President Obama's call in the State of the Union address for young people to enter the teaching profession was noble, but hollow. As one teacher, Vern Williams, wrote in the New York Times:
When President Obama suggested last night that current students should strongly consider becoming a teacher, I felt both pride and sorrow for our profession. I know many outstanding teachers who love teaching and learning but have been forced to abandon their creative and successful teaching methods because of the current obsession with “best practices” research, which demands that all teachers in a department, school, or even a school district deliver lessons in precisely the same way so that no student ends up in a classroom where the teacher is really bad or really good. Average teaching is considered fine as long as it is fairly distributed.
Such bureaucratic practices are precisely what are causing the decline in effectiveness of US corporations. It is ironic that at the very moment that the education sector is embracing bureaucratic methods of management at the very moment when private sector industry is abandoning them.
It is even more ironic that just at the moment well-intentioned American reformers are embracing a regimented, harshly competitive, test-heavy approach that they admire in China, Chinese education leaders are rethinking their approach, as shown in this interview with education professor Yong Zhao: http://audio.edtechlive.com/foe/yongzhao2011.mp3.
Moreover the total focus on test scores means that we increasingly have a system that teaches children how to pass tests, not a system that inspires a life-long love of learning or equips them for the multiple careers they will have to master in the workplace.
This recalls Peter Drucker's saying, of which Professor Ian McCarthy of Simon Fraser University, reminded us this week: “When a subject becomes totally obsolete we make it a required course.”
The last straw is the derisory pay that teachers are offered at a time when occupations of little social worth are offered obscenely high compensation for no apparent reason other than that they are in a position to extract rents.
If President Obama wants genuine excellence in education, he would do well to read A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown (2010). We need to understand, as this book shows, schools can prosper under the most difficult conditions, provided that they grasp that questions are more important than answers and that learning is no longer static and discrete but continuous.
For earlier posts related to applying radical management thinking to education:
For a comprehensive review of the principles and practices involved in reinventing management, read my book: The Leader's Guide to Radical Management: Reinventing the Workplace for the 21st Century.