Why aren’t educational leaders leading by outrage today? No, I don’t mean running around with their hair on fire. It also doesn’t mean running around in a rage with a Blackberry in each hand shouting orders, commands, and insults.
There’s a place for outrage. Leaders have an obligation to stand up for principles and ethics when the reform train runs off the tracks. Stand up for public education, which is one of the great achievements of American society.
Leaders have moral authority to engage in the conversation when centralized power or corporate interests threaten public education. Some issues that should raise educational leaders’ ire are:
- The wrongheaded conception of what an education is. Educated people certainly have basic skills and knowledge, but they also have an understanding of concepts, ethics, culture, fine arts, character, and social responsibility. Just passing standardized tests do not mean you are educated or will be successful in life. Is the effort to privatize education and encourage the corporatization of education in the common interest? Should the self-interest of private test companies control the curriculum and teacher evaluation?
- Confusing the purpose of education — it is not simply to get a job. An education should prepare children for meeting their responsibilities as a citizen, parent, and individual to meet their obligations and using and honing their talents so they live a life of purpose and meaning. Times change, jobs come and go, and producing compliant workers for today may be detrimental to children’s future.
- Using carrots and sticks – rewards and punishments – do not motivate people. Research in organizational and human behavior overwhelming identifies the dysfunctions of this approach. Yet, the government and reformers propose carrots and sticks to whip teachers into shape. Motivation and movement are different. Motivation involves an intrinsic sense of purpose and efficacy. Daniel Pink in his book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, states “… carrots and sticks can achieve precisely the opposite of their intended aims. Mechanisms designed to increase motivation can dampen it. Tactics aimed at boosting creativity can reduce it. Programs to promote good deeds can make them disappear. Meanwhile, instead of restraining negative behavior, rewards and punishments often set it loose–and give rise to cheating, addiction, and dangerously myopic thinking.”
- Schools are not businesses — parents and children are not customers. The bottom-line of an education cannot be reduced to a set of numbers assessed on the basis of tests – value-added or otherwise. Worshiping on the alter of test scores or other quantifiable behavior misses the mark concerning important educational goals. What metrics can be used to measure creativity, innovation, and character? Values, motivation, drive, and imagination, not simply recall on multiple-choice questions, give birth to greatness. Remember: Einstein, Churchill, Darwin, Edison, Dickinson, and Disney are just a number of people who struggled and failed but kept going, made breakthroughs and inspired others.
- Talented and imaginative people will not be attracted to the teaching profession if their evaluation is based on factors beyond their direct control, or if they’re evaluated by instruments and tests that may not be valid or reliable indicators of talent. Many critically important issues are beyond a teacher’s control – namely student and parental attitudes and support for education. We do not hold physicians accountable for malpractice if the patients do not meet their obligations and engage in self-destructive behavior.
Public education has always had a moral responsibility to educate every boy and girl. Teachers are not making widgets. A teacher’s responsibility far exceeds following specific techniques in lockstep manor or by prescription. The teachers’ role far exceeds the implementation of routines and tasks.
Teachers and educators are caretakers of America’s future by developing the academic potential and character of boys and girls upon whose shoulders rest the future.
When that virtuous role is threatened by reforms that subvert the institution of public education by misguided reforms and power, then it is time for superintendents, principals, and others to stand up, speak out, and resist the so-called reforms.
A little outrage based on principle now and then is a good thing. In fact, that’s what leadership is about.