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The Productivity of Your Classroom: How Business Has Infiltrated the Classroom

I believe that the debate over quality education and learning is a bunch of smaller debates that really consist of people going round and round in circles. In October, I wrote about the need for educational reform. One of the points that I touched on was the lack of teacher involvement in that discussion. In 2008, Jonathon Kozol wrote a book called, Letters to a Young Teacher. In this book, Kozol and his young teacher Francesca discuss the ‘business’ of education. Even though the book and its subjects are not part of the current education debate; the advice and knowledge of Kozol, along with the curiosity and desire to help her students – speaks to the topics and concerns of today.

In the book, Letters to a Young Teacher, Kozol discusses many topics and shares several stories about the problems facing the classroom and new teachers. One particular topic that fascinated me was how business-like education has become.

Kozol talks about the business terms that are part of the everyday language of schools; terms like, ‘productivity, on task, benchmarks, work, product, outcome, and results.’ He asks, “Where is the value in having these terms in the classroom?” Another educational writer, Alfie Kohn, remarks on how school is now a workplace, “When did it stop being about learning?”

Before reading that, I’ll admit that I not only used those terms, I indoctrinated my students with them. I taught them those words, explained the value, and pushed my students to be successful with them. Luckily, I realized what I was doing; and started to learn how to change. But how? And why? And what was I to do?

As a teacher, it is my job to teach and to educate my students. I am required to make sure they are engaged, aware, and used the lessons in the future and in more complex situations. Which comes down to, in the simplest form: work, tasks, and benchmarks. Ugh. Also, as a teacher, I told my students it was their ‘job’ to learn, that their ‘occupation’ was to be a student. Although I was hoping to have my class look at it as a positive, as a source of responsibility, motivation, and inspiration – now, well, now I feel as though it was a negative. To me, I thought that by engaging my students to let them know that they are really in control of how much and how they learn, that this could encourage them to be more involved, to want to participate more, and ultimately to learn more; to have the desire to learn more. Even though I still believe that my intentions were/are good, it was the way in which I brought it up with my students that was bad. And thus, one of the circling debates I have with myself and in education. ‘How do I get my students more involved with their learning, without them thinking that it is a job and that going to school is a business?’

I still don’t know the answer. Hmm.

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