The question isn’t far-fetched. Until recently, no one would have thought small children would be asked to rate their teachers. Fifty years ago, when President Johnson’s Great Society program initiated the transition from a family-centered culture to a womb-to-tomb nanny state, few people would have imagined some of the policies we live under today, especially in the field of education.
Consider the expression, “Pre-K.” Pre-Kindergarten? You mean the government wants our children even before they are kindergarten age? Of course, it does and has for some time.
Just over a decade ago in the Georgia House of Representatives I sat beside a freshman legislator who was one of the youngest members of the House. He was astonishingly bright, from a poor family background and was particularly technologically savvy. He was a very modern guy, except for his traditional views on the so-called social issues.
While one of our colleagues was speaking on the state budget, she referred to “Pre-K education.” My youthful seatmate turned to me and with consternation remarked, “Pre-K? Where are mommies?”
This intelligent young man knew mommies were working and in many cases had to. He was simply bemoaning a state of affairs in which government was becoming the mommy, thereby undermining the home instead of strengthening it.
It’s one thing for the government to move toward womb-to-tomb nannying. It’s quite another to ask children to evaluate their nannies. Yet that’s exactly what’s happening, all because of the federal government’s Race to the Top initiative and its requirement that teacher evaluations include student participation.
In the 2011-12 school year, all states that accepted Race to the Top money (Georgia did) were required to start implementing new “teacher evaluation instruments.” One required feature of the evaluation was student surveys that would account for 10 percent of a teacher’s overall evaluation.
To its credit, the Georgia Department of Education begged off from allowing Kindergarten through second graders to participate in teacher evaluations. It argued that K through 2 students should take part in the survey, but that their responses should be for informational purposes only, not an official part of a teacher’s evaluation.
The U.S. Department of Education granted Georgia DOE its wish but informed the state $33 million of its $400,000,000 million grant would be placed “at risk” for excluding K-2. So now Georgia teachers will be evaluated only by students in grades 3 through 12.
How thoughtful of our federal government! Now, the youngest age of teacher evaluators is 8 instead of 5. The age of most 12th grade students is 17. Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, teachers will be evaluated by children and teenagers.
Given the glow we have imparted to children and the worship we extend to youth, we should have seen this coming. If you liked the idea of smiley faces or trophies being handed out to all students lest some feel bad about themselves, you will love the idea of children evaluating their teachers.
And what, for goodness sake, qualifies children or teens to evaluate their teachers? Shall the pot instruct the potter? What a message to send to children. What an undermining of adult authority. What an insult to teachers.
But this is the kind of thing we get when we surrender our freedom for dollars. Tied now to Race to the Top (some call it Race to the Trough), Georgia and many other states are also tied to a particular set of standards (Common Core), and teachers are left with the indignity of being evaluated by their little charges. Some educators still argue this isn’t federal intrusion!
“In loco parentis” is a Latin phrase that means “in place of a parent.” Schools have historically honored the intent and the spirit of that concept, caring first for the physical safety and then for the learning of their students. Inasmuch as teachers are parents at school, it is unspeakable that either children or teens would evaluate their adult teachers in any measure.
Good teachers often ask students about what helps them learn most and what doesn’t, but formalizing the likes, dislikes and whims of children, making them a part of a teacher’s professional evaluation is outrageous. It does sound modern, hip and progressive, though, doesn’t it.
Georgia writer Flannery O’Conner put it best. When told that modern students are finding literature not to their taste, she replied. “That is regrettable. Their taste should not be consulted. It is being formed.”
Roger Hines is a retired high school English teacher in Kennesaw.