Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Education Reform (part N, N > 2)

"What will it take to maintain the United States' position as a hotbed of innovation? Robert J. Herbold has an answer: improve K-12 education" (quoting from the Boston Globe). A big part of it is the usual thing about paying the best teachers a lot more money ("$125,000 or $150,000 if they're really good").

But I think in some ways this is a typical CEO mistake. In CEO world, net worth is an important parameter, and it's often not so much the job itself one loves (something about insurance), as the status and clout that comes with being able to name at least six figures on your personal income statements, maybe more. But teachers usually don't earn their clout by bragging in that way. They've had to evolve a more-with-less aesthetic, meaning it's efficiency and economy they admire.

In contrast to using personal net worth as a key parameter, consider how it goes in the military. Here the fun is in access to institutional wealth. No one with a piddling six-figure income can afford a personal F16 or an aircraft carrier, let alone a personal nuclear submarine. These are like corporate assets, which CEOs use as well: the company jet, a private retreat in the mountains someplace. But the point is these assets are on the books as owned-in-common (with taxpayers, in the case of the military, with shareholders in the case of an LLC).

So now consider really good teachers. How is a mere six figures going to make better infrastructure materialize? What about those DVD juke boxes? The cost of the hardware is tiny compared to the amount of hours needed to stock them with clips.

Consider a teacher such as myself. At OGI I get a ceiling mounted projector, fast Internet, and every student has a fairly decent workstation. That's the kind of apparatus I need to make my curriculum go. If I'm at Podunk High, and you start paying me six figures, is it that I'm supposed to go out and buy this stuff for my school? That'd be silly. So how are my dreams for a dynamite curriculum being advanced by teachers having all this new personal income, minus any infrastructural improvements? That's like tripling a soldier's pay, yet providing no better armory. So you get to live high before you die. But really, what was the gain professionally?

I want a bizmo, a home office gizmo. It'd be one of many, part of this fleet of "master teacher mobiles" fanning out across the country and representing a more futuristic and secure planet (a next upgrade for Spaceship Earth). We're backed by control rooms, and have dynamite curriculum to share, like really cool GPS/GIS and folding/unfolding Fuller Projections courtesy of National Geographic. We already have the technology. It's just a matter of fitting existing puzzle pieces together.

We go into communities and stir things up with appealing imagery of Tomorrowland, only in some sense it's already here and happening. We're happy to recruit new teachers into this lifestyle, or one like it, just like the military does, with flashy toys, eye candy, and promises of adventure. We'll compete, and on a more level playing field. Like, we'll have some real institutional wealth to show off, including USG supported, corporately co-sponsored campuses you can apply to, as a student, as a teacher -- just like on Star Trek (well, sort of).

But I won't be able to do any of this with a mere six figures. Pumping a lot of money into "best teacher" wallets is a divide and conquer strategy, aimed at keeping we the people from demanding public investment in shared infrastructure. CEOs tend to not understand the idea of public wealth, even as they enjoy corporate assets, because so often their job is to externalize costs i.e. to erode public wealth, to pollute, to politically corrupt, in order to concentrate profits and buy fancy boats (which more than half the time just sit in the marina). In fact, a lot of the time, externalizing costs means making the military pay for it.

So I guess I'm more interested in hearing what career military people have to say about improving our education system. At least they understand socialized/institutional wealth. They understand that master teachers are masters because they have high powered professional/public goals e.g. to develop a more realistic and positive brand of futurism, and not just private/personal ones e.g. access to health care. Master teachers are committed to evolving the infrastructure, and that includes curriculum.

Also, on another front, Herbold doesn't say anything about our Fuller School and our many curriculum contributions. Again, I'm more inclined to tune in the Pentagon Channel. A lot of these private sector CEOs are really quite ignorant of American history, of the global military situation. I'm having an increasingly hard time taking them seriously. They've been too busy making money to make sense. They need a new curriculum as much as anyone.

Some earlier ed reform posts (this blog): [1][2]