In Honor of the “We”

Our strength is greater than their wealth


My blog this week is dedicated to a few of my heroes: Individuals dedicated to schools as a democratic right and education as the foundation for social justice.  Their comments below were originally posted as comments which can be found at  Daily Cloudt . But their ideas are too good to “waste”-or to languish in a comment box.

The wisdom expressed by these scholars must be celebrated widely. Each person’s comments are posed in direct response to the issues confronting higher education right now in the eye of the reform storm.  

They speak to questions such as:

“Are k-12 schools customers to be served by Colleges of Education?”

“Can we preserve academic freedom and freedom of speech in light of oppressive educational policies?”

“What are Colleges of Education for?”

“What should Colleges of Education do to support schools, to transform public education and stem the tide of the corporate agenda?”

So, the next time someone asks you “What is education for?” you might quote one of the passages below.

I thank these all of these scholars personally for their brilliance, their courage, and their passion.  It is an honor to say “I will not be moved” in solidarity with each of them. While the reformers have more money, we have each other. And our strength is greater than their wealth.  We will not be moved.

Here is to those who not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.

Jim Horn (Cambridge MA) Professor in Educational Leadership.

In reflecting on the rise of the American university system in 1918, Thorsten Veblen wrote “It is always possible, of course, that this pre-eminence of intellectual enterprise in the civilization of the Western peoples is a transient episode; that it may eventually—perhaps even precipitately, with the next impending turn in the fortunes of this civilization—again be relegated to a secondary place in the scheme of things and become only an instrumentality in the service of some dominant aim or impulse, such as a vainglorious patriotism, or dynastic politics, or the breeding of a commercial aristocracy” (Chapter 1, para 18). Almost a hundred years later, that “breeding of a commercial aristocracy” has become a cancer in the heart and brain of American education, K-20, that is growing ever larger as it eats away its host. What is needed is radical treatment, by surgery, poisoning, burning, or any other means at our disposal to eliminate the disease before it is too late. One thing that this particular tumor hates is exposure to air and light, which has the effect of halting its spread … I know there are some in academe who have given up on the fearless pursuit of truth and would rather view themselves and their colleagues as epistemological shoe salesmen, always at the ready to fit the customer with the whatever product lines are being marketed at the time. Don’t be dissuaded in your mission or corralled by the cowards. Keep fighting the good fight for as long as our patient has breath. Let us never give up.

Tom Poetter (Oxford, Ohio). Partnership Director and Professor – Curriculum, University of Miami, OH

One of the important fields for debate right now concerns the ends to which corporations will co-opt our work in schools, our work on curriculum, our work on the day to day functions of the art of teaching. In Schools of Education, it seems particularly important for scholars to call our attention to events and entities that monopolize and ultimately surveille us. And it’s important for us to resist the language of customer and consumer when referring to educational acts and settings. It’s not organic, it’s transactional. The debate then steers from what is important to consider, and that is the educational and human impact on learners and schools when power races to control knowledge, evaluation, choice, and freedom itself. Education professors have long been vocal on these subjects and not heard. It’s time to be heard. (To fight) for stronger teaching, stronger schools, stronger schools of education, and a stronger democratic republic marked by equity, justice and freedom, which we all, ultimately, deserve and must work for.

Jesse- The walking Man- Turner. (West Hartford, CT.) Director of the Central Connecticut State University Literacy Center, Children Are More Than Test Scores (Facebook) Save Our School March National Steering Committee

I never like the terminology of learners as customers. Customers can be, and are sometimes cheated. Business thinks buyer beware is an appropriate way to handle cheating. We have an endless history of law cases involving customers being cheated as well. So I rather stay away from corporate terms like customers in education. I certainly would not want public schools saying child beware. I also have an issue with the concept of serving school systems as well. Parents of children with special needs have often felt at odds with what their local school system over services. So a university serving the needs of a school system might very well place themselves in the way of doing what is right for a child in favor of serving the school system. We have lawsuits against school systems in 50 states over denial f services to ESL and Special needs students. We have the same regarding the failure to desegregate schools. Any notion of service to a school system might very well place universities front and center in courtrooms in those cases. If anyone serves anyone it’s should be children not universities, or school systems. Let’s all remember we may work for schools, or universities, history informs us that people have done some deceitful things to individuals to stay in the good graces of their employers. Something tells me at Pearson they put the bottom line first at their board meetings not children. You can bet your bottom last dollar that the moment any of this begins to not turn a profit Pearson will drop it. Let’s be honest the customer comes second in their world. Sadly sometimes this is true for both universities and school system as well. Children are not customers they are our future, and our future deserves something more than a customer-service provider relationship. If more people do not start putting children first then that headstone may very well be the foreshadowing of things to come.

Susan Ohanian (Charlotte, VT). K-14 educator, scholar, and writer. www

In our current era of university silence on the corporate crushing of public education … I think Stanford University should be taken to task as well as Pearson. Pearson is, after all, a for-profit corporation, answerable to stockholders. What is Stanford’s excuse?

Tim Slekar (Tyrone, PA). Associate professor of teacher education.  and

Assuming that anybody is a “customer” in the endeavor that we call education creates a dichotomy of winners and losers. Whether it’s 1 year or 50 years of experience in education once you have been lured into the business language and culture of education I’m afraid that your values have been compromised. This article had nothing to do with teacher education and relationships with local schools. To bring this issue to the comment section is evidence of a motive that seeks to undermine the author instead of debating why we (educators) are allowing a single corporate conglomerate to control what, how, when, where and why we teach? And we don’t prepare teachers for schools as they are, we prepare them for how schools should be.

Stephen Krashen (Malibu, CA). Professor emeritus at the University of Southern California.

“We exist to serve the school systems and to meet their needs–” What is a university for? In my view, universities are the only place where scholars can pursue truth by doing research with no immediate application. Society needs them. The history of science tells us that major breakthroughs with very important applications often come from purely theoretical research (eg Boolean Algebra, non-Euclidean Geometry). In other words, university professors can pursue theory, without application. Schools of education have a unique position: They need to do both theory and application at the same time, working on aspects of learning theory that show promise of improving instruction. The rest of the university has the luxury of doing “esoteric” research and analyses, but schools of education do not. Moreover, pedagogical suggestions made by school of education professionals must be consistent with both applied and theoretical research, a daunting constraint. Companies like Pearson are free to focus only on the immediate perceived needs of their customers, without regard to the results of applied or theoretical research, and they often work hard to create a market for their materials. Schools of education serve both the short and long-term needs of the school system; they increase our body of knowledge about learning, and have the knowledge to point out when private sector products and claims are inconsistent with what is known about learning. If schools of education exist only to serve the immediate perceived needs of the school systems, there is no reason have schools of education. Pearson has already demonstrated that they are willing to fulfill this role. Footnote: Education professors who do only esoteric research (theory only with no possible application) and who are not up-to-date with what is going on in classrooms are incompetent.

Dr. Ira Shor (New York, NY) Professor of Rhetoric/Composition, City University of NY Graduate Center

The private sector cannot be the driver of public education policy b/c the private sector has a conflict of interest–it must derive large monetary profit from all its transactions with the schools. What the private sector comes up with has to satisfy first and foremost its profit-driven needs. The public schools and public colleges of America are not private enterprises. They are public goods, public treasures, public agencies to improve the social lot of the majority who use them. Students, teachers, schools, and colleges are not “customers.” They are mutually dependent stakeholders in a grand preoccupation with making this society a more humane, more democratic, and more fair place for our children. Businesses are not driven by those needs, so their imposition of commercial rhetoric on public schools–calling them “customers”–undermines the purpose of our embattled education sector. In these past years, we witnessed how unaccountable, profit-driven businesses drove the greatest economy in the world off a cliff. The business sector should be questioned for its damage to America, not bowed down to.  We must call out Pearson Inc. for what it is, a profiteer and privateer getting rich while our schools get poor.

Mark D. Naison (Brooklyn, NY). Professor of African American Studies and History Fordham University Founder and Principal Investigator. The Bronx African American History Project.

The most dangerous idea floating around in academic today is the view that Universities provide “Customer Service.” When I became an historian, I thought that I my responsibility was seeking truth and honoring the best traditions of my profession as embodied by the scholars that came before me. The idea that I would subject either of those ideals to pleasing customers negates the ideals of liberal education and leads to the corruption of our profession. The extreme concentration of wealth in this society has the potential to corrupt our public education system and has done great damage already. Her prophetic voice should not only be applauded, it should be welcome by scholars and teachers throughout out Universities, even in graduate schools of education I will close by saying this: If any administrator at my university asked me to do “Customer Service” and treat my students as customers, they would rue the day they dared to address me that way. Scholars serve a higher power than university administrators, boards of trustees, and test companies.

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

One thought on “In Honor of the “We”

  1. In response to my dear friend, Jesse, who called upon teachers to resist doing deceitful things to please their employers, I must shout “Amen!” Didn’t we all go into education for the sake of children rather than job security? We need to look at the little fish swimming together and expand our appeal to every subgroup within society with a reason to take a stand for the survival of public education. I’m talking about a LOT of little fish…maybe a few frogs, too.

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