Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Teaching Goal For The Next Four Years: A Minor Musing On The Moral Question Facing Teachers

A while back, PNR posted this quotation:
For the conservative, people are an asset — in the coldest economic terms, a potentially productive unit of labor. For the progressive, people are a liability — a mouth to be fed, a problem in need of a solution. Understanding that difference of perspective renders understandable the sometimes wildly different views that conservatives and progressives have about things like employment policy. For the conservative, the value of a job is what the worker produces; for the progressive, the value of a job is what the worker is paid.

At the time it struck me that conservatives and liberals are my cats at different times of the day. To them, I'm a unit of labor necessary to provide food, clean the litter box, and scratch behind their ears. I'm also a problem that needs to be solved when they try to wake me up to get kitty treats every morning.

I also wondered whether how self-proclaimed Christian conservatives squared the analysis in the quotation with the belief that humans are created in God's image. I shrugged off that question, mused that I believe that Kant's idea that humans should be treated as ends unto themselves rather than means to an end is superior to utilitarianism, and went on with my day.

That quotation came back to me yesterday as I was sitting in an in-service-- professional development a really boring training session over the Charolette Danielson model for teacher evaluation. Danielson and the Common Core, for that matter, view teachers as a unit of labor whose sole purpose is to produce other units of labor. As one of my colleagues said, there's no idea of what it means to become an educated person in any of this model.

As I sat there, I came to the distinct conclusion that the real moral question that education has created for teachers is rather simple: How does one teach within these models or under the Core without producing students who chant mindless aphorisms such as "Four legs good, two legs bad" or "I must work harder."


P&R said...

Forgive the length, but your post requires a response in detail.

A person is both an asset and a liability. People have capabilities, potential. They also have mouths that need food.

Which do we emphasize?

If we emphasize the liability, we often (not always) do so at the expense of the potential. But if we emphasize the potential, it seems the potential - or striving for that potential - tends (not universally, always, or uniformly, but tends) to provide for the liability.

Williamson indicates, and I agree, that "productive unit of labor" is "coldest economic terms." It is not merely about feeding units of labor into the insatiable maw of business and the consumer demands of those very same units of labor.

Nevertheless, we are made to work at something. Before sin, there was still a cycle of work and rest. That work was to be productive, too. Its produce not merely money or biggerbetterfaster toys, but fidelity to God and an increased capacity for connections to one's fellow human beings. Even after sin, let a man work that he may be able to give to those in need. There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in all his toilsome labor under the sun.

It is a particularly American perversion of this biblical pattern to think "productive labor" means merely a suitable corporate/industrial employee. The value of a job is the opportunity it gives to be productive (what the worker produces) and thus faithful to one's calling before God. It is not merely a paycheck as if any job will do and a better job is defined as a bigger check.

As a teacher, your job is to assist your students in achieving their potential. Chanting mindless aphorisms is the opposite of that. People taught that way are more of a liability. But the potential of your students is not defined by nor measured merely by the size of the paycheck they're able to secure after they graduate. If one is going to college merely because college grads tend to get paid more, the tuition money spent is wasted and one's potential will be diminished.

Kal Lis said...


No need to apologize for length.

Let's begin where we agree. First,I wholeheartedly agree with your last paragraph. I also agree with this well-worded sentence: "It is a particularly American perversion of this biblical pattern to think "productive labor" means merely a suitable corporate/industrial employee."

I also agree that human existance should not be about being units of labor fed "into the insatiable maw of business and the consumer demands of those very same units of labor."

I also agree that work is necessary. I will even stipulate that humanity's fall caused work to be a painful experience.

My skimming, not careful perusal, of the Williamson piece indicated that Williamson rather supported viewing humans in the "coldest" of economic terms. I will revisit the piece.

Even if Williamson does not support that view, many with influence and power do. To be fair some without influence but with a bar stool do as well.

My point, one that I obviously should have been less hurried and more careful in making, is that the Core and Danielson are being used to create students who will be taught to accept that they are units of production who exist to increase GDP not rear children, develop congregations, or create well crafted stories.

To be fair, proponents of the Core or Danielson will say that result is not the intent of either. That the Core and Danielson are merely tools. These tools, however, seem to be being wielded by people who wish the United States to be populated by those who are merely good employees content with spouting aphorisms.

I was troubled by how the last semester went for me. It struck me that I was spending too much time focusing on the negatives and not enough on the positives of my job. I told myself that Philippians 4:8 should start to matter more. For any atheist friends who read this comment, Adler's Six Great Ideas will suffice.

Someplace on this blog, I have a quotation of the day about what would happen if schools of education built the internet. The result was not pretty. I fear the turn education and society is taking is even less so.

P&R said...

Concur - many with power and influence think the purpose of school is to produce dutiful workers. I think it is to achieve God-given potential (which may be "dutiful worker" for some, but not for all).

To what extent Common Core is part of that, I can't say - haven't studied it that much and people I respect fall in numerous camps regarding it.

Williamson likes to put things in blunt terms at times, to cut through the fog of euphemisms we all tend to create. I do not get the impression that his view of humanity or education is so reductionist.