Black Friday Education
I started a post Wednesday about the things I’m thankful for as a blogger. First was my career. I wouldn’t write passionately about public education if I hadn’t had such an amazing time working with students, parents, teachers, and administrators over the years. I’m also thankful that so many people are reading and responding to what I write. It lets me know I’m not alone. Add to that the increase in Oklahoma educators writing their own blogs, following each other on Facebook and Twitter, and we can all agree there is as much passion for public education as ever in this state.
I got distracted. I never finished the post. That happens more often than you realize. I have several unfinished posts that don’t seem very timely now. There’s one titled “About That Thirty Percent,” discussing the OU/OSU research report. There’s an untitled one discussing struggles that districts have had with Acuity (the free benchmark testing program from CTB/McGraw-Hill) during the time when schools are trying to give winter EOIs. There are many of these. For this Thanksgiving weekend, I think I’ll let Rob Miller’s post from yesterday do my talking for me.
Today, however, I want to talk about the day after Thanksgiving. One of my favorite things about Black Friday is all the people posting something along the lines of spending the day after you said what you were thankful for trampling people to get to things you don’t really need. There’s something about today that’s fairly instructive for us in education.
It starts with the hype. Act now and get this laptop! Today only, 75% off of skinny jeans! For a limited time, buy the only product fully aligned to the Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Assessments!!
What? One of these things doesn’t belong? Think again.
We shop on Black Friday or Cyber Monday because of the hype. The truth is that retailers sell the electronics with the least amount of power at the low, low price they’re advertising just to get you in the door (or to their website). Clothing stores give you limited time offers that expire right before the next ones begin. Education vendors do the same thing. They’re all aligned to whatever initiative is new and shiny. They’re all the only ones who have cracked the code.
This is also the emerging business model of corporate education reform. Create hype (such as charter schools, virtual schools, and vouchers). Increase demand for your product and services by pretending that it already exists (leading to waiting lists). Promote your successes and hide your failures. Control the narrative through media. Demoralize the people working for you while pretending to the world that they have the sweetest deal and best benefits in the world (certain politicians and retailers do this very well). Foster a culture in which parents camp out, line up, and trample each other for the false promise of a better education for their children. Reformers, like retailers, thrive on convincing the public that their deal is the only deal worth having.
I would like to think that Thanksgiving, rather than Black Friday, says more about who we are as a society. Most of us would rather show gratitude for something that works than act horribly in pursuit of something that isn’t really an upgrade. Retailers and reformers hope differently.