Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Culture of Concealment - Part 2

In the last post I gave several examples demonstrating the administrative penchant for obscuring unpleasant truths. What are the effects of decisions prompted by policies of parental appeasement, avoidance, and concealment? Beyond the immediate impact of eroding student discipline and respect for rules, which makes the school less safe for everyone, there are much more insidious consequences negatively affecting the educational experience: staff demoralization, cynicism, and, in the case of impressionable younger teachers, the sense that educational principles are fluid and changeable, which, in turn, adversely affects their own judgment and development as educators. One final example will help to illustrate this.

In a specific department I will not identify, the practice existed of having a fieldtrip for the culminating task, which accounts for a certain percentage of the final mark. In this particular instance, because the students had performed so badly in the accompanying activities, the department head changed the assignment’s criteria so that everyone got at least 80%. Consequently, the teachers of students who did not go on the fieldtrip were instructed to make sure that their culminating task was designed so that those students would also achieve a minimum of 80%. Whether this perversion of education principles occurred with the knowledge and consent of the administration I cannot say, but the very fact that it happened should not be surprising, given the kind of environment and mentality arising from the weak leadership I have described here.

It would be easy for readers to dismiss each of my illustrations as isolated and insignificant events, but the truth is that most teachers have similar or worse stories to tell, but are not free to speak about them. Although boards would vehemently deny it, the pervasive organization ethos is that making things difficult or embarrassing for ‘the bosses’ is to invite, at the very least, career stagnation, and at the very worst, retribution, even dismissal. As we were often told by our local federation, criticizing your employer is grounds for dismissal. The fact that I am retired is the only reason I can bring these matters to light, and the reality is that I have presented only a highly selective version of what transpires in schools today; because I have no desire to jeopardize the careers of teachers who are still working, and the fact that some of the administrative transgressions I know of are based only on reliable second hand accounts, I have omitted much.

Without doubt, whenever misdeeds are brought to light, senior administrators and board officials will, as they always have, utter platitudes designed to placate the public, while ignoring opportunities for substantive change. The culture of concealment will, in one form or another, continue unless two things happen:

• Whistle-blower protection for teachers is enacted to spare them the retribution that normally ensues when people dare to speak out

• Board trustees begin to take back some of the responsibility for the day to day operation of schools they have abdicated to administrators and bureaucrats, both of whom often have an agenda at odds with quality education.

Unless and until there is a real desire for improvement at the top, things will, I fear, continue to deteriorate in our schools.

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