Monday, October 09, 2006

Manufacturers Praise John Stossel Regarding Education...

...or the lack thereof for some students!

My blogroll at left includes the blog for the National Association of Manufacturers (, a page I visit several times a week. As a former manufacturing manager and projects manager in three small Silicon Valley companies, I'm interested in manufacturing as a field and welcome the views expressed on that blog.

When they write about education, my ears perk up. Two of my three career choices, together in one blog! When they write about John Stossel and his recent issues regarding education, I'm even more interested. They did so recently, and one sentence really caught my eye:

And yes, we know there are plenty of dedicated teachers out there who are quite competent, thank you. But as the biggest end users of the products they crank out, manufacturers have a special concern for the quality of teachers. (boldface mine--Darren)
Manufacturers are the biggest end users of students? I wouldn't have guessed that, as much as we hear about the erosion of our manufacturing base, the outsourcing of jobs, and the primacy of the information economy. Did they make a mistake here, or do they know something that isn't being reported at all?

Either way, they agree with Stossel--go find out why.


George said...

Although the diagram is ridiculous I do not see comparing teachers to other professions as fair. Unlike the military, or a training manager, or a manufacturer, I can not fire the person I am trying to train. Perhaps John Stossel should do a show on how difficult it is to get rid of a low performing student. I'm tired of being at the butt end of blame for all of societies woes . . . for crying out loud I only teach these kids for an hour a day, and only give them 5 minutes of individual attention! How about blaming parents for sending me an umotivated, overly well dressed, illiterate, and smart mouthed punk?!

Darren said...

I understand what you're saying. When I was a manufacturing manager, I had complete control over my raw materials. If they didn't meet my standards, I could send them back to my supplier. As teachers, we don't get to send back our raw materials (students).

However, we can't always blame faulty product on raw materials. Sometimes, it's *our* process, not the vendor's process, that's causing the problems. A company concerned about its reputation for quality will research the issue and come up with an honest solution, not reflexively fault vendors.

We teachers need to be honest enough to recognize that our profession, and those who speak for it, are creating part of the problem. And we need to address what we're doing. We can't change the parents, and neither should we try. But we do need to ensure that our own house is in order, and that it's not made of glass if we're going to throw stones.

Only then will people take us seriously, and grant to us the respect that we think we deserve but are denied.

allen said...

Well every profession/craft has it's own challenges and advantages. If teachers don't get to reject lousy students they also don't have to worry about students, good and bad, showing up and, teachers don't have to worry about being paid regardless of how well or poorly the teacher serves the students. For that reason, the comparison to manufacturing is specious.

Sure a manufacturer may have the option of sending back faulty materials but they can't force their customers to accept the product of their efforts with no regard to the quality of the product.

Certainly manufacturers can't make even the measuring of their product's quality a debatable point. If their product doesn't meet customer quality standards then the product languishes in the warehouse and the manufacturer goes bankrupt. The idea of a controversy centered on whether customers have the background to judge the quality of a product is laughable. You can say all the mean things you want about customer stupidity but you'll go just as bankrupt as if you're assiduously, but unsuccessfully, trying to meet customer expectations. Which brings me to the next point which is: there's no penalty for failure to meet customer expectations.

When a manufacturer does a lousy enough job for long enough the problem goes away as a natural function of poor performance. Customers don't buy and the manufacturer closes their doors. As we can see from the wailing and rending of garments at the mention of NCLB, the penalty analogous to bankruptcy excites a great deal of anguish in the educational community.

So George, you might want to toughen up a bit. The days of blaming the student, blaming the parents, blaming TV and video games, blaming society are coming to an end. The public education system is no longer conspicuous by its absence in the list of parties who have some responsibility for the efficacy of public education.

David said...

"I can not fire the person I am trying to train"...there are plenty of people in fields other than teaching who have to deal with factors beyond their full control. A salesman can't excuse his failure to make his quota by arguing that the potential customers in his region are too dumb to understand the advantages of his product. An airline pilot has to deal with weather and with equipment problems, even though he didn't create the bad weather and (usually) didn't break the piece of equipment that failed.

I do think teachers should have much more power to get rid of disruptive students. However, I haven't heard of any mainstream teacher's organizations lobbying for this. In general, they seem more interested in evading than in seeking responsibility and the power that goes with it.

Darren said...

David's final point is, in my opinion, the primary reason why teachers are *not* held in high esteem.

Our profession certainly shares *part* of the responsibility for teaching children--isn't it sad that that has to be said at all, and that some might debate it? George is also right that parents and students share that responsibility with us.

The problem comes when we teachers want to point fingers at those other two and insist that only when they clean up their act will we clean up ours. Life doesn't work that way.

allen said...

If you want a target for finger-pointing about the lack of respect accorded teachers then the structure and assumptions built into public education recommends itself.

For all the whining about the loss of respect for teachers there's no consideration given to position teachers occupy in the public education professional hierarchy: the bottom. As the number and percentage of non-teaching professionals, all of whom are higher up the hierarchy then teachers, continues to rise teachers get pushed, relatively, lower.

Since respect like energy can't be created or destroyed only changed in form, the amount of respect left after the superintendent, the buzzing cloud of assistant superintendents, principals, assistant principals, curriculum coordinators, department heads and specialists have made their claim on professional respect there's just not that much left over for teachers. Besides, how much respect is the lowliest job in the organization due?

David said...

Also: manufacturing executives don't typically by any means have total control over their resources. They are dependent on the sales organization for demand forecasts, and often feel that sales does not take this responsibility seriously enough. Usually, they use computer systems provided by an IT organization which is not within their control, and these systems often suck. An engineering organization designs the products, and they often do it without giving proper consideration to issues of manufacturability. And so on. Yet the manufacturing exec is still responsible for making his numbers, including quality, cost, and volume goals.

Teachers have a hard job, but they need to understand that lack of total control is not unique to them.

George said...

Great discussion, and thanks for the input. I think you all have challenged me in much more kind manner than I did at the mention of my students.

I just feel so overwhelmed in responding and changing to my students needs. This year, more than most, I have become a student of my students. I am working on a blog post about this.

Again, thanks. This discussion was more open and clear than any I have ever had with my fellow department members.

Oh . . . yesterday I met with a parent who said, "Whooo this is history class? I hated, mmmph, history. So how is my daughter doing anyway?" It was a good visit overall.

rightwingprof said...

"Since respect like energy can't be created or destroyed only changed in form"

Respect, like economics, is not a zero sum game.

Darren said...

It looks like I accidentally hit "delete" instead of "accept" on a comment here. I had no intention of doing so, and I apologize for not posting your comment. Please feel free to post again, and I'll endeavor to be more careful with where I aim the mouse.

MikeAT said...

"It looks like I accidentally hit "delete" instead of "accept" on a comment here. I had no intention of doing so, and I apologize for not posting your comment. Please feel free to post again, and I'll endeavor to be more careful with where I aim the mouse."

The rat ate it!

I'm hearing that from a teacher! :)