Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Students are Not Customers

There's been a big push in recent years to make education more like a business. There's this idea that creating a type of free market atmosphere will energize lacking teachers to improve or get out of education. The idea of choice and merit-based pay are just off shoots of this principle. We're encouraged to lure students to our school while other options like charter schools are presented.

Here's the problem: Education is not, and should not be a commodity. Turning education into a product that one "purchases" helps no one, except those already on top. This is going to be hard to understand for some, but children should never be punished for the shortcomings of their parents. I didn't choose to be born into my family. I was born into a family where education was valued. I was born into a family with a working father and a mother who stayed at home for my early childhood. I was born into a family where I was going to college, whether I liked it or not, and I was going to do my absolute best to be a good student and successful adult.

Not everyone is born into my family. Not everyone has parents who are education savvy. Not everyone is lucky.

By turning education into a business venture, the bottom line moves from the students to data. Good data equals money. Bad data equals loss of money. By giving people the choice to leave their "bad" neighborhood schools in favor of charter programs and private-public schools, we create a brain drain for the students who are left. There are no role model peers. Failing becomes cool. Students, who could have succeeded, fail. Those who will exercise their choice are the ones who are already education savvy. What of the students who are left? Should they be punished because their parents didn't put them into a charter lottery? Should children suffer for the fact that their parents can't or won't pursue every avenue for their education? Of course not. That's cruel. Why suffer for the sins of your father?

However, by turning education into nothing more than a business venture, we punish our children for the lack time or motivation from their parents. Schools should not be businesses. Education is not a privilege. Education is a right, one we should give to children whether they want it or not. You can't fault children for being under informed when they have no one to advocate for them specifically. Yet I see time and again people replying to news stories online suggesting that students who don't want to learn should be refused their education. Do you want to be held responsible for decisions you made at thirteen years old or younger for the rest of your life? I shudder to think what teenage me could have saddled myself with for the rest of my life.

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