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Standing Up for What’s Right

November 15, 2017

ExcellenceQuoteImagine, if you will, an organization built on the premise of providing the best quality ‘product’ imaginable for ‘customers’ in their community. They hire people with proven expertise, a commitment to excellence, and a deep-seated desire to effect positive change. The goal is to provide an exemplary end result, no matter the ‘quality’ of the raw goods they’re provided with. They set to work and the results are immediate – great things begin to happen.

Over the years, despite the inevitable changes in technology, resources, equipment, supplies, and raw materials, the organization prospers and grows, processing tens of thousands of ‘units’ to the delight and satisfaction of a broad range of ‘customers’.

Collaboration

Collaboration drives success

The employees collaborate with one another, devise new and exciting methods for achieving their outcomes, and continually strive to improve not only how they work, but what they turn out. Many are recognized and applauded for their innovative strategies and exceptional work ethic – encouraging them to ‘go further’. Quality is ensured through rigorous testing; failure is accepted as a means of ensuring the overall quality of the organization’s output. The employees, although often overworked and occasionally under-appreciated, take great pride in ‘a job well done’ and seek to continually improve and grow. They are confident that the ‘product’ they’ve helped mold over years of consolidated effort will perform effectively ‘right out of the box’ and serve the community for many years to come. They take pride in what they do.

CheckboxesNow imagine that, after thirty years of success and growth, changes beyond the control of those hard working and dedicated workers come to pass. New managers, some with no experience in the field, are brought in to ‘improve the bottom line’ by increasing output and reducing costs. They institute a ‘list of accomplishments’ that, in many cases, don’t reflect the organization’s actual mandate. Employees are hired who have no knowledge of the organization’s fundamental principles, several degrees but no relevant (i.e., work related) experience, and little interest in doing much more than ‘putting in their time’. Much of the workforce is gradually replaced (as the organization grows, and the ‘old timers’ retire) by lower paid part-time and contract workers, until the ratio is roughly 25% full time to 75% part-time (saving the organization millions in salaries and benefits).

OneSizeCollaboration among workers is discouraged, proven methods are dismissed, and a ‘new way of doing things’ is put into place that requires a ‘one size fits all’ approach to nearly every aspect of the job. ‘Fast track manuals’, ‘how to videos’, ineffective PowerPoint presentations, and strict (but unproductive and inefficient) ‘rules of engagement’ are designed by people with ‘advanced degrees’, most of whom have never actually done the job they’re advising others how to do. Quality control becomes a ‘Does it work at a minimally acceptable level?’ yes or no process; there is no longer any relevant testing to ensure the ‘product’ performs as expected by the ‘customer’. Failure is seen as unacceptable (in other words, everything ‘passes’, whether it ‘works’ or not). More ‘units’ are processed and pushed ‘out the door’ than ever before (with many destined for foreign markets that will shell out four times what the domestic market will pay).

And despite the obvious decline of the quality of the organization’s output, despite the concerns expressed by the long-time employees who want some say in decision-making and change, despite the expressed frustration of ‘customers’ who no longer receive a viable product (but have nowhere else to go for what they need), the organization refuses to admit that they’ve lost sight of why they came into existence in the first place, of their original commitment to excellence and innovation, and of their role in the community.  They strip the employees of all authority to do the work they were hired to do, continue to undermine quality by hiring casual workers (who have little long-term stake in the company’s success or failure), and revel in the fact that ‘easy does it’ seems to have ‘won the day’. Concerns are dismissed out of hand; management’s attitude is, ‘Live with it!’

LiveWithItIf you worked for this organization, how would you react? Put up and shut up? Or step up and try to do something about it?

This isn’t some imaginary scenario. In a nutshell (or a 600 word piece of ‘creative non-fiction’) this is what the current strike by Ontario Community College teachers is all about. It’s not about money; it’s not about vacations or child care or benefits. It’s about restoring integrity to the classrooms, ensuring equity in employment between full time and part-time faculty (and job security for those on cyclical contracts), and about allowing faculty – the people who are actually DOING THE JOB OF TEACHING OUR YOUNG PEOPLE WHAT THEY NEED TO KNOW IN ORDER TO SURVIVE IN TODAY’S WORKING ENVIRONMENT – a voice at the decision-making table and in the classroom. They want no more than to take part in determining what they teach and how they teach it to ensure that the ‘end product’ (the students of today who will become the workers of tomorrow) get what they’ve paid for: a quality education and the skills they need to succeed.

My husband I both taught in the community college system for over twenty years; we both retired (early) because we couldn’t abide the changes that were taking place around us (e.g., being told to ‘dumb down’ our curriculum, teach ‘the same way as everyone else’ [despite the success of our tried and true methods], pass even the weakest students, move to purely objective [true/false, multiple choice] testing vs. subjective [long answer, practical demonstration of knowledge] assessment, adapt content for ‘online learning’ [so students can ‘teach themselves’ – if they could do that, why do they come to college?], work from ‘course in a box’ outlines, etc.) These ‘requests’ went against everything we believed in, what we’d worked hard to achieve; we were being asked to participate in a repugnant shift from educating students to ensuring there were ‘bums in the seats and dollars in the coffers’. And we aren’t the only ones who just couldn’t take it anymore.

WhatsRight

Generally, I don’t condone strike action (and I rarely write about ‘political’ issues) but I feel compelled to do so here. Without recognition/acknowledgement of the systemic problems within the Colleges, and real, significant changes (that will allow qualified faculty to have a say in what goes on in their classrooms), our province’s future is at risk. (Honestly, few young people can learn much of anything – never mind real world skills that make them employable – by ‘following along in a textbook’, watching videos, reading/listening to boilerplate PowerPoint presentations, and filling out ‘bubble sheet’ exams; college learning was designed on the principle that knowledge is gained through explanation, demonstration and practice.)  I support those who want to do ‘what’s right’ for those they teach, even if all I can do is sit on the sidelines and watch from here on … the other side of 55.

 

 

 

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2017 11:12 am

    You have captured the essence of a toxicity that has been brewing for a long time across the entire paradigm of employment. You are correct to use business/accounting terminology since it seems that higher learning has increasingly become McEducation. Paying tuition seems to be the bottom-line prerequisite for some sort of a piece of paper that should ‘qualify’ you to join the ranks of the insecurely-employed. Thank you for sharing.

    • November 21, 2017 11:44 am

      In the last ten or so years, the only admission ‘requirements’ that seem to be relevant are (1) a pulse (2) a tuition cheque (or student loan, many of which will never be paid back because the people taking advantage of them will never secure a full time job). And because just about everyone passes (so long as they show up to around 30% of classes and achieve a 50% ‘pass’ on pointless tests (and/or could argue their way to a pass by challenging everything the teacher said/did in the classroom), we now have a workforce that is both uneducated and under-qualified for the jobs out there (ask yourself why so many high tech jobs go unfilled, despite the fact that universities and colleges ‘graduate’ tens of thousands of students each year). Its a very sad situation indeed.

  2. S. K. Mannell permalink
    November 20, 2017 9:53 pm

    Loved the way you kept us going wondering which ‘industry’ was the main culprit. And to discover it was the one supposedly teaching the future leaders of our world makes a pretty effective wake-up call. Too many people don’t know the true reasons behind what the teachers are after. Good job.

    • November 21, 2017 10:40 am

      Unfortunately, the news feeds have to (try to) be neutral and report ‘both sides’. They’re back to work now, but everyone has suffered (and things still aren’t resolved). I fear its only going to get worse.

  3. November 15, 2017 6:44 pm

    As I read your post, I kept thinking about all the businesses this scenario applies to. Couldn’t wait to see which one you were referring to!

    • November 15, 2017 7:04 pm

      It’s bad enough the ‘products’ we buy are inferior because of bad management; the fact that our future ‘leaders’ are being short changed makes me both sad and frustrated!

  4. November 15, 2017 5:29 pm

    It is so good to find someone who thinks for herself!

  5. November 15, 2017 5:18 pm

    What you said about passing even the weakest students is so true! I am talking elementary school not college, but they kept passing my daughter even though she could not read. She made it to 6th grade without being able to read a word and failed at just about every subject. They passed her because studies show it is hard on a student to be held back. In 6th grade her teacher called me in because she was concerned about her grades. Ya think? I had been yelling for years that she could not read. I pulled her from school and went to part time work and taught her. After a couple of months, she was reading The Lord of the Rings on her own. She just needed more one on one. But, she should not have been passed year after year. It set her up for failure. I felt bad I waited so long to start screaming. I just had faith that they knew what they were doing.

    • November 15, 2017 7:03 pm

      The idea that passing students who should be ‘held back’ has been pervasive in southern Ontario (from primary school up through college) since the mid 80s. Its ridiculous; better to be held back and LEARN than to be pushed forward and have limited skills / frustration and an inability to make sense of the world around you (never mind cope in it) later on. It makes me CRAZY.

  6. November 15, 2017 3:55 pm

    It’s happening everywhere here in the US too (hubby saw it in his places of business and son sees it as well in his field) but is especially disconcerting in the field of education. People can’t even seem to think for themselves anymore. Is it any wonder?? I so agree with you!

    • November 15, 2017 4:32 pm

      It’s hard to fathom how supposed ‘educators’ (even those who have never taught, but who work in the field) can believe that what they’re doing is somehow not only effective, but productive. It boggles the mind!

  7. November 15, 2017 2:32 pm

    I applaud your stand on this issue. Unfortunately the situation you describe is only too common these days. My husband was in manufacturing for many years and we saw this happen time and time again.

    • November 15, 2017 3:16 pm

      It’s terrible to witness, especially when our young people stand to lose so much.

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