James Kirylo: The Selling of Teacher Education (And Why We Should Resist)
The following is a guest post by Dr. James Kirylo, professor of teaching and learning at Southeastern Louisiana University. Kirylo’s research interests include critical pedagogy, curriculum theory, teacher leadership, and literacy development.
In his guest post, Kirylo takes issue with the marketing of a teacher education “brand”– complete with cash to entice teacher ed programs to get their respective faculty professionals to “buy in.”
The Selling of Teacher Education (And Why We Should Resist)
James D. Kirylo
All of us have likely been mandated or required to attend a meeting, seminar, or workshop at our places of employment where the objective of the event was to introduce a new concept, or a different instrument, or another way of doing things.
As a participant in those types of venues—particularly at a university setting where presumably democratic spaces are greatly valued—I find it more than annoying when the presenter at some point rolls out that the aim of the event is to get attendees to embrace the new direction, summoning the phrase that “buy in” has to occur.
It seems to me corporate types are fond of that phrase. Maybe it’s because it gives them wicked pleasure that they are giving the—albeit false—appearance that participants have an element of choice as to whether they care to buy whatever it is being sold. The notion of buying obviously suggests selling.
As a consumer who lives in a country that is capitalistically driven, and as a citizen who lives in a nation that heralds the value of voice, to “buy” exhorts choice on whether to buy or not. Hence, when I go to the grocery store, I may buy the fresh vegetables or I may go with the sodium-laden ones in the can. Both are on sale, and both can be bought. I make the deliberate choice to buy one or the other.
In that light, therefore, as one who has attended numerous work-related mandated workshops, where “buy in” appears to be the mantra, the thing that always goes through my mind is, what if I don’t want to buy the product that is being sold, no more than I care to buy sodium-laden vegetables in a can. Truth is, of course, the presenter is not giving me a choice whether to buy or not. It is more than subtly suggested that I am stuck with the canned veggies.
As most know, Bill Gates, through his foundation, has worked hard in an attempt to disturbingly shape K-12 education in his own image. Next on his radar is teacher preparation—with the awarding of $35 million to a three-year project called Teacher Preparation Transformation Centers funneled through five different projects, one of which is the Texas Tech based University-School Partnerships for the Renewal of Educator Preparation (U.S. Prep) National Center.
A framework that will guide this “renewal” of educator preparation comes from the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET), along with the peddling of their programs, The System for Teacher and Student Advancement (TAP) and Student and Best Practices Center (BPC). Yet, again, coming from another guy with bags of money, leading the charge of NIET is Lowell Milken who is Chairmen and TAP founder.
Though a handful of other places could serve as an example, the state of Louisiana illustrates how NIET is already working overtime in chipping its way into K-12 education. And now that NIET is applying a full-court-press in hyping its brand in the Pelican state, the brand is working its way into teacher education preparation programs, namely through the Texas Tech based U.S. Prep National Center.
This Gates Foundation backed project involves five teacher education programs in the country (Southern Methodist University, University of Houston, Jackson State University, and the University of Memphis– and includes one in Louisiana— Southeastern Louisiana University).
Thus, teacher educators must be “trained” in order to propagate the NIET brand. Because I am a teacher educator at one of the impacted universities that has been recruited by the Texas Tech based U.S. Prep National Center, I was recently mandated to attend three full days of NIET indoctrination (with continued follow-up training).
Along with my colleagues—who collectively bring a rich background of K-12 teaching experience, in addition to decades of teacher education work, a wealth of post-graduate education degrees, all of whom have made meaningful contributions to the professional community through a wide array of venues—in a teacher education program that has a sterling reputation—yet, all of which was of no concern to the NIET trainers. That is, because right out of the gate, the NIET officials were off and running, making it implicitly clear that a new teacher education sheriff is in town.
Armed with its “prescription” of success, with the acronym NIET inscribed on just about every page of presentation material, capped with an accompanying dense bounded training manual titled NIET Higher Education Handbook on the cover page, the NIET trainers had their jets on all cylinders selling the NIET brand to us trainees. In addition, trainees were led to the NIET website with its labyrinth of materials, portals, aids, and how, when, and where one must be—yes—certified in its brand.
Sure enough at a decisive point the lead trainer predictably pulled out the “buy in” phrase for NIET to work at our setting. And for good measure, a superficial smattering of change theory was thrown in, evidently providing—although woefully superficial and out of context—explanatory props for the anticipation of those attending training who would be resistant to the NIET brand. Indeed, it was made clear that there would be “resistors,” as if their resistance to “buying in” was indicative of a problem with them as opposed to the product that was being sold.
No matter. I am a resister. As much as I resist purchasing sodium-laden canned vegetables, there are three fundamental reasons why I am resistant to such programs as the NIET driven aforementioned Texas Tech based U.S. Prep National Center.
First, the notion of “training” brings me back years ago to my days working at a fast food taco joint when I was laboring my way to pay my way through undergraduate work. Indeed, I was required to attend training in order to learn the exact recipe how to make a taco, wrap the taco for the drive-thru, and the directive on how to deal with customers. Despite my rich taco-making background and varied people experience, no deviation was allowed from the mandated formula that was demanded at this taco joint. In the same train of thought—despite my varied educational background and experience as well as that of my colleagues—NIET, through their elaborate rubrics, scoring mechanisms, and ways of doing things—one must be trained to use their formula in order to be certified. In short, the business model that drives a taco establishment is the same model that is being pushed in teacher education programs.
Second, the narrative that appears to be driving the NIET brand into teacher education programs is propelled by the similar story line that is at work to dismantle K-12 education. That is, for K-12 education, teachers have been blamed for all that ails society. From that position of blame, corporate types pounce with their obsessed focus on ratings, scoring, standardization, competition, and privatization. Similarly, as for teacher education programs, they are under attack with the same blame game for their supposed sub-par operation, paving the way for privateers to swoop once again. Enter in the NIET Higher Education Handbook and NIET’s purported claim of their proven comprehensive educator model to restructure and revitalize the teaching profession. Clearly, the proverbial door is open to dismantle the relevance of teacher education programs.
Third, if enough money is thrown their way, it appears that teacher education programs can be bought. Indeed, money is power; money is influence; and, money shapes direction. This is no truer than the dough that the Gates Foundation is doling out in its attempt to recreate teacher education in a corporatized image. When teacher education programs become the petri dish to cultivate this image, the trajectory not only works to undermine academic freedom, tenure and the professorate, but it also disturbingly contributes to their very non-relevance as teacher education programs. They become centers for teacher training. To be sure, there is a difference between education and training. The former is driven by fostering a rich dialogical environment, deep critical thought, and thoughtful questioning; the latter functions as a top-down formulistic way of doing things through prescription, dictates, and mandates.
In the final analysis, in this particular case, if I had been originally invited to the table to express my concerns how teacher education is being sold by bowing down to the Gates Foundation, I would have argued in more detail the above three points. And I would have hollered “don’t sell!” But, I was not invited so now I have been relegated to “resister” to buying into the product that will only take teacher education down a path to its own elimination.