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The Violation of People at Work in Schools

by Arthur G. Wirth - 1989

Parallel issues in work and schools are cited and discussed. This article suggests that the organizational structure of schools contributes to lowered teacher morale and creativity; and concludes that school policymakers must learn the lessons of industry: Give employees a stake in the system by decentralizing decision making. (Source: ERIC)

This article was originally presented as the Charles DeGarmo Lecture for the Society of Professors of Education at New Orleans, April 6, 1988.

I have been a teacher-educator who has taken an eight-year detour into the world of American work. I think that there are parallel issues in work and in schools that we ought to be aware of.

A couple of quotations set the themes I will be referring to. The first is by Hazel Henderson, maverick economist: For the first time in history morality has become pragmatic.1 That is the good news, It has become practical to act morally. The bad news is that we may not be insightful or courageous enough to act on it. The second is by Mike Cooley, president of the British Union of Engineers, who one sunny morning on the banks of the Thames gave me this quotation from a book he was writing:

Either we will have a future in which human beings are reduced to a sort of bee-like behavior, reacting to the systems and equipment specified for them; or we will have a future in which masses of people, conscious of their skills in both a political and technical sense, decide that they are going to be the architects of a new form of technological development which will enhance human creativity and mean more freedom of choice and expression rather than less. The truth is we shall have to make the profound decision whether we intend to act as architects or bees.2

The choice between architect and bee confronts Americans in both schools and work. It is true that the bee-like way of treating teachers and students in schools came from American industry. Unfortunately the chances of shifting toward the architect side may be better in American industry than in the schools.

The violation of people got in my title because institutions that treat us like bees violate who we are as human beings. Ernest Becker, in The Structure of Evil, helped me see that. Becker pointed out that since the rise of science and the Enlightenment in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries we have been confronted by two major images of humans: Lhomme machine (the human as mechanism) and homo poeta (humans as meaning makers). The Newtonian image of the world as a physical mechanism moving according to mathematically regulated laws of force and motion gave powerful support to tendencies to see humans as manipulable objects within the grand mechanical design. That view was captured nicely by the eighteenth-century philosopher Julien Offray de la Mettrie in his phrase lhomme machine. The problem with that concept, according to Becker, is that it is in violation of our deeper needs as homo poeta. We create structures of evil, Becker said, whenever we create institutions that deny persons the opportunity to stage the world so they can act in it creatively as meaning makers.3 In our time such institutions are not only immoral; they are also impractical, because our chance of meeting successfully the problems of turbulent change in the present period of momentous transition depends on utilizing the full range of our creative strengths as homo poeta.

It has taken me a while to see things this way. In the late seventies I was aware of the growing concern about lowered productivity in American industry and schools. I was aware, also, of the new press by educational policymakers to start treating childrens learning as a measurable production functionwith the assumption that the only learning that counts is learning that can be counted, and the parallel assumption that teachers will be made accountable in terms of test-score results. What disturbed me was my growing awareness that the teachers I thought of as the most committed and creative were becoming demoralized and thinking of quitting. Some of the rest were cheating to beat the test-score pressures.

As parents we had learned that the best bet for getting our own kids hooked on learning was to have them with teachers whose creative energies were engagedteachers who worked from what the Greeks called their entheos, the personal God within that is the source of enthusiasmos or enthusiasm. If the new reductionist emphasisteaching is teaching for testsdid damage to that, and in addition taught children that adults will cheat when fearful and resentful, then I assumed that something crazy and crazy-making was going on. It was obvious that the new systems/efficiency rationale was coming from the scientific management tradition in industry at a time of new fears about growing foreign competition. The question occurred to me, If the scientific-efficiency rationale is having crazy-making effects in schools, is anyone in management questioning its effects?

About that time I was asked to join the interdisciplinary Human Resource Management program at my university, which helped me to get in touch with the new thinking emerging in American industry. I found that while American management was split, and still is, advanced thinkers in industry and labor were beginning to hold that the scientific-efficiency rationale was itself the source of productivity problems. These industry leaders in effect were saying to school people, No, not that way! Were going the other waythat-a-way. So I began my detour into American industry. It took me into fascinating places, from a pioneering auto-mirror plant in Bolivar, Tennessee, to Work Research Institutes in Oslo, Stavenger, and Trondheim, Norway, to Sweden, to auto plants in Tarrytown, New York, Flint and Detroit, and to Anheuser Busch think tanks in St. Louis.

In Productive Work in Industry and Schools I described what I found. The alternative to scientific management was an emerging democratic socio-technical theory of work that claimed that the dominant management tradition is guilty of the technical-fix error, that is, the assumption that all system problems will yield to technical-type solutions. The new theorists were arguing that the reality of a human work system is that it is socio as well as technical. Socio refers to the purposive, idea-generating, communicative-collaborative aspect of human beings.4 The main-line efficiency model is out of touch with this dimension of reality, or worse yet, violates it. All of this gave me insight into what was crazy-making. To be out of touch with reality is crazy. Rational-efficiency models are out of touch with the uniquely human socio dimension of human workthe homo poeta dimension.

A vice president of General Motors in charge of new plant design helped me get the point. GM used to boast, he said, that the production line had been broken down into segments so small that any task could be taught in fifteen minutes or less; any idiot could do it. If workmanship and morale were poor, the answer was to step up supervision and control. GM is now convinced, he added, that a model based on increased control by supervisors, of a bored, reluctant work force which produces shabby products is not viable for survival.5

The Oxford dictionary gave me further insight. Crazy comes from the old Norwegian word krasa, which means crushed or fragmentednot together. It showed up in fragmenting human work so that idiots could do it. It showed up in transforming school learning into information bits that would yield good test scores and ruin the enthusiasm and morale of teachers and students.

Where are we in industry and education by the end of the eighties? Management and labor are still split, but as we all know industry has made moves toward participative work design that assume that both the socio and the technical have to be taken with equal seriousness. What about American schools? It is hazardous, of course, to make generalizations about the sprawling American school phenomenon, where happily many things different from what I am describing are also going on. It is a safe guess, however, that for a large number of educational planners the search for technical-fix solutions is strongly under way.

To amplify the argument I want to turn to two very different types of materials: (1) some empirical data collected by a group of Massachusetts teachers and (2) some insights from the late French social theorist Michel Foucault.

The Boston Womens Teachers Group study, The Effect of Teaching on Teachers, was based on in-depth, fifteen-hour interviews of twenty-five women elementary school teachers over a two-year period.6 About half of them had taught for fifteen years, the other half less. They were selected to match substantially the national teacher population in terms of socioeconomic and racial background, marital status, educational attainments, and fathers occupation, within the limitations of the small sample. They had taught in impoverished urban schools as well as in affluent systems.

Lengthy analyses of the data over many months led the teacher-researchers to conclude that teachers feelings with regard to burnout, isolation, job satisfaction, and sense of efficacy were rooted in the working relations and institutional structures of the schools. As one of the authors said, Teacher stress is an institutionally derived problem not a result of individual personality failures, as teachers have been led to believe.7

I can only sketch a profile of what they found. Since the study illustrates what I have called crazy-making and violation of people I shall make a rough sort according to these categories. They are not unrelated.

The following statementsresearcher commentaries and teacher statementsrefer to that which is crushed or fragmented or out of touch with reality, the crazy-making factor.8




Teachers work in an institution which holds, in its rhetoric, that questioning and debating, risk and error develop ones thinking ability. But learning situations are structured to lead to one right answer, and both teachers and students are evaluated in ways that emphasize only quantifiable results.

The worst thing is that you get this printout and youre expected to find the profile of each individual child and then find material on those specific skills that they have to master . . . and then they take a multiple choice test where they have to choose a, b, or c. Well, the kids glance at the choices and figure out that one of those endings make a pretty good answer. They never read the whole sentence. Theyre used to a world of filling blanks without it meaning anything. I mean its meaningless work.

This year my principals evaluation said this: Five kids looked up from their work and looked out of the window within a five-minute period. Now if you multiply five kids and five minutes in a period and you place it in an hour you get the percentage who are not doing their work and not involved.

Massachusetts is not alone in imposing this style. Deborah Meier, director of the Central Park East High School in New York City, reports on how evaluators prescribed hundreds of specific written goals. Example: Given teacher supervision, praise and positive reinforcement, the student will attend difficult assignments for five minutes, three times out of four as recorded by teacher."9 Now, I ask, who is crazy?

Commentary that points to violation of persons as homo poeta includes the following:





Teachers were continually perplexed by the admonition to be professional while the area in which their expertise could be applied became narrower and narrower.

The thing that aggravates me is that we as educators are not treated as adults. . . . They check up on you like youre children. . . . They walk into your room and you have to be within minutes of where your program card says.

Every Tuesday is a half day for faculty meetings. . . . People sit there deadpan because they dont want to commit themselves, you know, get themselves into any kind of hot water. Most of the stuff comes down from the central office that is really separate from the actual core of teaching.

One of the things that has bothered me about the hurried pace of teaching today is that a lot of the creativeness is taken away from youthe feeling that Im going to think of a new, fresh way to do it. The curriculum gets reduced to: Here is a book and teach it. You should be on page 200 by such and such a date. It has nothing to do with your kids and nothing to do with whatever ideas you might want to bring in.



I think the merit evaluation is even worse than seniority. Oh, my God. In this particular school it has destroyed any type of relations. I mean you look at the person next door to you and you say, Gee, I wonder how many points she has. So instead of encouraging teachers to be more open about what theyre doing, there isnt one bit of sharing. When youre in competition for your job, youre pitting one person against another. I think in this business you cant do that. Because we tell the kids that everybody is unique.

I started seeing myself not taking the risks I used to. I used to do all kinds of interesting things with my studentsbuild things all over the classroom But every once in a while someone would notice that the classroom wasnt as neat as it should be . . . and since anything can be pointed to, you start to retrench. You feel a lack of growth and you look around. And I decided to leave.

This teacher left. For those who stay there are heavy pressures to yield to the technocratic rationale.


The teacher, under attack for failing to help children reach arbitrary grade level goals, accedes to the greater wisdom of the commercial test makers and the research academics. Once started on the road to quantification, the method becomes addictive. . . .

The new objective type teacher evaluations that have been introduced are examples of such quantitative methods. They take great pains to code and enumerate the type, number and direction of the interactions of the teacher with her pupils within the classroom.

The more quantitative measures and national exams are used to evaluate the teacher, the more she will feel the need to use such quantitative methods to judge her students and other teachers. She is now the in-class representative of the national norms and country-wide bell curves. Once she has entered the childs progress in her book, both she and her pupils are assumed to be easily understood and evaluated.

The same factors work on students. There is John Goodlads famous observation that not even 1 percent of the instructional time in classes is devoted to discussion that required some kind of open response involving reasoning or perhaps an opinion from students . . . the extraordinary degree of student passivity stands out.10

An example was furnished to me by Rita Roth from her observation journal:







Why arent you doing your work, Alphonse?

I thought we were going to read today.

Thats what we didyou just had reading group.

But I thought we would read today.

We just did, Alphonse, We lookwed for s sounds in your book, did two s sheets in your workbook and here is the worksheet you should be doing right now to find some more s words.

But I thought we would read today, you know READ read.11

Deborah Meiers comment on the parallel experience of New York City teachers once more is relevant: . . . predictable multiple-choice questions replaced conversation about books. Reading scores went up, literacy collapsed. . . Improved test scores, alas, are best achieved by ignoring real reading activity.12

We need to note that something profoundly important is contained in these statements of Alphonse and Deborah Meier. Hans-Georg Gadamer in Reason in an Age of Science reminded us that the right of converseto dialogue with texts and each other in reaching for understanding about the world and ourselvesis the unique, distinctive characteristic of being human.13 It is what Alphonse was asking for in his request to READ read. To diminish the right to that kind of learning by trivializing instruction is, I believe, violating the human rights of both students and teachers.

I have talked with many teachers who have expressed a feeling of helplessness about being able to articulate what is wrong with the model being forced on them. It seems so reasonable. An applicant to a medieval shoemakers guild would be told: You say you are a shoemakermake a shoe. In a twentieth-century culture obsessed with bottom-line results it is assumed that reading teachers can be made accountable by simply telling them to show us your reading scores results. What possibly can be wrong with that?

The issue, Denis Goulet suggests in The Uncertain Promise: Value Conflicts in Technology Transfer, is not whether to be for or against efficiency, but what kind of efficiency is right for human institutions. Western engineering-type efficiency, which worked wonders in closed mechanical systems by simple measures of inputs to outputs, can be dangerous to well-being in nonmechanical human systems. What we now need, says Goulet, is to explore ways of becoming integrally efficient: how to produce efficiently while optimizing social and human values.14 Integral efficiency would tell us that if we are teaching so that scores are going up and real reading is going down we ought to stop it because it is inefficient.

Now I want to refer briefly to what I learned from the French social theorist Michel Foucault, who in Discipline and Punish helped me see why the rational efficiency assumptions seem so unassailable. The great truth we must constantly hold before ourselves, said Foucault, is the realization that the reason or rationality of the Enlightenment, which gave us the liberties, also invented the disciplines.15 Foucault showed that, from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries onward, there was a virtual take-off in the increase of calculated power to control people through state apparatuses such as the army, prisons, tax administration, and so on.

A vivid example is the transformation of the rowdy soldiers of the late middle ages into the eighteenth-century redcoat type soldiers who could be made into automatons by minute attention to detail in their training. As modern soldiers they would be taught to remain motionless, never to look at the ground, and to move on command with bold, uniform steps, later to become the goose step. Very good, Grand Duke Mikhail remarked to a regiment, after having kept it for an hour presenting arms, only they breathe.16

We find the new controls also, says Foucault, in the fashioning of the late seventeenth-century Christian Brothers Schools for the poor. Jean Baptiste de la Salle, the founder, said, How grave and dangerous is the task of teachers in the Christian Schools. . . . We must be concerned above all with the little things, the minute things in the lives of our students and their teachers. The little things lead to great results. Foucault adds, The meticulousness of the regulations, the fussiness of inspections, the supervision of the smallest fragments of life and of the body will soon provide, in the context of the school, the barracks, the hospital or the workplace a technical rationality for the mystical calculus of the infinitesimal.17

Foucault noted that Jeremy Benthams panopticon proposals for prisons, factories, or schools in the early 1800s embodied the technically thought out disciplines required in the modern era. Panopticon comes from the Greek words pan (everything) and opticon (a place of sight)thus, a place of sight to see everything. The general idea included a basic circular building, with cells for individual subjects around the inside of the circumference. In the center, facing the cells, is an Inspectors Tower with windows looking down on the cells. The observatory room at the top was constructed with a line of sight so that the inspector could see all, while being invisible to the inmates below. Thus, the basic principle was that the persons to be inspected should always feel themselves as if under inspection.18 The person to be supervised must never know if at any moment he is actually being observed; at the same time he must constantly feel that he might be. He is seen, but he does not see, he is the object of information, never a subject of communication.19 The guiding concept, says Foucault, is the ideal of the Perfect Gaze, the gaze that can see everything constantly. It employs three instrumentalities: hierarchical surveillanceall of those intrusive gazes from the central office; normalizing judgment aimed at securing conformity; and the examination. The gist of his argument is in his comments on the examination by which individuals may be measured, classified, and judged. In the examination, says Foucault, we can find a whole domain of knowledge and type of power: (1) through techniques of the examination individuals are made visiblesubject to the gaze, and made into objects for measurement; (2) by documentation individuals and groups are encoded in written reports and files; they are organized into registers, classifications, and cumulative systems; (3) by collecting documentary records on each individual, each is individualized as a case and becomes an object of knowledge and power.20

The examination is now pervasive in modern institutions and is notably present, said Foucault, in the growth of larger, more systematized modern schools. The school has become, in fact, a sort of apparatus of uninterrupted examination, increasingly an arena for a perpetual comparison of each and all that made it possible both to measure and judge.21 My New York State informants tell me that a regents student will take twenty-nine state-required examinations in twelve years. Only two years in the elementary school will be free of state-imposed examinations.

The extension of the panopticon rationale throughout the society coincided, Foucault says, with the rise of human sciences. In line with the ideal of the gaze, quantitative test scores and record keeping created the conditions for a technical matrix that changed discourse about policy issues into the neutral language of science. In schools, for example, talk about problems is limited to the lexicon of technocratic ideology. Thus teachers are taught to think of classrooms as management systems, and to talk about their teaching in terms of performance objectives, system components, sequencing of instruction, and so on. When the terminology of technical experts takes over, teachers may feel mute in the face of it: Who are we to question scientific expertise? If the system breaks down and does not work, the only answer of panopticon technicians is to do more of the same.

Retreat into acquiescence is not the only response, however. Resistance does break out: at workin strikes, sabotage, and drug abuse; among teachersas witnessed by the Massachusetts Womens Research Study; by a marvelous gadfly newspaper, Rethinking Schools, produced by Milwaukee teachers who are in rebellion against damaging, bureaucratic intrusions that harm their work; in Harold Berlaks Democratic Schools, providing a communication network for English, Canadian, and American teachers who resist the megamachine; and George Woodss lively Institute for Democratic Education at Ohio University. Foucault would not be surprised. He predicts resistance because, he says, panopticon manipulation and domination violate our human need for autonomy and freedom.

In industry there is a growing awareness that panopticon violation of people is impractical as well as immoral. There is, for example, Technology and the American Economic Transition, a massive report published in 1988 by the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA). The OTA says that we face a conjunction of two epochal events: the acceleration of the electronic information revolution and the fact that we now have to compete for economic survival in a one-world market. The challenge is how to confront turbulent changechange that is rapid and unpredictable. Our greatest need is for a well-educated, committed work force fully engaged in flexible interactions with high-tech equipment.22

Since I began thinking about work and schools ten years ago there has been a rapid expansion of awareness by some major corporations of the need to tap the brains of people at work, to move toward democratic sociotechnical work design. There is, for example, the plan for production of Saturn, GMs car of the future. The goal is to lay the groundwork for combining robotics with a new style of work relationship. The agreements worked out with the United Automobile Workers change the status of assembly-line workers from hourly laborers to salaried employees. Union workers in small production work units will be involved in decision-making processes that formerly were the prerogative of management. They will perform their own quality control with electronic equipment.23 If you compare workplaces like this with accountability routinization in the schools, which drives creative teachers to despair, it does not take a genius to see who is out of step.

A growing number of major leaders in industry and labor are becoming aware of the discrepancy. The 1985 statement Investing in our Children by the Committee for Economic Development (CED) is a case in point.24 CED members include executive officers from major American corporations that are being transformed by the rush of computer technology. They are forthright in declaring that a work force educated by old school basics will not be equipped to meet the challenges of turbulent change.

The report presents the case of Proctor and Gamble as prototype. The strong trend now is for employees to perform a broad range of tasks including operating and maintaining equipment, performing their own quality control, and participating in goal setting, problem solving, and budgeting. With this view of work in America the report calls for nothing less than a revolution in the role of the teacher and the management of schools.25 Hightech firms, they say, are not served well by centralized, rigid bureaucracies that are hostile to creativity. They stifle it because their goal is to keep control in the hands of centralized authority. The essential obligation of organizations in the new era is to nurture creativity. School policymakers must learn the lesson of industry: Give employees a stake in the system by decentralizing decision making to the lowest possible level.

The interaction of teachers, students, and administrators in individual schools becomes the key arena for action. The report assumes that able people will not choose teaching, nor choose to remain in it, if they are stifled by bureaucratic regimentation or shackled with teacher-proof materials. Teachers as creative actors will respond only if they are given a chance to exercise judgment and to reshape the working environment.26 The authors ask for a view of teachers as carriers of liberal culture with a responsibility to teach higher-order learningto think analytically, to cooperate as well as to compete, to assume responsibility, and to learn to learn.

They shy away from merit plans, which often undermine collegial relations. Teachers working in a largely competitive environment, they say, will be less inclined to support the feeling of community that is essential for effective schools.27

Change in the corporate work world is widespread enough to lead to such recommendations. It would be a gross oversimplification, however, to assume that the issue about work in corporate life itself has been settled in this happy fashion. Since many corporations continue the narrow scientific management tradition, the issue of whether we will choose to become architects rather than bees is very much in doubt.

The Office of Technology Assessment says that a major challenge for both corporations and schools will be how they choose to make use of swiftly evolving computer technology. Technology and the American Economic Transition says that micro-electronic robotics and telecommunication technology combined with democratic work styles can provide an opportunity to revitalize the competiveness of American industry. A work force with high morale linked to imaginatively designed technology can move us toward an economy of high-tech, high-skilled, high-wage industries.28 However, our habits and the control needs of those in charge push us toward rational, bureaucratic management. With this bias, computer electronics can become a force to intensify hierarchical controls and surveillance.

A Ted Koppel program, Surveillance on the Job, illustrated the new electronic monitoring of performance of airline representatives.29 One of the agents reported how she worked under a demerit system monitored by a computer. If she spends an average of more than 109 seconds talking to a customer about reservations or fares she gets one demerit. If she spends more than 11 seconds in between customers she gets two demerits. After 12 seconds a light flashes on the board of her supervisor, who comes in then with, Anything wrong? May I help you? Six demerits earn a warning; thirty-six, dismissal. Another agent reported the monitoring of her time between calls. When she was heard saying a swear word to herself it was evaluated as evidence of a bad attitude. Six million clerical workers are now being watched by the unblinking gaze. Another four million technical and managerial people are about to be electronically evaluated in the next few years. We come closer to what Gadamer saw as the ultimate nightmarewhen science expands into a total technocracy.30

We may take the road of deskilling and degrading work. The Office of Technology Assessment report says that if we do, we ought to know the consequences. Such a path not only downgrades American work and lowers our standard of living, but often includes sending hardware and software overseas to exploit the cheap labor and vulnerability of Third World women. It increases the gap between technical-managerial elites and a growing body of deskilled workers, often nonwhite.31 As it exacerbates dualist divisions in the society and treats millions with disrespect, it violates the values of the democratic tradition.

The OTA report also says that a comparable issue will appear in the near future in education. The evidence of serious inadequacies in the technical skills of basic mathematical and verbal literacy of American students is clear. The OTA recommends that we undertake a major research effort immediately to explore how the new potential of computer-enhanced instruction might help us with the stubborn problems of skill training and conceptual learning.32 It envisions two major policy choices.33 The first, which it warns against, is to aim for a uniform national curriculum and examination system to which teachers everywhere will be made accountable. One of the major computer companies is now moving to what could become statewide or even nationwide mainframes through which uniform instructional materials could be piped. Electronic monitoring of scores could keep book on teachers and schools everywhere.

The other approach recommended by OTA is illustrated in an experiment by Apple, Inc. In anticipation of the near universal availabilty of computers ten years from now, Apple has created computer-saturated classrooms in seven different school communities throughout the United States, including a black urban school in Memphis, a rural school in Minnesota, and a Cupertino, California, school in Silicon Valley itself.34 Students and teachers are provided with individual Macintosh computers at home as well as at school. Apple operates on the assumption that the culture of each school is different, and that teachers in each setting should be free to experiment with usages to help meet their own broader educational goals. In those seven different schools seven different strategies and designs are emerging. I could feel excitement and commitment by staff and students in the setting at West High School in Columbus, Ohio, which I visited. Here we see our capacity to create decentralized learning communities in which teachers can take initiatives in designing the use of computer technology to meet their goals. Students, administrators, and parents join with teachers in the explorations, Each new use opens other possibilities. It feels freeing instead of controlling. In terms of our educational history we could say that we need both Thorndike skill training and the Deweyan meaning-seeking parts of our tradition. We need the will to make the powerful tool of computer-assisted instruction subordinate to the Deweyan meaning-seeking needs of both teachers and students.

It is time to close. A title like The Violation of People at Work in Schools conveys an impression of anger. I am angry about teachers feeling hurt, worn down, and resentful, yet unable to articulate what is wrong. One of our tasks as professors of education is to help with the articulation.

For me those women in the Boston teachers group put their finger on a key insight. Their message was: It is not teachers psyches that need massaging. The source of trouble is in the structure of the schools and its effects on teachers working relations with each other, with administrators, with students, and with learning.35 Let us accept the working propositon that Deborah Meier articulated: Serious rooted change cannot happen unless the knowledge of those who do the job is tapped.36 That means putting teachers in charge by structural change that supports school-based initiative, inquiry, and decision makingchanges that open time and space so that teachers have time to converse and plan together.

I am suggesting also that we can get to the deeper issues about that structural problem and begin to use blunt language about what is going on. Michael Harrington, in The Politics at Gods Funeral, helps. The crisis of our time, he says, is a crisis of the human spirit, and we have to give up the illusion that we can talk adequately about the real problems of our lives and our work by using only the bland, value-free language of technocratic reform.37

Foucault and Becker helped me see that the structure those caring teachers were pointing to as the source of their burnout was a manifestation of a much broader structural problemthe lifeless bureaucratic perfect-gaze control systems that are killing our spirits in both late corporate capitalism and East Bloc communism. Rationalized functionalism, with hierarchical surveillance, impoverishes the human spirit by denying people access to their dignity and personal enthusiasms. It is crazy-making. Ernest Becker says that when these structures threaten the core of who we are as homo poeta, we should call them what they arestructures of evil.

The situation calls for resistance and school people need allies to resist. I was happy to find a budding challenge to sterile scientific management in the work world. The movement toward democratic sociotechnical work explores how democratic values can be combined with technological innovation-the same task that needs exploration in the schools. Our reach must be for the ideal stated by Kant: We must try to achieve maximum individuality within maximum community. Sterile control models allow access to neither individuality nor community. We are cheated of the strengths we need to meet the awesome challenges of the coming twenty-first century.

Having taken such a lofty conceptual flight I want to end by returning to the reality of contemporary school life. The choice between architect and bee is not fictional fantasy. It is being played out in two major American school systems.

In my home town of St. Louis a complex system of teacher evaluation has been introduced based, in part, on student scores on standardized tests. The predictable charges of cheating occur with lurid press headlines. A school board member responds by setting up his own system of surveillance: a telephone hotline that encourages students, teachers, or staff members to report to him anonymously suspicions of teacher cheating. The plummeting of trust, morale, and care are externalities, not counted in the evaluation equations. By equating examination scores with significant learning this newest panopticon creates a facade of educational excellence that cheats the children who can least afford it.

Meanwhile, in Detroit, a very different and risky gamble is being tried with major support from Detroit unions, corporations, and foundations. An effort is being launched to introduce into the schools the philosophy and techniques of democratic sociotechnical work theory from the level of classroom practice, through teacher and administrator relationships, all the way up to the school board/teachers union core committee. The project is directed by Neal Herrick, who has had a long history of pioneering such efforts through the United Automobile Workers and the Union of Public Employees. I deliberately use the term risky gamble because we need to recognize how difficult it may be to learn new habits after years of being bent by panopticon controls. Only the reality of desperation has led to this effort to break out.

In these examples we can see the schizophrenia within reform: simultaneous moves toward uniform centralized control and moves toward schoolbased autonomy with teacher participation and initiative. In both work and schools we confront the choicearchitect or beethe choice of who we want to be as a people for entering that third millennium.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 90 Number 4, 1989, p. 535-549
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 490, Date Accessed: 1/16/2022 5:01:35 PM

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  • Arthur Wirth
    Washington University

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