Sunday, March 11, 2012

Points I'd Like My Future Principal to Remember: Students Are Not Customers

I'll admit I've used the "students as customers" phrase myself a few times. And, in the sense that meeting the needs of students is the teaching profession's primary reason for being, I still buy that. But I was reminded of the limitations of that analogy as I'm currently reading on a very different topic, John Bogle's Don't Count On It!

Bogle first defines professions and professionals using these characteristics from Gardner and Shulman:
  1. A commitment to the interest of clients in particular, and the welfare of society in general.
  2. A body of theory or special knowledge.
  3. A specialized set of professional skills, practices, and performances unique to the profession.
  4. The developed capacity to render judgments with integrity under conditions of ethical uncertainty.
  5. An organized approach to learning from experience, both individually and collectively, and thus of growing new knowledge from the context of practice.
  6. The development of a professional community  responsible for the oversight and monitoring of quality in both practice and professional educators. (p. 140 of Bogle, p. 13-18 of original article)
Clearly teachers strive for most of these, even as we sometimes fall short (particularly on #6). Bogle then goes on say this about business relationships with customers:
[P]rofessional relationships with clients have been increasingly recast as business relationships with customers. In a world where every user of services is seen as a customer, every provider of services becomes a seller, Put another way, when the provider become a hammer, the customer is seen as a nail . . . But as so many of our nation's proudest professions - including accounting, journalism, medicine, law, architecture, and trusteeship - gradually shift their traditional balance away from that of trusted profession serving the interests of the community and toward that of commercial enterprises seeking competitive advantage, the human beings who rely on those services are the losers. (p. 142, emphasis mine).
I would add the profession of teaching to his list (and Bogle does include that in his list on the previous page). My concern is that when we take the analogy of "student as customer" too far, when we talk about running "schools as a business" and "efficiencies" and "bottom-lines," we run this risk:
And yet, profession by profession, the old values are clearly being undermined. The driving force is our old friend (or enemy), the bottom-line society. Unchecked market forces not only constitute a strong challenge to our professions; in some cases, these forces have totally overwhelmed traditional standards of professional conduct, developed over centuries. (p. 141)
So, while I think we as educators can learn vast amounts from other professions and from business in general, I'd like my future principal to remember that the "bottom line" of learning can't be directly equated with the bottom line of businesses. As education professionals we need to continue to "serv[e] the interests of the community" - our students - and not shift our goals "toward that of commercial enterprises seeking competitive advantage." I want them to remember that students are not nails to our hammers.

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