In Her Shell
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
  The Customer is Always Right
Listening to R. describe an uncomfortable conference with a megalomaniac parent, I recognized her feeling that it was completely inappropriate to defend herself with any vigor. As the parent sat in judgement and ranted, R., our supervisor, and the student's guidance counselor had to sit and listen. Their responses had to be measured, cautious, deferential.

It suddenly struck me: this parent thinks she is the customer, and we at the school are the service providers. Somehow, we have agreed to this arrangement.

The students think of themselves as consumers too. In a recent discussion with a few of them about whether teachers or students should use the more convenient parking lot, their logic was, "Employees always park further away; customer parking is always the closest to the building!"

What the students don't realize is that in our increasingly corporate-based culture, with No Child Left Behind a cornerstone of the movement to privatize public education, and teachers in corporate-controlled Abbott districts teaching from scripts with no variation allowed, the students are not the customers at all.

They are the products.

Standardized testing fashions students as widgets and schools as the factories that produce them. Teachers are no longer venerated civil servants, but merely assembly line workers.

Unreasonable improvement standards, punishment but no rewards, and unfunded mandates would never fly in the classroom, (or at a parent-teacher conference), but they have been wielded at the federal level to force public education to fail, and to present privatization--a profitable system--in its place.

Clearly, the way has already been paved. The corporate model that kowtows to the "customer" at the expense of professional dignity is certainly thriving in our district. Business buzzwords have replaced the language of learning. And creativity, initiative, and individuality are withering, replaced by "efficiency," "productivity," and "results," on both sides of the teacher's desk.
I've never thought aobut it that way before, but you are so right. We don't have as much of a problem with the idea of student as "customer" mostly because my students tend to be lower incomre and don't have the same sense of entitlement that yours do, however the idea that we are nothing but a factory churning out identically educated little robots is right on track.

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