Monday, April 15, 2013

Oh to be a normal school again...


A chief executive devoid of petty jealousy, and refusing to use it as a spur for his subordinates, will find the possibilities of a solidarity among the members of the corps, or faculty, which does not exist in any other calling. Love of knowledge and faith in the future of humanity are in varying degrees peculiar to the minds that elect to teach the young. If the superior officer really consults with heads of departments in open meeting, they will rise from personal considerations to the question of relative values, and will appreciate the various claims as intelligently presented. If, however, authority of position dominates the discussions, or claims are presented and passed upon privately, petty jealousy will sorely perplex the head of the system, or school.

---From Isolation in Education by Dr. Ella Flagg Young

(student of John Dewey, principal of the Chicago Normal School - 1905)

 In the dust of last month’s coup d’├ętat of CSU’s Board of Trustees by the President’s Office (accomplished with full backing and the political mastery of godfather Emil Jones whose neutering and gutting of Governor Quinn has consigned CSU to continued mediocrity), a friend wrote this morning reminding me of what had once been CSU’s glory days. More than a hundred years ago, Chicago Normal School was an academic destination. Long before university presidents became fund-raising machines, they were scholars first. Of course at CSU we really haven’t had either for a long time. And why should we have need of them? Job-gifting is what distinguishes our early 21st-century institution—and Daddy Jones (no longer deus ex machina) can swoop in anytime to make sure we know who is boss around here.

So have a look at what CSU’s predecessors once upon a time thought about power and academic administration. This is Dr. Ella Flagg Young’s summary of W.H. Maxwell’s “theory of supervision” in her work, Isolation in Education. You can see her portrait in the CSU archives gallery.

Superintendent W. H. Maxwell, of New York City, when at the head of the public schools in Brooklyn, concentrated his attention upon the influence of the theory of supervision, and presented at some length the objections as they appeared to him :

" Principals and heads of departments do not teach classes. They are supposed to spend their whole time in supervision. There is one supervisor who does not teach for every eleven classes. In my judgment the number of non-teaching supervisors is unnecessarily large. The excessive development of supervision has resulted in several clearly defined evils in our schools.

" First, it has withdrawn from the work of class teaching many of our best teachers, and has thus lessened the efficiency of the teaching force as a whole.

"Second, it has created the feeling that office work and making out examination questions are more honorable than the active work of teaching. If teachers are to have a due moral influence on their pupils, their office should be held in the highest honor.

" Third, the struggle for the prizes that are held up before the eyes of our teachers in the shape of head-of-department places, involving as they do, in most cases, considerably less work and considerably better pay, has resulted in much unseemly wire-pulling and intrigue, an evil always to be deprecated in the administration of a public-school system.

" Fourth, the multiplication of superfluous heads of departments has resulted in division of responsibility in school management, in petty jealousy, and in much harmful interference with the work of class teachers.

" Fifth, the unnecessary increase in the number of heads of departments has led to much of the excessive examination of pupils, with its attendant evils of cramming and nervous prostration, that, though now much less than in former years, still hurts our school work.

" Sixth, the cost of this supervision, not merely in the salaries of heads of departments, but in the fitting up of elaborate offices with expensive furniture, is withdrawing each year a vast amount of money that is sadly needed for necessary work and material is expended on superfluous heads of departments. Surely a better use might be found for this money.

" From such facts as are here set forth it appears that in some places general supervision has been carried to too great an extreme, and the only question that remains to be settled is where to draw the line."

These conclusions represent fairly the conditions existing in large systems into which have been introduced subjects under the care of special supervisors. Without criticising the superintendent who has fearlessly set forth the above facts, it becomes necessary to indicate the way in which some of the objectionable conditions originate in the general method of the system. The petty jealousy referred to in the fourth section, whether found in a system or in a single institution, is always evidence that the highest ranking officer is a person in power rather than a person of power. A chief executive devoid of petty jealousy, and refusing to use it as a spur for his subordinates, will find the possibilities of a solidarity among the members of the corps, or faculty, which does not exist in any other calling.

Love of knowledge and faith in the future of humanity are in varying degrees peculiar to the minds that elect to teach the young. If the superior officer really consults with heads of departments in open meeting, they will rise from personal considerations to the question of relative values, and will appreciate the various claims as intelligently presented. If, however, authority of position dominates the discussions, or claims are presented and passed upon privately, petty jealousy will sorely perplex the head of the system, or school. The first, second, third, and fifth sections are different views of the same topic — the strong tendency at the present time to get away from the active work of teaching children. Some of the causes of this condition will be discussed later. The sixth section suggests rivalry as to creature comforts and display all along the entire line, and is a natural outcome of the withdrawal from the duties of direct teaching.

...Upon a cursory survey of the situation it is natural to conclude that it is impossible to recognize for all teachers the ethical law of change for intelligent and responsible beings. This conclusion, though seemingly of great weight, is valueless.

Ella Flagg Young_summary

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