Cogs in the Machine

One of my comps questions will deal with educational technology professional development.  In reading the Sparks and Hirsch article over at the National Staff Development Council’s website, I was struck by their description of the attitude towards teachers:

All too often, in their zeal for visible reforms, educational leaders, policymakers, and the public have avoided the crucial role played by the teacher. Assuming that teachers are interchangeable parts whose knowledge and abilities do not matter, they search for the right organization that would make schools work regardless of what teachers do. A few programs try to minimize the role of the teacher, producing “teacher-proof” materials and prepackaged lessons that spell out everything the teacher is to say and do. When people do pay attention to teachers, it is usually to demand the use of teacher testing to target low scorers for dismissal or the abolishment of tenure so principals can fire “inferior” teachers.”   (Bold, italics are mine.)

In his recent book, The Dance of Change, Peter Senge discusses the movement in business from a mechanistic to an organic view.  In the mechanistic view, workers are indeed cogs in the machine, doing a job that does not ask them to be creative or insightful, just do the job.  That viewpoint, Senge says, is rapidly giving way to one in which even the lowest level jobs require thoughtfulness by the doer.

Certainly, I think Sparks and Hirsch would agree in terms of education.  In a mechanistic view of school, teachers are cogs, easily replaced by other teachers.  What we are learning, however, is that the cog can’t be so easily defined.  In an earlier post on the mysteries of good teachers, I cited research that shows that we can really only account for 3% of what makes a quality teacher.  The rest is a mystery.  So, teachers are not and should not be seen as cogs, but as vital members of an organic system.


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