Sunday, May 15, 2011

Customer/Business or Master/Apprentice?

Here's what happens when we treat our students as if they are customers and education as if it is a business. Instead of actually educate them, we strive to please them; and to please them, we make them work little but create the illusion that they excel. Thus the demands that we place on them decrease and yet the grades we give them increase.

It isn't a simple matter of grade inflation. No, it's much worse than that. Grades are inflated and rigor is abandoned.

We should ditch the customer/business model in education. We teachers don't run a business. Our students are not our customers. What model should be put in its place? I propose a model of great antiquity, the model that prevailed in Europe in the United States for centuries, both within education and without. Call it the Master/Apprentice Model. We teachers know something of great value, something that our students wish to learn. So they come to us and place themselves under our authority. We define success. We pass judgment. Our students are not our equals. We are above them. They are below us. (Of course I mean this to hold only within the classroom. Qua human all are equal.) We instruct. They obey. (This model still holds sway within sport, as of course it should.)

Does this mean that our power is absolute, that no one ever has any right to pass judgment on us? Of course not. But students do not have that right. Only our peers, the other experts, have that right. Let us do away with student evaluation of their teachers. It has degraded the quality of the education we give. We strive to flatter our students, not challenge them. Over time, rigor falls off and then is lost.

Let there be a return of rigor. Let us tighten the screws. Let education be a crucible in which our students really are tested instead of flattered.

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