expert at.  The mere fact that everyone has participated in the education system of their respective countries at some point makes them think they are experts.   I suspect this is where these rich techies feel they are justified in meddling in a profession they are not proficient in.

They most likely think their system for addressing quality in programming or engineering can be equally applied to that of a teacher teaching students.  This coupled with the fact they have an education themselves and they employ young people, is what is likely to be driving their belief that they are expert.  For the non educator out there - it most certainly does not make them expert, and it most certainly does not give them the mandate to reform education, take away tenure and determine quality of teaching.

If you applied that logic then you may as well let them loose on health as well.  We would all like our doctors and nurses practice to be dictated to by rich techies, because they have all been sick at some stage therefore they know how to be a doctor, wouldn't we?  (in case you missed it, that last statement was seeping with sarcasm and the answer is a definate no, not ever!)

I dont profess to be an expert on US educational policy, reform or application - but I am an excellent judge of teaching practice - I can sniff out a quality classroom in seconds - and I know teachers, students and the complexities of education.  In this case it is irrelevant which country a teacher is from, or how each countries system is set up when it comes to what it is to BE a teacher.  I also know that 'millionaire tech' moguls do not have the same understanding, experience or expertise to determine these things, and this concerns me.

2. I wonder what relevant educational research was used by the 'tech millionaires' to figure out how to fix all these 'bad' teachers and rid them of their job security?

I am guessing, none.  Good educational reform is about looking at relevant, up to date and sound research.  It has to be about what is best for students, and in terms of teacher quality, it needs to be about training, professional development, support and guidance and robust processes where the evidence helps teachers and schools grow.   Not only do I suspect that they have not used quality research but I suspect they actually don't know anything about the day to day job of an educator or an educational leader.  It may appear difficult to remove a 'bad' teacher, but actually, its about process and evidence.

To just be able to fire anyone on any grounds would be a damaging thing to do.  Not only will it attract less than ideal candidates to begin with, but further damages the trust that is needed to ensure successful schools.  You will never get collaboration and growth where there is mistrust and fear.  If these techie millionaires are good leaders they will know this.  They might be rich but they don't sound that great at leadership.

Education is an emotional labour.  Teachers are working with little human beings not programmes or hardware.  They carry the burdens of the students they teach, the good and the bad.  Tell me how you measure that?  Tell me how taking tenure (or in New Zealand we call it a permanent position) away from a job makes it a career you want to enter and better for kids?

I understand the need for public discourse on matters pertaining to public education, and I welcome the debate. Public education is also, technically, taxpayer funded and as such peoples opinions count.  However, what I am less enamoured of is the belief that big businesses and corporations and big wallets have the right to set the parameters of the debate, draft the policy and then lobby for its implementation and subsequent legislative changes.  Changes that inevitably reform education into something that is so far removed from the basic tenants of public education that it is unrecognisable.

3. I wonder about the motivation behind these millionaire techies.

Is it a motivation based on a genuine need to want to help?  I hope so, and if it is I have a suggestion. Talk to teachers, talk to principals and talk to students.  Find out how your money can really make a difference.  Invest in professional development, educational coaching initiatives and find a way to work with policy makers to stop the incessant testing regime, address equity and learn from the systems that are successful.   Use your powerful networks and finance for good.

Finally, have a few messages to the key players in this debacle.


I am disappointed in you for fuelling distasteful anti teacher sentiment and allowing the monied voice to push an agenda that is everything public education is not, through this cover.  I expect better of you and I am hoping you will do what is ethical and right and fix it.  I am hopeful that you did not intend to add to the teacher bashing.

To the public:

Be wary about what you see on a cover.  All is not as it looks, and ask yourself whose agenda is being pushed?  Think of what the consequences are, and ask yourself if you believe in your heart what you read.  Apply the argument to another profession like health, and if you are uneasy about it then go with your intuition.  Really challenge what the millionaire techies real agenda is and talk (I mean really talk) with a teacher about what its really like.

To the Millionaire Techies:

Really?  You fancy yourself an educator or educational reformer now?  Do me a favour before pushing your 'snake oil' onto my profession and go get qualified as a teacher and work within the system, in a class, in a tricky part of town, for a year.  Then tell me you have the solutions.  Somehow, I don't think you will do that.  Incidentally, do you see me or the public tell you how to fix your bug ridden programmes and glitchy hardware?  Would you like me to take my expertise as a tech user and tell you how to do things?  No, no you wouldn't, and even if I was a rich as you, I would not dare to presume I understood your context let alone lobby to legislate changes to how you operate.  I have more respect for your professionalism.  Or, re read wondering 3.  If your motivations are good ones, be diligent and research how best you can help.

To the politicians:

Please don't let your greed for money and the corporate dollar blind you to what is actually important - a society where equity and success is obtainable by all.  Where our kids are taught to succeed both today and in their future.  Do what is best and what the research and successful countries like Finland prove work.  You are elected to represent people - not corporations - and the children are the most important voice you need to think about.

Most importantly, to all the teachers and educators:

I want to say to all the hard working teachers out there that who you are makes a difference, try not to be disheartened by the ignorant and ill-informed 'wanna be' educational reformers out there and stay united.   What you do is shape lives, shape communities and shape our future.  It is the most important job in the world, and our children need you to believe in your strengths, your abilities and that you are important!

This post may well have been motivated by the TIME cover, but its indicative of a much more insidious and pervasive element that is creeping into public education around the world, where big money and privatisation (in essence the GERM) are eroding all that is important for societal success. Is this really what we want our children to be subjected to?

This is a case of a cover paints a 1000 words. 

You can see the link to the TIME cover and article here.

If you want to read more about this issue, especially busting myths about tenure as it is applied in the US context, read this scathing post in Badass Teachers Association blog by Steven Singer.

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