Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Undercover Boss, American Evita, and Education in America

I enjoy television - too much - but what I like best are the shows on On Demand because I can watch them without commercials or having to stop and zip through the commercials if I use the DVR.
One of the shows Ann and I both enjoy is Undercover Boss.  It’s really a pretty cheesy formula:
The corporate giant gathers his administrative staff and tells them he’s going undercover in the company to find out what is really going on and how people feel.  He frequently pretends to be laid-off construction worker looking for a new career.  He lives in cheap bed-bug ridden motels for a week, drives a crappy rental car, and samples menial jobs in his company while a television crew films him "trying entry level jobs for a new reality program."
While he is working at his menial, entry-level job, he invariably talks to the immediate supervisor and finds out that she is a single mom who can’t afford a baby sitter because her work schedule is spotty.  

Or that the supervisor has cancer and only three months left to live but wants to give it all to the company.  

Or that the supervisor is doing the work of three executives and loves it, but gets paid only minimum wage and is docked if s/he takes more than three minutes to pee on a break.  

Or . . . You get the idea.
Occasionally, there’s a supervisor who takes advantage of the employees.
The Undercover Boss is suitably impressed with the staff, and after he gets back to international headquarters, summons these supervisors in stretch limos while their adrenaline kicks in and they start to sweat.  They are overjoyed to see their old friend of one day doing so well for himself, and they weep when he tells them
[Wait a second, this is where the Undercover Boss becomes American Evita.]
They weep when he tells them that he is setting up trust funds for their college educations, or getting medical care for their sick children, or buying them a new house, or firing them because they embody what used to be the corporate culture and now they don’t, so Get lost, Asshole.
This is all very well and good, and we all have a cathartic cry.  But, and this is a giant but, the benefits don’t accrue universally.  
In Peronist Argentina (and I get my history from history as well as Andrew Lloyd-Weber), Eva Peron, a.k.a. Evita, went around dispensing charity at random.  My grandsons’s mother went to an Evita elementary school when she was a child living in Argentina.  It was a beautiful building, but there was no money for roads and infrastructure, so it wasn’t practical.
The Undercover Bosses - and Dr. Phil, and Oprah, and myriad other celebrity do-gooders - act randomly, and I wonder if anything in corporate culture truly changes.  There’s never follow up of a year later, and this particular show hasn’t been on long enough to produce five-year follow ups.

Now, let me change my direction slightly.
It is my belief that anyone who comments on Education in America, from the President of these United States down the food chain to the legislators who create school law, the lawyers who push mainstreaming (which I am not against let it be known), the parents who criticize teachers, the administrators who haven’t been in a classroom for years, the guidance counselors - some of whom have never been in a classroom - the fans who criticize coaches, the custodians who know better than the teachers and tell their friends. 
ANYONE who comments on Education in America ought to emulate Undercover Boss and take a month off to teach.  To really teach.
Every year.
They must create original lesson plans, have a full teaching load, keep discipline, bandage wounded egos, go to all the meetings and stay awake, arrive early, stay late, deal with parents who email twice a day, show up sober (yeah, I watch Mad Men, too) and generally work toward being the Zen teacher they think all teachers should be.  

In the meantime, they should live on a salary comparable to a new teacher's, deal with their family problems, balance the checkbook, keep the car and the yard in order, and explain to their children why they can’t afford to do the kinds of things television advocates.
Let these people become the Undercover Bosses we seem to idolize.  Let them understand the real problems of education and come up with real solutions to help kids learn.  We don’t need No Child Left Behind.  We don’t need Education Reform.  We don’t need people who are totally out of touch with the classroom telling the professionals how to teach or what to teach.
For a change, Let’s let the professionals do their jobs and let the naysayers just Back Off Jack.

And if they aren't willing to do that, they should head straight for the Slap Room.
And while I’m ranting, let me say something about parochial education of yore, where fifty kids learned to read, there were never any discipline problems, and the teachers earned just enough to get by on a thousand calories a day because they put their hearts and souls into teaching.
Parochial school could kick out kids who didn’t or couldn’t achieve.  Parochial schools allowed teachers to whack kids up the side of the head or on the knuckles if they stepped out of line.  Parochial schools had nuns who were supported by the Church and didn’t need salaries.  You get the drift.  Those kids learned, true.  If they didn’t drop out, if they didn’t get kicked out, and if the parents continued to pay for - and enforce the rules of - parochial education.
As always feel free to comment below. I welcome your insights.