When politicians say, "We will hold schools and teachers accountable for our children's success" I hear something more like, "We want to blame teachers and schools for the impact of the broken American family unit. We will hold educators accountable for the actions of millions of children who are being raised in unstable conditions including poverty, ultra entitlement, and non-attachment."
Yes, there are bad teachers who are not doing their job. This sad but true reality in the imperfect world we live in. Teachers who clearly have no interest in student success obviously have no place in the classroom. However, there are also lots of really great teachers, who are made less great due to the insane demands placed on them by people and groups hurling around the word "accountability" without much thought or understanding.
On April 25 of this year The New York Times posted this opening sentence in a short article about the state of education and the measures to which the President is taking to bring about something on the education agenda.
The Obama administration announced on Friday that it was developing ratings of teacher preparation programs to make them more accountable for their graduates’ performance in the classroom.
Do you see anything wrong with this idea?
I think it is wrong for reasons beyond the idea of merit-based pay for teachers. What is wrong is the idea that one person should be held accountable for another persons actions, performance, or overall character. This point was made by Dr. Randy Davies in my IP&T class which is all about assessing learning outcomes and testing. Some points he made have caused me to reflect on some additional ideas.
Do we hold parents accountable for the bad choices their kids make? Are governments held accountable for the dumb things people in their country do? Does God hold us accountable for anything other than our own choices? We allow food companies to create garbage and sell it to our children in school, but do we hold them accountable for the high obesity rate in children? We encourage a culture of violence through a variety of ways but do we hold those companies accountable for the deaths of people that can be tied back to such a culture?
And why not?
Because the fact is that it is impossible to be held accountable for the actions of others. By saying "I am holding you accountable for Jimmy's science test score" you are essentially saying "Jimmy has no agency or ability, and because it is ultimately up to YOU to teach him to perform correctly I am holding YOU responsible for how well he does. Jimmy is not accountable for his own choices."
Sounds ridiculous and it is. The parents may or may not have raised the kid in a good way, even though they make bad decisions. Governments are organizations of imperfect people, and just because somebody does something stupid from their country doesn't mean the government itself caused that person to do that thing. Food companies certainly know they are giving kids junk, but in the end it is the kid and their parents who actually pay for and encourage the sales of such stuff.
But don't misunderstand me. Of course there is some degree of accountability an adult has as a member of our society. There is a shared understanding, at least in the culture I live in and understand, that if you are an adult you have some specific things you are expected to do. And I think people should be accountable for those things which are in their power. If you parent a child you should provide the basic necessities of life, including love and attachment. If you break the law you should submit to the full brunt of the penalty assigned to you. You are accountable.
However, there is a limit to how far one's accountability extends.
A parent may teach their child how to play the piano but in the end the kid refuses to learn and never acquires the skill. Perhaps a military officer trains a soldier who then later disobeys orders and gets a handful of people killed. Or, on a really macro level - what about Jesus Christ? The Master Teacher had many individuals who sat at his feet who then later clearly exhibited a lack of understanding of Christ's message. Does this mean the parent, military officer, and the Savior are BAD teachers? Does this mean we need to hold them more accountable and test their subjects more? Of course not.
I know I am being a little annoying, and maybe a little simplistic. But really, the fact is it is hard to face the fact that we are responsible for our own actions. As much as we want to throw the blame on others, or tell a story of good vs. evil that spins in favor of our preferences, the fact remains that we can not be accountable for the agency of other free agents.
So please, stop staying "we will hold them accountable". It makes no sense, and is actually an irresponsible
This is sort of a rant, and not very well organized or edited. Let me know if you see some holes or have feedback for me. Let's learn together!
I am a graduate student in Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University. I enjoy writing, hiking, and spending time with my family.