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Automatic English For The People

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Is the Student Really the First Priority?

by AJ

"Motivation--especially when it comes to a deep concern for the students--does not come from saying it. It comes from a culture of meaning it."
-- Kathy Sierra

Every school, and probably every teacher, SAYS the same things:
"The student is our first priority", "We are dedicated to being on the cutting edge of education", "Teaching comes first", "We are dedicated to excellence". I have yet to find a school that didnt spout these cliches. For that matter, every COMPANY Ive ever worked for,... from IBM to social work agencies... has professed to follow some variation on these themes.

But they have all, uniformly, failed to make the slightest effort to actualize those cliched sayings. In fact, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the amount of motivational sloganeering and true caring and excellence.

IBM and Greenville Hospital were, far and away, the two worst offenders. While at IBM I had to endure an endless litany of this sort of bullshit: "We dont sell computers (or whatever), we sell solutions"... "The customer (or patient) is number one"... You get the idea. The thing is, both of those organizations were, in fact, rigid, boring, stifling, and clueless. They seemed to thrive on creating obstacles for customers, rather than "solutions". I still, many years later, have a visceral reaction to the word "solution". I hate it. When I hear that word spoken by a corporate drone... I know its synonymous with boredom and apathy.

Kathy Sierra writes about this phenomenon in her most recent post.

And sadly, its even worse in education.

20/20 had a special this week called "Stupid In America". It was typical fear-mongering news hype... and yet, close to the mark. Their conclusion: traditional education is hopelessly boring and irrelevant. Unfortunately, the show chose to scapegoat teachers and their unions.

But they missed the point. Yes, most teachers (that Ive had at least) are boring, burned out, and overwhelmed. But to be fair, I think most are very well meaning. I think most STARTED their careers full of energy. I think most wanted to be good... to help... to make a difference.

But most are quickly ground down by organizations, systems, and cultures of mediocrity. Teachers who buck the rules get in trouble (no, Im not referring to myself here :) Innovators are tamed or driven out of the profession. Those who stick around tend to be conformists... the butt-lickers and rule followers. The worst of them usually graduate to administrative positions... where they institute yet more micro-management, bureaucracy, procedures. The policy manuals grow. Excellence is extinguished.

And so, when you ask students to describe their educational experience in one word, the most common response is:
"Boring"

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