A Few More Words on Education
Expanding on a comment
Jay Caruso’s "So Now Transparency is A Bad Thing" really resonated, so much so that I wrote a comment that was entirely too long and I trimmed it down to two paragraphs. I expand upon it here:
Having worked as a school teacher and administrator, as well as being a parent, it my experience that teachers and schools are highly resistant to transparency. I am sympathetic in that being observed often alters your behavior in unnatural ways, and being second-guessed by people with little knowledge of the subject area doubles your work teaching both the students and the grown-ups. And unfortunately some of the people who want to come see your class are the "frequent flyers" at the local town council and planning meetings that make those meetings such a joy to attend and a model of efficiency. Working a hard delivery time-table in 40 minute blocks when you are already managing a classroom of mixed capability and temperament students isn’t made simpler by a heckler your own age. It’s like stand-up comedy without the laughter or the beer after the show.
That being said, teachers are not the parents of the children in the class, and it is not their role to decide how children should be raised. A doctor who unilaterally gave your child a medical treatment over your objection and without the concurrence of a judge would find herself fired and likely stripped of her license to practice. The various arguments I have heard about how "public schools are for what our society decides children should learn" are handwaving at best, and a totalistic impulse at worst. The lack of transparency in the execution of education is not essential to its objective, and don't even serve the "society" argument -- teaching doesn't require secrecy to be successful.
There is a better argument for privacy, in that as a teacher there were many things I was not going to share with parents. I often got questions from students or parents about other students, and I was simply not going to share most of what I knew. As a teacher you (one hopes) know your students’ strengths and weaknesses and those are only to be shared with the student’s own parents, other teachers who have a reason to know, or learning specialists. You know their interests, some of which they don’t want their parents to know about — these are more touchy since they impinge on the parental relationship but also your trust relationship with the student, the creation and maintenance of which is importance for educational success. None of these are a matter for idle gossip or unnecessary disclosure, which I would argue is what privacy is about.
Secrecy is not this. Knowledge that is private doesn’t lose its importance by disclosure. Privacy is about keeping the choice of who gets to know certain things about you. Loss of privacy creates the possibility of injury, or damages a relationship, or lets people know things about you would prefer they don’t — but all of this is largely about emotional pain. Secrecy is about hiding knowledge. Loss of secrecy loses battles, prevents the execution of plans, or puts you in jail for embezzlement. Hiding cheating from your partner is about secrecy, not talking about your cheating to your therapist is just setting you back (and being a jerk, of course).
If that is correct, then keeping education hidden from parents is about ensuring that the plans of the educators are out of parental control. There is already enough of this in that most parents are not in a position to spend their days analyzing the curriculum of their child’s school (let alone grilling endlessly them each day to see how closely the teacher stuck to the prescribed instruction), and certainly a single parent working multiple jobs simply doesn’t have the time. Additionally, much of instruction labeled as “standards” (such as Next Generation Science Standards or Common Core) is written in specialist language and requires more than a small amount of study to decipher, so much so that there are extensive and expensive interpretation and implementation guides (in additional to teacher-teachers and consultants) that schools use to adopt these approaches, little of which is accessible to parents.
I can’t speak to schools where I have not taught, that my children have not attended, or whose staff I have not spoken with, but from what I know schools seem to be happy with the one or two “open house” and/or curriculum nights a year, in which the teacher goes over their teaching plan for the year at about the same speed that the flight attendants go over the safety cards in the seat back pocket, and to the same level of detail. Admittedly it isn’t your life at stake, nor really for most your child’s future, but I somehow suspect that actually evacuating a crashed airplane will turn out to bear as much resemblance to that ignored PA announcement as a school year’s worth of instruction to what I have talked about in my few minutes with my slide deck.
So this seeming lack of interest from parents, from a process that is both discourages interest and suppresses any in-depth discussions (ever been at an effective company-wide meeting?) helps coddle the idea that the experts must be in control. These experts are of the same frame of mind that developed a standard social studies and history curriculum that taught about benign rule by white Protestants over the primitive African, Asian, and Catholic Europeans. Or the more “progressive” ones that teach “capitalism bad” (got your COVID shots?), that English Puritans fled not away from religious persecution but to create a land in which they would be free to all own happy slaves, or to glorify Aztec death cults and anti-semitism, er, anti-Zionism.
As always, I don’t have an answer to this one, but I really suspect that that people at The Institute of Expertology are on to something.