Teacher Pay, Schools as Change Initiators, and Movie Critics as Educational Academics
by Mr. Sheehy
With a chapter on teachers, Provenzo can’t raise my ire much. Working with teachers in South Dakota, I must admit to having grown tired of the discussion about teacher salaries. I would like more money (wouldn’t most workers?), and I think it’s odd to earn 30,000 less than the assistant principals in my building, but I am earning more as a first-year teacher than I did at any of the other jobs I’ve worked in Rapid City, and I am somewhat guaranteed to increase my pay without having to fight directly for it with my boss . Plus, it’s been below zero outside all day and I didn’t have to wear six layers and a heavy duty Carhart coat to work, sipping on hot chocolate all day in a desperate attempt to stay warm. Many of my students are about a year and a half away from that fun adventure – and they think reading is irrelevant.
Provenzo compares teaching to other professions, noting the folks who call it a “semi-profession” (75), and especially emphasizing the low pay compared to other professions. But one thing I don’t mention in the lunch room with my colleagues is that we need to consider what professions we’re comparing ourselves with. Lawyers? Medical professionals? Both are funded by private customer-bases, both are infamous for charging obscene amounts of money for their services, and both are available in far better quality to those who have a lot of money. Aside from the third commonality, which is arguably true in education, such a model is not one we can follow in public education.
I’m more interested in what Provenzo has to say about education’s role in society, especially the idea that “education recreates the society of which it is a part” (57). He cites Greene in asking the question, “Would the educational system help to perpetuate a society that needs to be changed and redefined?” (57). This concept has stayed with me for a couple weeks after reading it, and I think I’ll continue to be stuck on it. I’m stuck on two parts. First, considering that schools reflect current society and perpetuate it, and looking back at American scars like segregation or Native American boarding schools, it is obvious schools have been breeding grounds for societal sin. Second, knowing what schools have been, can education do any differently? Can it be an agent for change for the better? As a teacher, I firmly believe I can make a difference . . . to a point. But I also understand statistics and probability, and when you mix this many students with this many teachers across an entire country, you’re going to get a direct reflection of society. Today, as I write, I lean pessimistically – I don’t think schools can be an agent to change anything. They will change, but only as a society changes.
As for Mr. Hargreaves, he has a lot of convincing to do in the remaining chapters of his book, Teaching in the Knowledge Society. He has summarized the history of teaching in such broad sweeps that I find it difficult to trust him. For example, he declares too easily why in high schools computers were widely installed in computer labs instead of into the classrooms, never mentioning money as a reason:
Because in this way, the traditional grammar of schooling – with its one-subject, one-teacher, one-class system – is left intact. Students’ computer use is confined to special sessions during the week . . . The rest of the time, teaching and learning proceed as they have done for decades. The absent computer safely locked away in its laboratory provides no challenge to them. (23)
Another time, he clips older innovators off with a nice prejudicial chop:
Stock market traders and even advertising executives are getting younger, as the brains of only the young and the nimble can mange the multiple channels of data, ideas, and communications that make up their workplace. (22)
His enthusiasum for dramatic wording reminds me of a movie critic more than an academic, like when he explains that teachers “of old” could “teach in the ways they wished or that were most familiar to them. There is no value in reviving the Julie Andrews curriculum -‘these are a few of my favorite things’ – in which teachers could teach anything they liked” 23-24). Cute, I suppose, but really? Was that what it was like? I realize I wasn’t there, but I am guessing my parents education consisted of more than examining whiskers on kittens.
I understand the idea of the knowledge society and constantly see Google, Microsoft, and Apple in my mind as we examine it, but Hargreaves is not my favorite academic at this point. We’ll see what he has to offer later.
Hargreaves, Andy. Teaching in the Knowledge Society. New York: Teachers College Press: 2003.
Provenzo, E.F. (2002). Teaching, learning and schooling: A 21st century perspective. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.