Academic Freedom Forum
Challenges of Corporate-Style Education
Assessing the effect of written standards on the public high school classroom in his article “Academic Freedom’s New Challenge: Is it on the Test?” in the May 2005 OAH Newsletter, James McGrath Morris finds that standards do not necessarily create limits on academic freedom. The rationale behind this stipulation is that creative teachers can always bring engaging ideas into the classroom and find ways to relate them to the often broadly-written state standards. In fact, Morris asserts, “one could link almost any lesson to a standard thereby offering a nervous teacher an acceptable rationale when confronted by an autocratic supervisor or close-minded parents.” Morris concludes that the danger to academic freedom in the high school classroom is not the idea of standards or even standardized testing, but rather having those standards written by people outside the profession.
What Morris and others often ignore when considering the affect of standards on academic freedom, however, is that written standards are only one piece of a larger force brought on through the standards and accountability movement of the last quarter century. In addition to the written state standards, there is also a push in recent decades to standardize the day-to-day processes of teaching and learning that take place in public education at the high school level. Educational scholar Henry Giroux and others have identified that this standardization is modeled on a corporate framework that demands conformity within a strictly hierarchical structure. According to Giroux, “teaching in the corporate model translates educational exchange into financial exchange, critical learning into mastery, and leadership into management” (Henry Giroux, Stealing Innocence: Youth, Corporate Power, and the Politics of Culture,
Until recently, I was a Social Studies teacher at a suburban high school around
The rationale behind the initiation of common assessments was so that parents were assured their child was receiving the exact same education no matter which teacher was leading the class. Indeed, I was one of five different teachers teaching the freshmen-level World Studies course and one of four teaching the junior-level United States History course. Common assessments created a neatly pre-packaged, consumer-friendly, quality-controlled education that provided parents and studentsour customersthe comfort of knowing they were receiving a standard educational product for the tax dollars they paid.
What common assessments also created were severe limitations on my ability as a teacher and the right of students in the class to dictate the direction of the teaching and learning throughout the course of the term. Since I had an obligation to help prepare students for the common final exam, which was comprehensive in both of the courses I taught, there were few instances during the semester when I felt comfortable deviating from the pre-determined concepts and readings for each unit. At times, it worked out that the direction I and my students wanted to take our class coincided with the predetermined direction of the course as a whole, but on most occasions it did not. Moreover, it was the idea that we could not stray even if justified and desired that was limiting. It did not matter, for instance, that my freshmen took great interest in our lesson on being a Muslim in
To preserve academic freedom in high schools there needs to be a reassessment of the corporate-style educational model and the various manners in which the standards and accountability movement has invaded the day-to-day processes of teaching and learning, in addition to written curriculum. While the goal is not to fashion teachers as independent contractors, it is to put the power to determine the direction of a class into the collaborative hands of teachers and students. Additionally, the relationship between teachers of the same course at an institution should be as colleagues and not clones. A critical approach to teaching and learning on a daily basis must be born to remind educators, policymakers, and the public that education is an experience, not a pre-packaged product.
Remaining Blind to Intolerance
It is heartening that the OAH Newsletter (May 2005) has opened a tiny crack into the issue of academic bias from both right and leftapparently the first national historical publication to do so.
It is sad, however, to read Julie Greene’s statement that “the crisis in
As long as apologists for the far-left and the far-right remain blind to their own intolerance, academe will continue to repress rather than promote free and unfettered exchange of information and opinions.
The article “Consulting All Sides on ‘Speech Codes’” is a masterpiece of bad history. They slant all of the incidents they relate. In the Cal Poly case, Steve Hinkle is presented as having “done nothing more than attempt to post a flier in the school’s multicultural center.” The truth is, he was deliberately provoking an incident. What the writers do not say is that all schools have rules about obtaining permission before posting on school club and special interest boards, and Hinkle had not done that. Without rules, posting boards would become war zones. He knew perfectly well that there were many public boards where he could (and probably did) post, but he wanted Mason Weaver’s opponents to be forced to look at his fliers. As for the
Thomas N. Ingersoll