20
Dec
11

Commodification to Any Degree

So it’s been a loooong time since I added something. The quick synopses of events leading to now: moved back to the States (more on that later), am teaching in a private school, and had another kid. Even though I’m busier than I’ve ever been, I’m making time now to update. Why? This:

James Franco got a D in his acting class, then promptly (allegedly) bitched about it until NYU canned the offending professor.

As I mentioned, I’m currently teaching at a private institution, so this hits very close to home. After all, I’m currently teaching a kid who, upon having plagiarized every single assignment he’s handed in for the semester, tried to get me canned for only having inflated his grade to a B+. To my school’s credit, they did read me the riot act, but refused to fire me. Still, these two instances point to a problem in the educational system in general. Namely, if private schools are our kids best option, what does that say about the next generation?

We all know public schools need work. We all know that they’re mismanaged, inefficient, and sometimes staffed by people less-than-qualified to be there. Fine. Private schools, then, seem like a better option for a lot of families worried about their children’s future. Yes, they’re usually staffed by impressive people (or, at least, people with more alphabet soup after their names). Yes, they offer highly specialized classes. Yes, their teacher-to-student ratio is largely one more conducive to higher standards of learning.

However.

Like, I'm totally an expert in Keyensian theory!Private schools also experience something that public schools don’t: accountability to their
stockholders. And, in this shitty economy, that can be a driving force in even the best-intentioned educational institution. Amazingly enough, this increased accountability on the part of the administration of any private school is then leading to a marked decrease in accountability for the students there. The message eventually becomes clear: complain loudly and violently enough, and any student can receive any degree, so long as their tuition check clears.

This is not to say that privatization always leads to inferior products (FedEx always being a prime example), but I am saying that it tends to breed a lack of accountability endemic to private institutions. Yes, the heads of any company will always be held accountable. As will the employees of the private company. The ones who won’t are the stockholders.

In a publicly-held institution, the ideal situation is that everyone is accountable to each other. If the local water company fails, they will be held accountable by the tax-paying population. And, that tax-paying population will also be accountable for their own decision (i.e. they will live with disease-infested water, or without enough). That is precisely why certain companies are made public: their success serves the public interest in such an inextricable way that the public will have no choice but to support the genuine success of said institution, regardless of price.

This is also still the best argument for public schooling. A nation can only be as strong as its best and brightest, after all. Likewise, a nation can only benefit from seeing an increase in the numbers (and abilities) of its population. It isn’t as though we haven’t experienced this first-hand lately. We’re all currently enmeshed in the consequences of living under the leadership of someone who bought his education, someone who was never held accountable, someone who still has no real grasp of what the repercussions are of his actions. And yet the populace, still reeling from the effects of the governance of said incurious boob, has seen fit to glorify such a motley crew of inglorious bastards as has ever been witnessed by an electorate. More worrisome yet is that said inglorious bastards aren’t polling at 5%. They are being supported by a population too poorly educated to remember what happened the last time they chose someone poorly educated or trained.

So it goes. And so it will continue to go so long as we make public education a talking point before election, yet the visible results of an education anathema to an electorate too insecure about their own bad education to be outraged by it. We also need to remember that what made this country great once were revolutionary ideas that were coupled with courage behind said convictions; it was not, as some might have you think, made great by mindless tough guys who came over here to flex only their southernmost muscle. And what makes this country a shameful joke on the world economy is that we have let the uneducated feel vindicated rather than angry, empowered by their lack of knowledge rather than entitled to it.

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4 Responses to “Commodification to Any Degree”


  1. 1 jeneria
    December 21, 2011 at 17:05

    What I find fascinating about this situation is that the internet has turned it into Franco vs the Professor, but clearly, the professor has a huge axe to grind. I know how hard it is for a university to remove a faculty member for something like not giving a student the grade they want. High school is different, but at the level of a university, you really have to prove that there is a continuing disregard for rules, lack of ability in the classroom, inconsistent grading practices, etc. The idea that one student, even if it is James Franco, could get a faculty member removed is laughable. Realistically, this guy probably has a laundry list of infractions. Or, more likely, he was a VAP and his contract was up. He thought he’d get a permanent job and NYU (NYU is not an institution that awards VAP’s with permanent positions for the most part) thought otherwise.

    Part of the problem is the customer service model that schools have adapted to. It works in the corporate world, so it should work in education, right? I also teach at a private school and it’s a dangerous mentality when a student walks into the classroom thinking “I’m paying for this so I should automatically get an A for not doing much.” By all accounts, Franco does not demonstrate this mentality and takes his schooling seriously. But I’ve already heard students rumbling, “Can I get someone fired if I don’t like my grade?” And I feel a disturbance in the force.

    • 2 jabberinwookie
      December 21, 2011 at 17:15

      I know what you mean about the disturbance in the force. As for Franco’s work ethic, the account I read stated that he missed 12 of 14 classes to shoot a movie. While they may be excused absences, how do you pass someone who was never even there?

      • 3 jeneria
        December 22, 2011 at 15:31

        Oh, I agree with that. Other faculty have come out, though, to say that Franco’s attendance was damn good, even if it was in an alternative capacity (Skype, for example). I don’t know what this particular class requires for one to be successful, but I get the feeling the fired professor didn’t offer up any alternative means for Franco to participate. But really, Franco has 13 directing credits already. In most fields real world experience can be used as alternatives for assignments.

        I just don’t like how an incident such as this becomes a road map for disgruntled students everywhere. I’m not saying Franco is disgruntled. I haven’t even read anything from his camp about the issue, but given how a freshman biology course taught by a tenured faculty member at LSU was able to get her removed from the course because it was “too hard” this Franco situation brings up serious issues.

        No matter how I look at it, I’m a little sick. A student gets a less than awesome grade and a faculty member loses their job. The faculty member is unwilling to work with a student because of their celebrity status and shows questionable ethics. An administration is willing to bend over backward for a student because of money/celebrity status. A student can “buy” grades and degrees just by threatening to complain.

  2. 4 jeneria
    December 22, 2011 at 18:22

    I love that you included that picture of Tyra. I’m conflicted on her. Clearly, she’s been able to build a media empire but she’s done it under the guise of feminism when in reality, she does more damage to young women’s self esteem than the fashion rags do. I mean, telling a girl that she is “too smart” to be a model has got to be devastating. Not to mention the body issues she foists on the girls.


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