I’m sure it was sometime in the 80s when some pretentious prat came up with the idea that everyone was a “client”, and it was the company’s job to “serve” and make the client happy. In theory it’s a good practice, after all I constantly hear from a person in my workplace about how she’s “The Nordstroms of customer service”. Save when she’s not. You see, sometimes she ends up with more than one “client” and those “clients” have conflicting and sometimes, combative, needs. But I digress.
Not every job has products or services. In fact, any position that deals exclusively with human lives and experiences doesn’t match either description; although, it often incorporates aspects of each. The fact is, an operation is NOT a product. I can’t expect the exact same outcome for an operation each time because each body is different. While the general idea is the same, and the directions might also be the same, have a dip in blood pressure or a loss of blood and it’s a whole new game. You’re not paying a surgeon for his “sameness”; you’re paying a surgeon for his expertise. His/her ability to not only perform the operation, but also to deal with any issues that arise at the time.
I would venture to say that an operation is a service, but not completely. I can’t go in, like I can to a mechanic, and demand the service. I need to be referred and have a reason for it. Honestly, I may not like a mechanic’s or a surgeon’s manner, but if the job is done well, I’ll put up with it. The fact is, service is much like a product. There’s that idea of uniformity and customer satisfaction that are paramount. Yet, we all know we’ll put up with crappy service if we like the end result.
So where does that leave teachers? To be honest, the political and business world looks at students as products. Each school will send out these products that perform x, y and z to proficiency 100% of the time. Yet, like surgeons, we teachers may start the process with a child only to discover that we can’t finish. While we don’t have spikes in blood pressure we do have learning disabilities, family strife, homelessness, and lack of prior knowledge. So what do we do? Do we, like Lucy and Ethel on the conveyor, pull the child off as defective and work on wrapping the rest of the products? Do we set it aside? Do we fix it? Seriously, education has become very much like that conveyor belt. We’ve sped up the production, but these are kids, not chocolates. The fact that teachers are being given the same directive as Lucy and Ethel is weird. We can’t service every child on a conveyor and ensure excellent product.
However, the idea that children are our customers is a bit crazy as well. We’re not selling them candy, videos and purses. We’re trying to get them to buy into, accept, and excel at education. These are not necessarily products they want to buy. If we look at education like a health club, we see that everyone signs up with the best intentions, but not everyone keeps attending after the initial interest has worn off. This is the same with diet programs, smoking cessation, and probably most membership programs. People only attend when they are motivated. We assume that comes from outside, but it doesn’t. It has to come from within. It’s true that each one of these programs has to establish community, but that’s only part of the whole.
With that in mind, how did anyone come up with the idea that all kids could or would be educated the same? We’re not all equally educated, equally employed, equally housed, equally sized, or equally weighted. Where would anyone get that every child is the same coming out of school? It’s as if we’ve lost the beauty of diversity.
Now before you decide I don’t have high standards, you need to know that I’m an exacting bitch. However, even I need time to play at school. If you’re balls to the wall 24/7, what’s the allure? That’s what parents are trying to tell us with education. Yet, if we give in to parents (again, a huge variety of wants, needs, and desires) you end up with vastly unequal education because some parents will go 100% college bound while others will go 100% what make a child happy. We need something towards the middle.
We need to stop treating education like a manufacturing plant turning out cogs. We also need to stop acting like a school’s job is to create programs to please its “clients”. We can’t offer 100% same or 100% different. Maybe it’s time to throw aside the pretentiousness and decide that education is about learning. It’s also about finding joy in learning, joy in repetition, and joy in being part of a community.
While I can’t name it, I know that education needs to be a little bit more. Yet, a whole lot less as well.