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  • Paul Curtis

    Chris, I realize that leveraging the language of economics and capitalism to describe educational interactions can certainly rub many people the wrong way, but it seems to me that you are creating conflict over semantics and not substance.

    As a long time progressive educator and parent I can honestly admit that I am constantly "selling" to my child, my students, and to other educators. Selling doesn't mandate and exploitive relationship. For me, it means that I'm trying to elicit behaviors in others that I believe will help them or society as a whole. From getting my daughter to eat her green beens to encouraging my colleagues to have clear learning outcomes for students ... I am trying to "sell" them on an idea they don't find intrinsically valuable.

    Further, I don't think it's accurate to describe "the sales model" and the "engagement model" as opposing ideas. Engagement is a method of sales (and I happen to agree that it is one of the most effective methods). My sales pitch includes strategies like forming great relationships with students, putting things in context, making things relevant, and leveraging technology. Other less progressive educators or parents might sell learning by bundling it with something kids like (if you get a C in History, you can play football).

    As a history teacher, I can testify that students have have a lot more intrinsic interest in video games than the War of 1812 does. As much as I want those kids to crave learning history (or love green beens), they don't seem to come to us that way. I do have to "compete" with things that easily capture their attention. I do have to "sell" the idea that what I want them to learn is valuable and worth their time. And if I fail to do that, it is on me and not my students.

    Of course an economist is going to use economist language. A naturalist might use words like "evolution" and "ecosystem" instead. A farmer or a welder would probably use language more comfortable to them. No term or analogy is perfect. Let's not create battles over semantics. The bottom line ... with a solid education being more important than ever in determining a child's success and a shrinking safety net of high paying, low skill jobs, for kids not intrinsically motivated, educators need to find effective ways of ensuring that every student graduates with the knowledge, skills, and attributes for success. And we need lots of analogies to send that message to lots of audiences.

    • Chris Thinnes

      Thanks, Paul, for your feedback. I deeply respect your experience and accomplishments, and appreciate your perspective -- though, in this case, I do not share it.

      I disagree that I've created "conflict over semantics and not substance" by responding to yet another jazz-handed prettification of market metaphors that have saturated the discourse of education reform, and have motivated policy and pedagogy changes that have threatened our schools' capacities to serve our students as effectively as we might. I don't disagree, in spirit, with your stated goal of "ensuring that every student graduates with the knowledge, skills, and attributes for success" -- but I don't think that's our only goal, and I'm unconvinced that articulating any such learning goals in figurative language has done any of us much good. I suspect in "encouraging...colleagues to have clear learning outcomes for students" you'd ask for language to be clear, concrete, and literal -- and argue against the use of figurative language on the grounds that semantics and substance are inextricably related.

      Yes, a naturalist might refer to an 'ecosystem' and a geographer might refer to a 'map,' but they didn't in this case: teaching has once more been reduced to 'selling,' learning has once more been reduced to 'buying,' and education is once more reduced to an exchange of 'products' in a marketplace governed by coercive, albeit 'gently' coercive, strategies.

  • bennlich

    I don't think you're missing anything, and I'm glad to read this, and glad that you replied to the interview (though "smut" may have been a little strong). But I do believe that the only way for this conversation to become anything besides a rhetorical race to convince people to side either with you or with Pink is to begin a rigorous, scientific comparison:

    What predictions does each education model (the sales model, the engagement model) make about how to better educate students in the classroom? What does each model suggest as far as ways to improve our education system as a whole?

    It is extremely important in this case not to forget the wisdom of E. P. Box: "Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful." When we argue that education is about "sales" or "engagement," we are not really arguing about education itself. We are merely arguing about the most useful context in which to think about it.

    (And I, like you, I think, am extremely dubious that studying education in the context of "selling" and "convincing" would have a positive effect on our students and teachers.)

    • Chris Thinnes

      Thanks for your response, bennlich! I agree both that 'smut' is a little strong, and that this quickly devolves into a "rhetorical race" that I haven't particularly helped (though I didn't particularly intend) to substantiate.

      To the point of your suggestive questions, though, I think the "predictions...each education model makes" and "what...each model improve our education system as a whole" are relatively self-evident, no?

      I suppose I'm most drawn to (and intrigued by, and reflecting on) your suggestion that by using either model, "we are not really arguing about education itself." I suspect that proponents of market-based reforms are quite certain that they are speaking, literally and concretely, about the 'business of schools' -- and that those of us who think of learning as relational, collaborative, student-centered, and dynamic (using verbs like 'engage' and 'hear,' rather than 'buy' and 'sell') intend that language no less literally to refer to the primary purpose and practice of education.