At the intersection of writing and life with the author of the Cameron Ballack mysteries

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Students are People, not Commodities

I think it only fair that--since I've successfully fought off today's migraine and because tonight's array of NHL playoff games are going to be considerably less intense than tomorrow night's Montreal-Ottawa encounter--I try to pull some thoughts together for a post. Something has been swirling around in my head since last week's "An Open Letter to Teachers". At that time I had some musings banging around in my head, but it was difficult to string them into coherent prose. But tonight, with my migraine behind me and some ham steak in my belly, I feel ready.

I know that it's an unfortunate reality that many people today view private education as a business. Yes, budgets need to be set and approved, not to mention followed. Headmasters have to carry the load of being a public, visionary face that can attract $$$ (tuition only covers so much of the pie). Parents themselves can approach the whole educational venture as a transactional piece of work. They send their kids, their kids do a (reasonable) amount of work, and the expectation is they will be rewarded with a diploma (and maybe an outstanding GPA) that will lead to entry into a quality college and eventually a high-paying job.

The common thread in all of this? Economic language. Not that it's a bad thing per se, but it bears watching.

All of this can ooze into the pysche of teachers. We are encouraged, both externally by our administrators and internally by self-motivation, to pour ourselves into our students. This can be particularly poignant in secondary education, which ideally moves kids toward more independence they will require in the halls of college and university. But lately I've noticed it's easy for the economic language that is taking over education to seep into our relationships with our students.

I've sat through many an in-service, start-of-the-year faculty meeting, or teacher devotional time in many schools when teachers have talked about what they love about teaching. And the language they use is very telling. For example...

"My time in teaching has been incredibly rewarding..."

"I love to invest in kids and in their lives..."

"Your child's performance is improving..." (A favorite at parent-teacher conferences)

There are other sound bites. And understand, I'm guilty of using those statements at times, but I've become convicted that they betray a certain default mode we teachers need to expunge.

My question is "Why the financial language?"

Students are people, not commodities. They are special creations made in God's image, not financial capital.

Our students are individuals who we mentor, not stock that we "invest in".

Our students are human beings we are called to shepherd toward their calling, not primarily objects that we drive toward improvement.

Our students are potentially heroic mortals whom we can inspire to do great things and be great people, not a portfolio of knowledge that we find "rewarding", as if our vocation was all about some sort of self-worth payoff (If that was the case, the prophet Jeremiah would have been a miserable failure).

In short, our students are people whom we can treasure and love and to whom we bear the reality of God's smile.

They are not commodities.

Maybe we don't need a reality check, but a language check. And maybe that will reveal what on earth we are in the classroom for.

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