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Leadership and Activism, Philosophical Meanderings

There art thou happy (or Rheeturn to me?)

Chad Ratliff (@chadratliff) and Jerrid Kruse (@jerridkruse) exchanged tweets over the role of business in education.

I caught this part of their conversation:

I don’t think public education should be paying vendors for the privilege of play-testing new and improved books and programs that further entrench seat-work and other levers and measures of student compliance.

However, I don’t think all businesses take advantage of their customers. Nor do I think all education businesses operate like the vendors I decry.

I’m at a point where my desire for change trumps my teacher’s fego. Why not partner public education and private business in ways that make teaching and learning matter more to kids and their communities?

I confuse myself. Sometimes I prophesy doom and blame business (and the fed (and us)) for some kind of impending techno-maniacal educational apocalypse. Sometimes I write about how ginchy it is to have Google Time in the classroom. What the hell? Is Google suddenly not a businesses? Do I not hoard Apple products in my classroom? Do I not push apps with the Sansing Seal of Approval on my students and their work? Where do I think our books come from – our tables and chairs?

I really loved preparing for a life of the mind in high school and college. I have a lot of fond memories of books, even if I can’t change the oil in my own car. Maybe someone can tweet me the steps or talk me through it at Educon. Anyway, as a result of my education (and baseless overidentification with Leonardo DiCaprio?), I can’t go a day without thinking of the Friar’s speech from Act III, Scene iii, in Romeo and Juliet.

So when I read Chad and Jerrid’s tweets today, I thought about business and education and told myself “there art thou happy” (see line 108).

What – or whom – do we teachers admire in business?

What do we consider authentic education? What do we consider Project-based learning – the kind with a capital P? What do we consider to be best practices in student feedback and democratic classrooms? In communicating with stakeholders? What do we consider to be fair pay for professional work? Where do these things happen most?

In businesses, or in public schools?

At what point do we trade off our systemic inertia for the managerial practices that could bring about the changes we want much more quickly than educational administration can? At what point do we acknowledge that our preeminent professional organizations – the unions – are both a blessing and a curse in preserving us from the leadership we want and – I say – deserve?

How will results-driven leaders learn how to effectively transform education so long as we hold them at arm’s length? Don’t we share a distaste of bureaucracy? Might we not share a distaste for assessment that obstruct learning?

There are businesses with consciences. There are successful non-profits. There are visionary educators and administrators.

What will keep business’s best practices for learning and change from our schools won’t be any real incompatibility between platforms, but rather our instance on seeing teaching as a proprietary trade. What will keep the public from buying us will be our opaqueness.

I’m not saying that we’re not ready for change. I’m not saying that I’m really ready, either. I’m saying that we share complicity in supporting a system that rails against private business because we feel powerless to break away from our longstanding relationships with privateers.

What work do we need to do to run schools that aren’t schools? Non-profit leadership academies? Tinkering schools? Little Pixars?

What work do we need to let go of, and whose work do we need to follow?

With apologies:

What, rouse thee, man! thy Learning is alive,

For whose dear sake thou wast but lately dead;
There art thou happy: testing would kill thee,

But thou slew’st testing; there are thou happy too:
The law that threaten’d death becomes thy friend

And turns it to exile; there art thou happy:
A pack of blessings lights up upon thy back;

Happiness courts thee in her best array;
But, like a mishaved and sullen wench,
Thou pout’st upon thy fortune and thy love.
Take heed, take heed, for such die miserable.

If we want to get businesses interested in something like this, than maybe it’s time to let them compete with the current system for the opportunity to lead us there. How can we capture a stake in school choice that means more than choosing between test scores? How can we confront a system that stifles our best selves? What are we willing to say and do about our work, and who will find a way to support the best teaching and learning no matter what? What school board will be the first to turn its back on state-approved “turn-around” partners for corporate partners who will invest in radically transforming schools before expecting a return?

When it becomes clear that we’re contributing to a better world – to better businesses and schools – there will be no question of our worth, nor any doubt of our sincerity in serving students and their learning. I think business might be interested in that brand. I think that’s the brand of education we believe in, even if that’s not the message our system sends. Why not get new PR?

Is it more important to change education or to make all the changes ourselves?

We shouldn’t go into new relationships as lovestruck as Romeo, but neither should we play Kate. In fact, we might just be running around the woods chasing after the wrong things until we Stoppard and take ourselves to Act V of American education.

So let’s start turning some pages, even if they’re on the Kindle App for iPhone. (And can I just add that if I could time travel it would be to play that song at the end of my high school talent show, life of the mind be damned?)

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About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.

Discussion

10 thoughts on “There art thou happy (or Rheeturn to me?)

  1. Is this a question about the relative autonomy of partners in any given partnership? A school or, more likely, district education office may do a deal with business over the heads of the teachers and school community – a deal that locks them into using certain textbooks, for instance. On the other hand, a teacher might approach a business in a collaborative spirit for the educational benefit of the students. Business (as in trade) is a central part of human community, and this is something that all students should have an interest in. Some will of course have a business mind, and they will be in their element. But students whose passion lies elsewhere (the arts, for example) can learn about business in a contextually relevant way (selling works of art, running an exhibition, putting on a performance). Should we, as Cameron Herold says, raise kids to be entrepreneurs?

    Posted by Simon Kidd | September 16, 2010, 11:46 pm
    • Hi, Simon!

      I’m an enthusiastic fan of student entrepreneurship. Here I wonder if we’re not limiting the scope and pace of educational revolution by positioning ourselves in opposition to businesses, some of which do good and some of which have leaders effective at implementing systems change towards the kinds of cultures we call for from the progressive classroom.

      Best regards,
      Chad

      Posted by Chad Sansing | September 17, 2010, 5:49 am
      • there are also schools who are doing awesome things. I think we should learn from them. And when you say our government has too much control of our schools, I agree, of course, who has control of our government? :)

        I like my autonomy, I’ll fight to the death to keep it, but that doesn’t mean I won’t learn from others in many different places. As Kristen states below, reflexive action is bad. But just because you both disagree with my points does mean I am being reacting reflexively.

        Posted by jerridkruse | September 17, 2010, 9:52 am
        • I’m trying to capture the zeitgeist of our profession, Jerrid; I don’t mean to imply that you’re reactive or reflexive. My apologies! Your conversation with Chad Ratliff prompted reaction on my part, but I hope my reaction is not taken to be dismissive of either of you.

          I struggle so often with what I consider to be by autonomy, with how autonomous I really am in regards to the system, and with how individual autonomy bridges to collective action. Who controls the government, indeed?

          Best,
          Chad

          Posted by Chad Sansing | September 17, 2010, 10:44 am
  2. You provide some interesting food for thought. I have often thought of the innovation coming out of companies like google & wonder how schools might harness that. I tried the 20% for new projects with my classes & had a lot of fun & kids learned a lot! However, I thought about the control businesses have over their operations. Businesses control their products, personnel, & even their customers. Now the metaphors don’t line up perfectly, but (most) schools really don’t have control of anything except marketing (how they present merchandise). Now there is a lot one can Do with marketing, but you can’t do
    It all. So while there is much we can learn from business, the inherent freedom of a business & corresponding restraints in education does not make them equal. We should be careful to assume a company who is successful in the marketplace might be successful in the eduplace. I like the previous comment about cooperation, but believe that because businesses are used to control, the cooperation would quickly deteriorate. What’s more, I’m guarantee a business model could improve scores, the real question is whether those particular score are worth improving.

    Anyway, just some thinking out loud about your post. I’m not anti business or edu-business collaboration, just trying to ensure we proceed with caution. Remember, the current factory model we are so unhappy with is likely a direct result of catering to business pressures.

    Posted by Jerrid kruse | September 17, 2010, 1:16 am
    • Jerrid, I’m with you to a point, but I think schools, unions, and state and federal governments exert far too much control over students and educators, and that we educators are more tacit than powerless in shaping our profession.

      Moreover, I think some businesses are moving away from the industrial model faster than we’re letting go of our fear of business. There isn’t one business model. I love a monolithic punching bag as as the next pundit, but it seems to me that there are enough interesting things happening in leadership, technology, and the non-profit sector to make the case for more explicit school/business partnerships in pursuit of school choice and schools that don’t look like schools.

      It’s not as if schools don’t look and sound industrial. What business model are we waiting for, and are we sure it’s not already out there?

      Thanks for the assist with my writer’s block -
      C

      Posted by Chad Sansing | September 17, 2010, 6:05 am
  3. Oh…what?

    I am just back from a 17-minute ramble through your links Chad (no one’s got links like you Chad…REO Speedwagon) and am just coming up for air. So huh? This is a great post, or mosaic, really, of fine thoughts: where books come from; reflexive hostility to business models in the sector when the whole operation is a business; many businesses are acting in enlightened ways, so maybe we should get off our asses, learn up, and take charge.

    I believe the word inertia was mentioned somewhere up there. The sector is passive aggressive, angry, hostile. I often hear teachers talk this way. Folks feel like conditions of the work are someone else’s fault. (And as we all know, most teacher’s days don’t support learning, following links like yours, thinking about the stuff you are talking about.) But none of that will change until we get off our asses, learn up, and take charge. It’s nobody’s fault, and we have to step up.

    You are not changing the oil in my car.

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | September 17, 2010, 9:46 am
    • REO Speedwagon at LiveAid ’85 (community-based, performance PBL (with Paul Shaffer in 80s shorts)), when Freddy Mercury was alive and everything seemed possible.

      I promise not to attempt any automotive maintenance at any time whatsoever on any vehicle apart from a skateboard.

      Best,
      C

      Posted by Chad Sansing | September 17, 2010, 10:48 am
  4. @chad,

    I am not at all offended, no apologies needed. I was only trying to get to the tension. It isn’t that we want to avoid the business influence, but that we want to proceed with caution. I think the system does definitely prevent real autonomy, but replacing one system with another is something I am leery of. We (education in general) have too often jumped into partnerships and new fangled ideas with both feet, perhaps we start to learn from our mistakes and try wading. :)

    Lots of good things to consider, thanks for the convo.

    Posted by jerridkruse | September 17, 2010, 11:46 am

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