A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Culture of Disrespect


Negative opinions of non-educators directed towards the hired help, i.e., professional educators, have reached yet another low point. The rule, watch what I do, not what I say can be broadly applied when it concerns the agenda of educational policy makers, who in all fairness are wrestling with staggering budgetary constraints going forward, who never seem to fail to express an a sentiment that the business of education is child's play. A battle with broad implications for the future of public education, i.e., the mission, scope, and nuts and bolts operations of public institutions of learning, is shaping up in Charlottesville, at the university founded by Thomas Jefferson.

Somebody recently leaked a memo fired off by University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan to her governing board regarding a "lengthy and detailed list of goals to meet this year," sent to her by Board of Visitors Rector Helen Dragas:
Sullivan, apparently incensed, responded by sending the entire board an e-mail arguing that the 65 goals constitute, among other things, "micromanagement." (Johnson, J., 2013)
Regarding an appropriate number and scope of evaluation criteria, the norm, for a University President, according to  the article, is about "6-7 high level strategic goals," not 65 goals, i.e., triggers that Dragas could apply to Sullivan's evaluation as grounds for termination. In an offhand comment, Dragas revealed her thinly veiled disrespect for professional educators, remarking smugly:
U-Va. is a public institution. It's not an academic playground.
Many of the worst aspects of public education have stemmed from well-intentioned, but misguided, efforts to improve the quality of schools by making them operate less like a "playground," and more like little business. If Dr. Sullivan chafes at 65 goals, imagine how the average educator feels when subjected to a normal level of state and county mandated nitpicking from school administrators.

I am reminded of the way Daniel Snyder, owner of Washington's football team, famously placed a melted ice cream cone on his Defensive Coordinator's desk to criticize Coach Nolan's "vanilla" defense. Snyder, along with his fawning General Manager, Vinnie Cerrato was famous for his micro management, and only backed away from daily operations after nearly 20 years of ineptitude, when the franchise started to lose season ticket holders. Exactly what are Helen Dragas's qualifications for running operations at the University of Virginia?

While school cultures vary widely within districts, and school to school, the trend towards a culture of disrespect in education, reflected in negative opinions of non-educators, such as Dragas, towards professional educators, such as Dr. Sullivan, seems unmistakable. In worst cases, the culture of disrespect flows downhill, ultimately impacting energetic 5 year old boys who are learning self-control, such as one little African American child who I worked with recently, whose desk seemed permanently segregated, placed next to the Instructional Assistant's desk, where he could be easily controlled, a bright child who, from my perspective, seemed to get a disproportionate number of warnings for calling out, considering his developing level of self control, which seemed to me to be quite normal. When I conversed with the little boy, he had no trouble conceptualized what it was he was doing and what it was he should be doing -- I had no trouble respectfully redirecting the child without threats, without insulting his intelligence, using nothing but well-constructed, open-ended questions.

On the other hand, I have rarely encountered anyone in education who made me feel so totally unappreciated from the minute I entered the room in the morning, where I stood in front of the young Instructional Assistant, while  she talked to a friend, colleague, for what seemed like five minutes before the young lady ever acknowledged my presence. Since this is the second time I have worked as a sub at this particular school, which happens to be a magnet school for the so-called gifted and talented, and was left with precisely the same impression that I was being viewed by the staff as nothing but a warm body, a piece of meat, unworthy of a genuine teaching role, or even a co-teaching role, guess where I will never pick up a job again? Once again, I was left with a negative impression of schools that adopt the philosophy of Positive Behavior, where classes and students compete for brownie points, and are consistently ranked and pitted against each other for school-wide, and regional recognition.

In an industry that likes to celebrate its cultural diversity, cultural bias is alive and well.