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School Culture

My new school has a regular “Talking About Teaching” professional development opportunity for teachers. Essentially, it’s a scheduled time for teachers to come and share thoughts and ideas about the craft of teaching. It’s one thing that drew me to the school. Today’s topic was “Student Motivation”—a topic I’ve thought a lot about.

The conversation was wide-ranging, but it left me thinking for much of the day about the interconnection of two topics that form the title of this post: intrinsic motivation and the relevance of history. We talked a lot about the role of grades and other extrinsic motivators in school, though there seemed to be general agreement that we’d like for our students to be more intrinsically motivated to learn—to play with ideas, to inquire and explore their interests.

I pointed out that, as Daniel Pink notes in his book Drive, we all tend to be more intrinsically motivated when we a) have some measure of autonomy in the task at hand; b) can observe ourselves progressing toward mastery of it; and c) appreciate its larger purpose. Unfortunately, the infrastructure of schools often serves to undermine autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

At this point, a colleague raised the concern that few students—and even some teachers—don’t necessarily understand the purpose of their studies in school. Why, for instance, do students need to know a particular equation in math class? Or (to reference one of my own lessons from today) why do they need to know the significance of itinerant preachers in the Great Awakening?

We batted that idea around for a while, and there were a variety of ideas. In the end, though, we seemed to reach a general consensus: at the end of the day, students probably don’t need to know all of those things. Many agreed that much of the “stuff” that we teach in our courses is not absolutely essential for students to learn. (This brought to mind my recent post on “The Siren Call of Coverage.”)

This has me reflecting on curriculum. Once we acknowledge that the sky would not fall if some things were cut, then paring back the content of the curriculum would seem to be a logical step toward remedying any perceived deficiencies. In our case, if we find that our students suffer from a lack of intrinsic motivation and don’t see the purpose of what they’re studying, we need to address that. Trimming the content covered would kill two birds with one stone:

  1. It would provide time for self-directed learning, in which students—under the supervision of teachers, to be sure—could pursue topics of interest to them, hopefully learning to ask questions, pursue their interests, and discover meaning for themselves. Even in a field that is not necessarily a student’s true passion, he or she may find a particular topic or question that is intriguing, perhaps sparking a lifelong hobby.
  2. By covering less material, teachers would have the opportunity to pursue deeper learning, which would helpfully hope students understand the value of their studies. For my part, I want my students to consider why history matters today—how historical narratives (even historically inaccurate ones) shape our contemporary worldview and how historical thinking skills can help us make sense of the time in which we live. When I feel pressure to get to chapter 15 by Christmas, though, that’s difficult to do.

It is admittedly something of a cliche, but I have nevertheless long appreciated Yeats’s famous adage that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Particularly in history, if the approach is just “one damn thing after another,” only the rare student will have their “fire” stoked. (We history teachers all know these kids—the ones who geek out over trivia while the other students slump in their seats and roll their eyes.) In the traditional coverage approach, everyone’s pails get filled… but most are unceremoniously dumped out later, after the extrinsic motivation (the test) is removed. Whatever small fires we managed to start along the way, most are extinguished in the deluge.

Truth be told
I’m not much for the cold
But if you’re selling a snow day,
Mother Nature, I’m sold!

An original poem, perhaps one of my finest! (Excluding those I wrote for school assignments, I think I’ve written–at most–a half-dozen poems in my life. See what you can do on a snow day!)

We missed the brunt of the recent winter storm as it passed through Virginia; just a bit to the north of us they received about 25″. For our part, we got probably 6-8″, though it’s hard to say for sure. Late Friday night it changed over to freezing rain/sleet, which compacted the original snow and turned it to ice. It then changed back to snow for much of the day Saturday which added a few more inches of powder on top. School was cancelled on Friday, primarily because everything else was cancelled, and it’s cancelled again today. And what a wonderful winter weekend it has been!

A snow day provides an opportunity to think and reflect (and write poetry). Over the past few days, I’ve luxuriated in a slow-sipped pot of tea, helped clean the house, and, yes, done some work–grading, catching up on e-mail, planning my upcoming weekend duty. These are all things I might normally do on a weekend day, but with a sea of white outside my window, it somehow feels different.

Another thing I’ve done this weekend is read–a lot. I just finished Dan T. Carter’s The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics. Now I’m working on Anthony Grooms’s novel Bombingham and Nel Noddings’s Education and Democracy in the 21st Century.

I also read this article from the Washington Post: “Expecting to enjoy a lazy snow day? Teachers urge parents, students to think again.” While it’s not the hardest-hitting journalism I’ve ever read, it does manage to provide an interesting angle on one of education’s stickiest wickets in just a few paragraphs. In short: whereas a heavy snow used to promise kids a fun-filled day of frolicking outdoors, educators now worry about the consequences of such activities. As the article states, “[I]n an era of increased academic testing, stacked curricula and virtual learning, many educators and school officials are urging students to continue their schoolwork during snow days to avoid the dreaded ‘amnesia’ that can set in after a few missed days of class.” Particularly in the upper grades and in Advanced Placement courses, “that can create stress for teachers, who worry about how they will cram a year’s worth of advanced curriculum into one shortened by snow days.”

To me, this is suggestive of the difference between a “teacher-centered” and a “student-centered” (or “learner-centered”) education system. I do sympathize with the teachers, who appear to be caught between an immovable rock (the AP exam) and a cold hard place, though I think the use of the verb “cram” is telling. How much curriculum should we be cramming in the first place? (And if we are cramming, is this really education?)

I think there’s a reasonable a fair conversation to be had about the “costs” of a snow day in the classroom, especially for those students who are really struggling or when a “snow day” becomes a “snow week” or more. For the vast majority of kids, though, the idea of “amnesia” setting in after just a few days is ridiculous. If that were true, we wouldn’t have long weekends, holidays, or spring break. In fact, such breaks are necessary to allow students (and teachers!) the opportunity to recharge and come back into the classroom fresh.

Perhaps most frightening of all is this asinine quote from Connie Skelton, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction in Arlington Public Schools: “In Arlington, we really are moving towards 24/7 learning.” She’s explaining how Arlington’s use of iPads and other technology can be a game-changer, but what does that even mean? Do kids not sleep? Do they not eat or go to the bathroom? And even if we set aside the ridiculousness of the actual claim, we should ask ourselves a more serious question: Just how much learning is necessary and appropriate? I’m all for providing a “rigorous” education, but the law of diminishing marginal returns applies here. There is a point at which enough is enough.

I am heartened, however, by this quote from Evan Glazer, principal of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (better known throughout the DC area as “TJ”): “‘We want them to go out and play and make snowmen and snow angels, because it doesn’t happen all that often,’ Glazer said. ‘You might as well take a break when Mother Nature gives you the opportunity.’” This from a school that has been ranked among the very best in the country and sends its graduates to top-notch universities. (I can hear the counterargument now: “With a more advanced student, you can ‘afford’ to take that stance.” Maybe so, but I also wonder to what extent the 24/7 “cramming” mentality contributes to the percentage of students who either drop out of school or simply go through the motions.)

 

I was talking with a colleague today, and he said something very simple that nevertheless made me stop and think. He said of one student, “He does his work. He’s not going to do any more than than he has to, of course, but he gets his stuff done.” The student in question is not an academic superstar by any means, but my colleague is right: he does his work.

I’ve had countless students like this over the years, but for some reason, I never stopped to think about in quite this way. As our conversation continued to play in my head this evening, it occurred to me that we don’t really have a label for students like this. We have our “overachievers” and our “underachievers,” but we rarely talk about the kids who are simply “achievers.”

I wonder why. It’s as if simply achieving is not enough. To be worthy of our attention (that is: teachers’, college admissions officers’, prospective employers’), you can’t just do what you’re supposed to do. You have to do more. How much more? As much as you can, of course. And if you do more, we’re going to push you to do even more than that. More, more, always more. Are kids so wrong to say, “No thanks, not for me. I’m good with a C if it means I get to enjoy my life a bit during these four years of high school?”

As an educator and on a certain level, I get it. This is Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development in action. Except when it’s not. Sometimes, we’re not expanding kids’ comfort zones. Sometimes, we’re simply pushing to see just how much kids can handle. (And, oh yeah, because we “have to” sort them into honors classes, elite colleges, and competitive labor markets.) And we wonder why “kids these days” are grade-grubbing, perfectionist, careerist, etc., etc., etc. As Denise Pope argued in her book Doing School, it seems that we are indeed creating “a generation of stressed-out, materialistic, and miseducated students.”

Am I spreading myself too thin? More importantly, perhaps: Am I spreading my students too thin?

Lately, I’ve been giving some serious thought to this question. Beyond simple content coverage, there are so many things that I want to accomplish in my classroom, and every year, it seems, I add a new wrinkle or two. I come back from my summer adventures in professional development excited to try something I’ve learned, but I never seem to take anything off my plate.

In my American history classes, for instance, I now try (or have tried) to incorporate a year-long scholarly research project/paper, a class blog, (almost) daily Harkness discussions, explicit instruction in historical thinking, classroom community-building and experiential learning activities, project-/problem-based learning, and some form of public speaking.

I believe that all of these add to my students’ experience, and none of them has detracted significantly from my core commitments to critical exploration of the past and a focus on strong persuasive writing—at least not yet. I do fear, however, that I may be doing my students a slight disservice.

In some ways, my approach to educational methods runs counter to my approach to historical content. When it comes to content, I tend to favor a “less is more” approach, slowing down to explore smaller chunks of material but in much greater depth. As I reflect on all of the things I’ve added to my “pedagogical toolbox” over the years, though, it occurs to me that I have been emphasizing variety of experience over depth of engagement.

Would it not be better to pare down some of these things to give my students a clear, sustained focus and the opportunity to truly master one or two experiences? I’m not entirely sure yet, but I think it might.

The problem is, I find myself pulled in two directions at once: a somewhat traditional desire to focus on the things I do well—that is, historical thinking and clear written and verbal communication—and a nagging sense that education must evolve to keep pace with a rapidly changing world. To be sure, I believe that the things I do well are timeless in their importance, but that’s not to say they’re more important than the others.

These two roads are diverging in my proverbial yellow wood–which path should I choose? Again, I don’t know; I’ll have to keep wrestling with the question. (I suspect a lot of teachers are confronting similar concerns these days—at least, I hope they are.)

All of this said, I do think that this is one reason why Bo Adams’ exploration of “pedagogical master planning” is so attractive to me. I think all of my various approaches have merit, and I want my students to experience them all, so in the absence of a comprehensive master plan, I end up trying to do more than I can successfully handle. If I knew that students would encounter some of these things in other classes or in co-curricular/extra-curricular settings, I might feel less pressure to incorporate them into my class.

By establishing a master plan, then, schools could achieve a sort of “internal comparative advantage.” Teachers who are best equipped to provide students with Experience A are charged with doing so, while Experience B falls to those teachers who are best suited for that particular task. In the end, as I see it, the master plan would not be an exercise in administrative autocracy or classroom conformity, but rather an attempt to deploy a school’s resources–human, financial, natural, technological, etc.–in the most productive way possible. Students could enjoy a rich variety of educational experiences, and faculty would be freed up to focus on the things that they do best, all in pursuit of a cohesive common goal.

(Of course, it’s possible that I’ve totally misrepresented Bo’s ideas here, so I welcome his input. Either way, I look forward to reading Bo’s ideas on this topic as he continues to flesh them out.)

As I noted in my previous post, I gave my first conference presentation last week at the bi-annual Teacher Conference sponsored by the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools (NCAIS). It was a terrific experience. My slides are below, along with some of the key thoughts that are captured in the PPT.

  • By signaling what a community actually values (regardless of what it says it values), grades have the power to shape curriculum—and the community itself—in meaningful but often undetected ways.
  • I’ve come to the conclusion that grades—at least as they’re typically used—don’t help us accomplish our “21st century” goals. In fact, they often prevent us from accomplishing them. So, if we must assign grades, let’s at least try to do so in ways that ensure the grades are serving the purposes we want them to serve.
  • Re: Pink and Robinson: You’re probably picturing your own students, wondering what planet these guys live on. “Of course grades are necessary!” you’re thinking. “Without grades, kids would never do their work.” There’s an element of truth to this, but I would argue that grading can create a vicious cycle. By reducing intrinsic motivation, grades ensure that more grades will be necessary to “get students moving” in the future. (In this sense, it’s akin to addiction—and we can probably all think of students whom we could describe as “addicted” to grades.)
  • Re: Mastery: In a rapidly changing world, we must teach students to find pleasure and success in the process—not just the results. Grades should reflect this emphasis.
  • Re: Mastery: We must expose students to failure, but without making failure seem insurmountable. Grades make that difficult to do. (If the marking period ends next week, that F in the gradebook isn’t going anywhere, and there’s nothing a kid can do about it.)
  • Re: Purpose: Luckily, many teachers are beginning to implement classroom models—think project-, problem-, or place-based learning—with the potential to address real-world relevance and purpose. The question, then, is: Will we rethink grades so as not to undermine that purpose?
  • Grades are both carrot and stick. As such, they have the potential to undermine autonomy, mastery, and purpose, all in one fell swoop.
  • Re: The Tendency of Fixed-Mindset Students to Avoid Challenging Tasks: To me, this is potentially the most devastating critique of all, because it undermines the entire premise of education. Students—like all people—MUST stretch themselves to continue learning and growing, but with grades, the goal can easily become getting the grade as opposed to learning and growing.
  • As our classrooms become more purposeful, though—as we move in the direction of preparing students for a changing world through more engaging pedagogical approaches—grades should become less necessary as a means of ensuring compliance. So what should they mean? And how often should we give them?
  • Grades are a central feature of American educational culture and are, in most places, at least, very well-entrenched. But if you accept that the world is changing and that education must change to keep pace, you should at least be open to the possibility that grading practices might need to change as well.

If you read the news, it seems as if there’s a cheating epidemic in our schools. Of course, the big headline grabber is the ongoing scandal at Harvard, where more than 100 students (and some graduates) are accused of academic dishonesty. Over the weekend, however, I also noticed two articles in the New York Times which would seem to confirm the plague.

The first article addresses a case at New York’s prestigious Stuyvesant High School that sounds eerily similar in some ways to the situation at Harvard. But it was the second article (“Studies Find More Students Cheating, With High Achievers No Exception”) that really got me thinking about cheating as a systemic issue. It cites recent studies showing that “a majority of students violate standards of academic integrity to some degree.” The article goes on to say that, according to researchers, “Cheating has become easier and more widely tolerated, and schools and parents have failed to give students strong, repetitive messages about what is allowed and what is tolerated.”

Harvard professor Howard Gardner, widely known among educators for his theory of multiple intelligences, is quoted as saying that students’ “ethical muscles have atrophied” over the last few decades. He sums up their supposed mindset as follows: “We want to famous and successful, we think our [classmates] are cutting corners, we’ll be damned if we’ll lose out to them, and some day, when we’ve made it, we’ll be role models. But until then, give us a pass.”

The cynic in me wonders whether the recent scandals might actually indicate the emergence of a heretofore undiscovered “intelligence.” After all, these students are in many ways simply navigating the environment into which they have been placed, and they are doing so along the path of least resistance. There’s a certain logic in that, is there not?

One of the other experts quoted in the article seems to understand this… sort of. Professor Donald L. McCabe of Rutgers University, who is listed as “a leading researcher on cheating,” posits that “students have become more competitive, under more pressure, and, as a result, tend to excuse more from themselves and other students.” He also charges that such behavior is “abetted by the adults around them.”

I think McCabe is basically right, but I suspect that the number of teachers who are guilty of such aiding and abetting is pretty small. On the other hand, I would argue that the number of teachers who drive their students to cheat is substantial. We hear increasing talk of “gamification” in education these days, as if that’s some cutting edge idea. I hate to break the “gamification” crowd, though: school was “gamified” a long time ago. The students who cheat, for better or worse, are simply playing the game.

While McCabe has some valid insights, his argument goes off the rails when he states flatly, “There have always been struggling students who cheat to survive. . . . But more and more, there are students at the top who cheat to thrive.” I don’t know what his teaching load at Rutgers looks like, but I’m afraid he seriously misunderstands today’s students.

Based on what I hear on a regular basis, many students have somehow been led to believe that mere “survival” is tantamount to failure. From their perspective, in an increasingly competitive college admissions game, if you’re not “thriving,” you’re dead. And for college students facing an increasingly competitive job market, if you’re not thriving at that level, you might reasonably expect to spend your twenties sleeping on the sofa in Mom and Dad’s basement. To a twenty-something, that’s social death. So really, to them, “cheating to thrive” is an attempt to survive. The terms of the game–what it takes to “win”–have simply shifted.

In our heavily tracked education system, kids as early as preschool are labeled as high achievers and set apart from the rest of their classmates. They’re told—sometimes in explicit ways, sometimes not—that they are the best and the brightest. The world is their oyster, but the future rests on their shoulders. Because we expect so much from these students in particular, they are burdened with increasingly unrealistic workloads and a sometimes inhumane schedule as they progress through the system. Not wanting to let their parents and teachers down—and not wanting to admit to themselves or their peers that perhaps they aren’t superhuman—they naturally begin to look for shortcuts.

Part of Gardner’s comment is especially telling: “we think our [classmates] are cutting corners, we’ll be damned if we’ll lose out to them.” Lose out to them? When did education become a zero-sum game? I’m not sure, but from the perspective of many students at least, it most definitely did, and “kids these days” are playing to win. Just like we taught them.

(Please allow me a slight digression here. Perhaps by cheating—especially en masse, as at Harvard and Stuyvesant—students are actually engaging in a subtle and perhaps subconscious form of protest against the system. By acting out a real-world game of Prisoner’s Dilemma, they change the game from one that is zero-sum to one that is cooperative. As anyone who has taken ECON101 knows, if both players in Prisoner’s Dilemma cheat, everybody wins! That’s collaboration, which we hail as one of the cornerstones of 21st century learning, even as we punish students for not “doing their own work.”)

In all seriousness, though, let me be clear here: I do not say any of this to excuse what these students may (or may not) have done. Cheating is wrong, and it cannot be condoned. To allow such actions to stand uncorrected weakens not only our academic standards, but the moral fiber of our very society. However, I do believe that when we face such widespread violations of the rules, we need to start asking some serious questions about the game being played. For instance:

  • Is it possible that these alleged incidents are not indicative of a moral failing on the part of America’s young people?
  • Is it possible that school, in its current form, might push students to cheat (and perhaps even reward them for it)?
  • Is it possible that adults—the teachers, the administrators, perhaps even the media types who cover this story—are primarily responsible for establishing the conditions under which cheating comes to be seen as “the path to victory?”

Although I have some thoughts on the matter (clearly), I’ll admit that I don’t know the answers to all of these questions. But I do think it’s a conversation worth having.

Note: In my last post (several weeks ago), I wrote about the “administrative coup” that had taken place at my alma mater, the University of Virginia. (I’m very happy to report that the besieged Board of Visitors did vote unanimously to reinstate ousted President Teresa Sullivan—and even more happy to report that they did so in an open meeting live-streamed over the web to an audience of more than 10,000 people.) I also wrote about how this had prompted a good bit of thinking on my part about the governance of K-12 independent schools, so this post will be my attempt to connect the two.

Although it may not appear to be so at first glance, K-12 independent schools are similar in many ways to public universities like the University of Virginia (perhaps that’s one reason why I chose to teach in independent schools). True, independent schools are much smaller and don’t have the same public mission, but they do—as I suggested in my previous post—share similar administrative and governance structures.

More importantly, though, they are “service institutions.” Unlike corporations, schools and universities are accountable first and foremost not to an external group of shareholders, but to the individuals who are moving through them at any given moment. Now, I generally hate to use industrial metaphors when discussing education, but in this case I find it irresistibly valuable. Along those lines, if education is viewed as an industry—and a school as a factory—it is as if the factory is accountable not to the shareholders, but to the widgets themselves.

From a business perspective, this makes no sense. In the eyes of a shareholder, widgets are but a means to an end—by-products of the more important profit-generating mechanism. But this metaphor illustrates a crucial point about education: namely, that schools cannot be judged by the same calculus as free enterprise. University of Virginia professor Siva Vaidhyanathan makes this point eloquently in an article about Sullivan’s reinstatement:

Universities are supposed to be special places where we let young people imagine a better world. They are supposed to be able to delay the pressures of the daily grind for a few years. They are supposed to be able to aspire to greatness and inspire each other. A tiny few will aspire to be poets. Many more will aspire to be engineers. Some will become both. Along the way they will bond with friends, meet lovers, experience hangovers, make mistakes, and read some mind-blowing books.

For better or worse, I’d say that’s basically the vision for all educational institutions. (It would be nice if we K-12 educators didn’t have to worry about the hangovers, but you see my point.) In the next breath, Vaidhyanathan asks:

Does that sound wasteful? Does that sound inefficient? . . . Damn right it does.

In fact, schools are “wasteful” and “inefficient” by design, and again, I happen to think this applies to independent K-12 education as well.

They are wasteful and inefficient because we are not trying to manufacture widgets. We are trying to nurture human beings, each of whom comes to the institution with his or her own view of the world. Regardless of whether we’re working with two year-olds or twenty year-olds, how can we even begin to educate without acknowledging that basic fact?

Although independent schools are not subject to the same calculations as traditional businesses, they must attract and frequently compete for students, and so they are susceptible to market pressures. The situation at Virginia provides a powerful example of what education columnist Kevin Carey calls “status anxiety.” He writes acerbically:

[W]hatever good intentions that the University of Virginia Board of Visitors may have had were quickly overwhelmed by its parochial anxieties. Apparently, they were afraid that their beloved alma mater might not be able to compete with rich private universities . . . They were worried that revenues would be used to support money-losing subjects like classics instead of recruiting “star” professors who never teach undergraduates. That the task of teaching young people might distract from the pursuit of status competition with rival universities on whose boards their fellow plutocrats sit. That the university would be forced to get by with $5 billion in the bank.

I think Carey is on to something here. Of the few vague explanations for Sullivan’s ouster given by Rector Helen Dragas, nearly all hinted at a fear of decreased “competitiveness.” If you weren’t aware that you were reading about a university, you might have gotten the impression that the U.Va. brand was losing market share.

Although competition can spark innovation in education as in other industries, we should acknowledge that an overemphasis on competition can also lead to rash decisions and a myopic focus. This is especially true when decision-makers come to feel that their institution is being “left behind.” Ironically, the “save-our-ship” choices that look so appealing in the near-term often turn out to be underwhelming—or worse, overwhelming—in retrospect.

For an example, take a look at the trajectory of classroom technology in K-12 independent schools. What started out a decade or so ago as a “cutting-edge” value-added (translation: a symbol of institutional status) has essentially become the norm nationwide. And schools that rushed into it without sufficient forethought are probably still behind, given that they likely paid little attention to how technology might reshape their school’s culture. All of this ignores the fact that technology has come to claim a considerable portion of a school’s budget, sometimes with only marginal benefits.

I don’t mean to malign educational technology. I am no Luddite, and technology in the classroom is important and quite valuable when well-integrated. (I deliberately stop short of saying it is “invaluable.” Technology certainly has value, but that value is not infinite.) My point is instead this: I suspect that schools making decisions from a position of fear or a desire to “compete” in the marketplace often pay dearly for those decisions in the long run.

To be truly effective in the long-term, everyone involved in education (board members, administrators, teachers, parents, students, alumni, etc.) needs a clear recognition that

  1. good, lasting change in education takes time.
  2. real, meaningful change in education can’t be mandated—it must be cultivated.

Don’t get me wrong: this should not be an excuse for sitting on one’s hands, but rather a plea for patience. Rather than rushing into the latest and greatest thing, schools should proceed by a structured series of checkpoints at which to assess the institution’s progress. (At Virginia, Teresa Sullivan was criticized for her tendency toward “incremental change.” What the Board should have realized is that, when it comes to education, all change is incremental. There’s a reason why college takes four years.)

Similarly, this should not be an excuse for waiting until there is complete agreement before moving forward. True consensus is admittedly rare. Rather, this recognition simply suggests a willingness to engage various constituencies in a transparent process for distilling their ideas into action, whether that comes from voting, representative committee work, etc. (At Virginia, the Board presumed to make wholesale changes to the University without consulting the faculty, students, alumni, etc.—as if such a strategy were likely to be successful without the support of the rank-and-file.)

Educational institutions would benefit from a tripartite shared governance model . What I have in mind is not a disingenuous call for “faculty input” or a spineless submission to “faculty demands,” but a genuine collaborative discourse between teaching faculty, administrators, and board members. However, this highlights the need for faculty tenure, or at least some sort of longer-term job security that will allow those educators working “where the rubber meets the road” to have a meaningful voice in school policy, whether public or private, primary or post-secondary.

I maintain that schools favoring consensus will be healthy institutions, because schools—even private schools—are not business ventures, and they should not be run as such. I’m not saying that the bottom line doesn’t matter. It obviously does. But we should not forget for a moment that it is not the only thing that matters, or even the most important.

In the end, the management style of a school’s leadership filters down to its students. What kind of message do we want to send to the next generation of leaders? That if you sit in a position of power, you needn’t bother considering the people who will be affected by your decisions? That titular authority matters far more than respect and trust?

Save perhaps a few members of the U.Va. Board of Visitors, I don’t know anyone in education who would answer those questions in the affirmative (and even they have learned their lesson, it seems). And yet there are plenty of institutions still organized in such a way as to send those very messages. Perhaps it’s time we rethink how we govern our schools.