Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

Coercion through Competition

This post started out as a comment on Wes Fryer’s Looking beyond coercion, tests and seat time post from May 19. I found myself with rather a lot to write about on the topic and didn’t think it was appropriate to post an entire blog topic in a comment. Even so, I’m not sure I said exactly what I wanted to say in the way I wanted to, but here it is for your consideration. I encourage you to read Wes’ post first.


Having been a high school assistant principal, I have often been accused of being a poster child for coercive education. Indeed, the coercion passes from the Compulsory Attendance Laws through the office of the assistant principal right into the laps of kids who, because we have sold out to corporate mentality of money for time, are told they have no choice in the matter. We threaten with truancy proceedings and grade jeopardy, but we simply miss the fact that we must do a better job of demonstrating to them why it’s important for them to be there. We undermine our message of importance when we engage in ridiculous “traditions” like letting seniors (not underclassmen, mind you) out a week early or penalizing students 50% or more for not writing in cursive.


We are coerced, ourselves, by flawed national and local educational policies that reduce educational pursuits to little more than industrial-era performance metrics, workforce preparation, and college readiness (which has of late become a euphemism for workforce preparation). This is a recurring theme for me previously on this blog here, here, and here . Plainly, we have abdicated our social-moral responsibilities in favor of power, prestige, and money.  When the specter of school finance looms over every single decision we propose or make, we have no choice but coercion so we can keep our funding dollars. The priority simply becomes the money and not the kids.


Wes writes that “We must move beyond our current school finance systems which pay school districts based on seat time.” I submit that movement beyond is not enough; we need the complete and utter destruction of the current methods of school finance. This means obliterating capitalistic and corporate influences and mentalities in education and that’s not going to happen in a global society where our primary indicators of success are largely economic. I’m not advocating for setting up any “ism” here (before anyone accuses me of doing so); it goes beyond that.


Nearly everything about education is about competition: the highest funding ratio, the best grades, the best test scores, the best colleges, the best jobs, the best schools, the best technology. As with every competition, there must be loss. It’s here that I agree with Dr. Cook,

“The purpose of education  in a free society must be to liberate the full powers of the individual toward the common good…The common good is not served by the loss of any person…No democracy has any business accepting, much less supporting, any endeavor that does not hold the good of the individual  and the good of the society to be the same…To put it another way, education must not be the means by which individuals pursue their own goals to the detriment of others…And it is not a contest to be won…it is on this point that democracy and capitalism collide” (p 129-130, Unencorporating Education).

Some will probably accuse me of being un-American right about now; that’s not my intent. I think Wes and Dr. Cook have hit upon something that goes to the core of our culture and, for all of our rhetoric (mine included), I’m not sure we have the honest will to do anything about it, if may also echo Gary Stager as well.


May 19, 2008 - Posted by | Education | , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Rick: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and the link to this post. Engaging in conversations like this is exactly what being a reflective practitioner is all about, in my view, particularly when we act or change our actions subsequently as a result of the discussions we’ve had and the thinking we’ve done.

    I’d like to hear more on your thoughts of what school finance system you think could most constructively replace our current “seat time” payment system. I’m wondering if other states have successfully explored alternative school financing schemes? I do appreciate the link to “Unencorporating Education” and will try to find it so I can check it out. It looks like it may be out of print even tho it’s from 2005. The conversation we are having here is about big issues and I know there are many MUCH smarter and more experienced than I with these issues. I do think foundational issues, as you say, are key and we have to be willing to reexamine many of the behavior patterns we’ve accepted over time as just “the way it’s done.” Why can’t we pay a school a flat amount of money at the start of the fiscal year, irrespective of how many students attend school? One important key, which I think you are pointing out, is that we need marketplace incentives for that school to use its dollars wisely and for the benefit of students. I am not pro-voucher but I am definitely pro-charter. I don’t think all business and economics metaphors and models can be equally applied to schools since schools are providing a public good, not just a good or service in a traditional economic sense. We definitely need a better model for school finance than the one we’ve grown up with. I’m very curious what other states are doing to experiment with alternative school finance mechanisms.

    Comment by Wesley Fryer | May 20, 2008 | Reply

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