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Education's 5th Job: Whipping Boy

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Lead from the Start: Education's 5th Job: Whipping Boy

Monday, October 13, 2008

Education's 5th Job: Whipping Boy

In the second chapter of Disrupting Class by Clayton Christensen he describes the various reason's for schooling that have been present through out the history of organized education in America. Christensen describes the 4 jobs schools have been "hired" for:
Job 1 Preserve/Inculcate Democracy
Job 2 Provide something for every student
Job 3 Keep the U.S. Competitive
Job 4 Eliminate Poverty
I can see his point on most of these issues. Schools have been charged with fulfilling these "needs" for society but, I think he leaves one job out: Whipping Boy.

a whipping boy was a boy brought up together with a young prince and required to take the punishment for the latter's misdeeds. Because this is a blog post and not a thesis I can say this type of thing.

The reason I bring up this "job" of schools is that I have a great deal of trouble squaring Christensen's hypothesis about schools needing to innovate and become student centered learning places because his theory of innovation surpassing "business as usual" relies on the profit motive. In his theory an untapped market is found, a product/service is provided that was not available before, the market expands and overtakes the previous model. This, however, relies on equal players in the market. For example, I can sell apples on the corner, just like anybody, and if there is a market, I can make a living. But, with education there is a different relationship between the "customer" and the established competition. The prince/politicians have always had education to take their beatings for them. If politicians allow for poverty to destroy lives, then education can be expected to clean up the mess, and if it can't well then there is something wrong with education and it needs to be fixed. If politicians can't provide equal opportunities for all of its citizens through the job market then the schools can take a few licks if they can't make everybody above average.

Most of all, the "politics/business as usual" needs the whipping boy to stick around. It is vital that the whipping boy is available to take the punishment and the blame for the princes.

I mean, what would happen if education, despite politics as usual, actually defeated the achievement gap as some 90/90/90 schools have done. Then who could we blame for the lack of real choice provided to all manner of disenfranchised people in our country?

This is why the innovation theory doesn't work. How can the whipping boy innovate when the prince is the one in charge? Maybe the most profound innovation would be to set the whipping boy free. It worked in Finland.

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At 7:24 AM, Blogger Nancy Flanagan said...

Hey, John. Great post.

The role of whipping boy--schools as scapegoat for all societal ills-- came into prominence in the 1950s when Russia launched Sputnik and American media launched an attack on our "lazy" youth. At the same time, of course, the GI Bill was raising education levels by leaps and bounds. We're not really very good at figuring out root causes here in the home of the brave, are we?

I would suggest that there is another purpose for schooling: credentials. Everyone "understands" the need for a college degree--even when there is no connection between what is studied and subsequent employment. The middle class now sends all their children to college--it's not so much about the learning. It's about having the credential.

And that's the piece, I think, that's missing in "Disrupting Class." While it is entirely possible now for students to direct their own learning, creatively and productively, American parents are anxious about the markers of credentialing: grades, tests, diplomas and degrees. Competing with others. For these, we need the structures of schooling. Because if we didn't have schools to define our place in the social hierarchy, we'd have to invent something else.

At 8:59 AM, Blogger j m holland said...

Excellent point Nancy. I agree that the status/hierarchy function of schools is missing from the book. I wonder if this is intentional or unintentional. It certainly doesn't help the case for the views of the author. I think Christensen may see that as job 4 keeping competitive but this would not acknowledge the caste system created by advanced credentials. Incidentally, the reason I came to VCU instead of Savannah School of Art it the "humanities" degree that I would obtain at VCU where Savannah offered only an art degree. This really helped when I decided to teach.

At 9:00 PM, Anonymous Susan Graham said...

Well said, John.

Not only is public education expected to be the political whipping boy, it has also been cast as the political the problem each candidate fixed or can fix.

Research says education is regularly a high priority with voters. It also tells us that while most people think public education is broken, they think their local schools are pretty good. Ergo, the political challenger can put the fools cap on public education in general and then offer vague solutions. Of course it's not good politics to blame the children or the parents, therefore, it must be those teachers. Meanwhile the incumbent can point to the local school and claim credit for its success. Successful schools must be attributed to policy that elected officials rather than to those teachers who might have run amok without the constraints of policymakers and of course, failure be laid at the feet of teachers who didn't implement policy appropriately.

If education is the whipping boy, then teachers sometimes are the scapegoats.

At 2:17 PM, Blogger j m holland said...

Thanks for the comment Susan. Excellent point about the local vs national policy "game." You made an excellent point.

At 10:31 AM, Blogger kerkatrob said...

Another blog to really get me thinking John!

I do agree with a number of your points and I was thrilled to see the link you provided to the information on Reijo Laukkanen. I think one of the main things that has gone out the window is the trust we have in teachers. It seems to me it wasn't that long ago that parents valued what teachers said, that principals had faith in their teachers, and that central offices just let teachers teach. That being said, there are always a few bad apples that spoil the bunch, but I don't think we should condemn all teachers as being the cause of the problems in our society. Interestingly enough, Virginia seems to have a better perception of teachers than many states. I like to equate the direction of the perception of teachers to the strength of that state's teachers' union. The stronger the teachers' union - the worse public opinion of the teachers in that state.


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