Stories, Learning & Place

Friday, July 24, 2009

Change! Damn it!
   The totalitarian urge

“What we’re saying here is, if you can’t decide to change these practices, we’re not going to use precious dollars that we want to see creating better results; we’re not going to send those dollars there,” Obama said in an Oval Office interview Wednesday. “And we’re counting on the fact that, ultimately, this is an incentive, this is a challenge for people who do want to change.” Obama, quoted in Washington Post

Obama is up against freedom, but he’s committed to change, so the sticks and carrots come out.

He wants to link student data to teacher evaluation. This does, indeed, put pressure on teachers to get students to change. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give teachers the sort of power to command the change that Obama wants. After all, students will still be free to stay up playing digital games till 4 in the morning, then come to school sleepy, without their homework. They will still be free to cut class and go hang out at the mall. They will still be free to buy term papers on the Internet and text themselves crib sheets for the quizzes.

And parents will still be free, too. They will still be able to lodge complaints against teachers who give low grades. They will still be free to move students from school to school every few weeks as they look for new jobs or new boyfriends. They will still be free to call in bogus excuses for kids who miss school thirty or forty percent of the time.

Since teachers can’t change any of those things--they can’t even decide, in many cases, what materials to use or even whether materials are available, they are naturally resistant to being evaluated based on what students decide to do. Doctors wouldn’t want to be evaluated on the basis of how healthy patients are, since they can only tell patients to quit smoking and to exercise more, but they can’t make anyone actually do it. They can’t even make patients take the medicine that’s prescribed. Obama’s in the same boat. How would he like it if we fired him because the Blue Dog Democrats won’t do what he asked them to do?

Nonetheless, Obama wants power to get educators fired if kids don’t change. As he will find out, to make a real difference he’s going to need to focus more on the people whose behavior is the actual problem: parents and students.

Why work through teachers at all? Why not go for the real power to change?

He could send the school money directly to the parents in the form of vouchers, threatening to cut it off if the kids grades don’t improve. He could turn off cell phone service for kids whose GPA drops below C. He could give each honor student one of those unsold General Motors cars while revoking drivers licenses for any student who gets an F.

There are no limits to changes that could be made.

People have got in the habit of thinking they are free to run their own lives, but since most of them are now on the federal dole in one way or another, it’s time for that to stop. We need to get accustomed to new ways of doing things. It’s time, for example, that people with diabetes reported for morning calisthenics to bring those blood glucose levels down, to do their part to reduce the cost of health care. It’s time for parents whose students miss a lot of school to have their benefits reduced. It’s time for students who are falling behind to have their Iphones jammed and their Ipods erased.

Change, damn it!


Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 07/24 at 01:37 PM
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©2009 Michael L. Umphrey
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