Brian Ford, teacher and author, writes in a comment, responding to John Merrow’s investigative reporting:
It was John Merrow’s interview with Michelle Rhee, when she was still in charge of DCPS, that first raised my hackles. She said, “Pressure is good.” It was a bit like two decades ago, when Gordon Gekko declared, ‘Greed is good.’ In both cases the statement is presented as the hard, unvarnished truth that people are unwilling to accept because they are too politely unrealistic. That the declaration of the goodness of pressure and greed also serves the interest of the speaker is left unsaid.
That was the goal of Michelle Rhee and the others:
Creating A System Of Pressure —
–a system of pressure that would have people teaching children doubt themselves and blame themselves for things over which they had no control
–a system of pressure that would put more power into the hands of managers, just as it has in the university system
–a system of pressure that would come down on people who worked everyday, that would justify the accumulation of wealth by a few who the market selected and who our political system would not touch
It is worth remembering that the greed line didn’t first come from Michael Douglas playing a fictional character; it was originally said by Ivan Boesky addressing students at the Columbia Business school. There was a presumption behind the statement, that greed was so good that it deserved to go unregulated.
Of course, the law did catch up to Mr. Boesky and he spent 3 years in a minimum security prison from which he had a 3 day furlough every two months. It was tough, but he has had his consolations – he’s reportedly worth between 2 and 3 billion today.
We should link greed and pressure. Each is only one of many neo-liberal tendencies that continue to shape reform efforts in the education field. And they have a synergetic relationship – the concepts have in common dual presumption: for-profit enterpises show us how tenure hurts productivity and workers should be exposed to pressure in order to increase productivity.
Michelle Rhee’s ‘pressure is good’ statement is emblematic The full quote is, “People feel a little stressed out. They feel a lot of pressure. But that’s good. Pressure is good.”
(John Merrow’s interview with Rhee , from Leadership: A Challenging Course, Ep. 8, PBS, airdate 1-13, 09, http://www.challengingcourse.org/dc/segment8.html#transcript) It assumes that educators are not under enormous pressure already, that more pressure will increase their efficacy. This is an argument transplanted from the for-profit/business world, where it was accepted that the efficient use of resources was among the most highly leveraged concepts. This includes human resources. But is it good?
Aristotle thought leisure –the lack of pressure– was the condition of philosophy, but perhaps we don’t want philosophers. Maybe we want entrepreneurs, and if we do, then we are well served by the elements of contemporary education reform which, are embedded in a neo-liberal program, considers insecurity a positive and seeks to increase pressure on workers. Not that we would educate more entrepreneurs, but the lure of making money would draw in more and more enterpreneurs.
What would they do? Even if their teachers were quite good, the threat of an unsatisfactory ranking will put pressure on people to work harder and improve.
As we consider that, we should note that, unlike a steamfitter, Michelle Rhee has no way to measure the pressure already in the system or whether it is equipped to handle more. We can ask, if this is general through the society, is that the society in which we want to live? One based on greed and pressure?