On a micro level, relative to my small world, the institution of higher learning has been an interesting ride lately. The economic meltdown has driven up the amount of paperwork documenting accountability and driven down the time needed to polish learning.
Joe Klein, wrote an article in Time (March 7, 2011) about the “…crusade to change the bargain between government and its employees…” (p. 38). Naturally, schools came up along with the principle of last-hired, first fired as opposed to keeping the best teachers regardless of the order of hire. But who decides who is best? The idea posited was the employer does: “…the idea that school principals should be able to decide who should be part of their workforce seems incomprehensible to most teachers—and yet that sort of accountability is at the heart of any system that aspires to excellence” (p. 39).
Au contraire! In higher education at least, if not all education, I’m thinking any system that aspires to excellence is based on collaborating rather than dictating. But the problem with collaboration is it can be rather annoying for those used to ruling. I agree we need a new system, but one of the prime contributors to such a system are the very experts we hire to teach in the classroom—the teachers themselves. In California at least, that is the seminal idea behind a law granting legitimacy to academic senates at the community college level—the faculty get to speak and the Board of Trustees and administrators have to listen and respond. And they cannot simply respond by saying “no.”
It can be a battle. We have those administrators whose primary purpose seems to be to protect their position. Heck, we have those union people whose primary purpose seems the same. And so on: Boards of trustees, staff, faculty, students, taxpayers, politicians, etc. Hello—who is guarding the hen house? Excellence is achieved not by one’s position of authority, but by one’s position of knowledge. Very rarely do we need dictatorial input and then only to reset the compass heading if the various constituencies have lost their arrow of direction.
Institutions are theater. I happen to like the educational theater as opposed to politics or money, or business, or religion as theater. But we’re wrecking it, just like we are with all of our institutions. When our theater makes so much noise we no longer can listen, our theater is in the way. Apparently we continue our theater, right or wrong, because we think without it we’ll have no role. So we protect our position rather than our knowing.
The change I would like to see at least in the institution of education is that learning, while necessary, is not necessarily the same as wisdom, that teaching is not necessarily the same as either learning or wisdom, and that the teaching, learning, and wisdom of one, be it an individual or an institution is, by nature, one presentation.
In other words, what I propose as one individual, is that we protect and improve our knowledge first, rather than our position. If we do that, we have a chance.