02/02/2012 01:14 pm ET | Updated Jul 23, 2012

Educating for Democracy: Let Students Fire the Teachers - A Modest Proposal

A recent bill proposed in the Florida State legislature to allow dissatisfied parents who are outraged by their children's lackluster academic performance to fire their teachers reminds me of a Modest Proposal I wrote several years ago: "If Doctors Were Treated Like Teachers."

The "parents' rights" bill, concocted by the Wise Heads in the Florida legislature, is certain to create a great deal of conflict between parents who, rightly or wrongly, perceive that their children aren't "learning" enough to give the school a satisfactory rating on the standardized test scores, and teachers who feel they are being asked to "produce" test scores of dubious value. This legislation would be assured an even more disruptive outcome if yet another bill proposed by the Florida lawmakers takes effect: allowing teachers to "rate" their students' parents! This way, the parents and teachers can be at constant war with one another, the students will be caught in the middle, and any possibility of cooperative learning strategies between home, school and student would be made untenable. I don't doubt that this toxic situation is precisely what the Floridian politicians hope will happen to provide them with an excuse to funnel yet more funds into the charter school trough.

My "Modest Proposal," however, is that this method of making public education dysfunctional ought to be taken to the next step: another bill should be passed to empower the students to fire their teachers unless they are up to the young learners' standards. A passing grade from students, however, would only guarantee their teachers another year of employment, after which they would undergo the scrutiny of their students once again.

After all, giving students the authority to judge their teachers is based on the market-driven premise that the primary "consumers" of the "education industry" who are being offered an "occupation enhancing information product" would be best to judge the quality of the merchandise. The CEO-principal and other administrators are, after all, the "impulse shoppers" who occasionally drop in to see how their employees are merchandizing the "learning-content modules" that are being standardized in order to be properly evaluated.

Students are the best judges of their teachers whom they see all day five days a week just as customers of any salable item evaluate their satisfaction or disappointment with their purchase. With students holding the fate of their teachers in their hands, the success of the "learning commodity" would be assured: graduation rates would soar, tests would always have a 100% passing rate, and the level of learning, at least on paper, would match the best that Finland had to offer.

Or just perhaps, sometime in what I hope is the not-too-distant future, common sense will prevail and people will realize that in a culture that equates learning success with units of widgets produced, little if any meaningful education for the majority of students will occur until we accept the fact that education is far too complex for anyone to offer such simple-minded solutions as Florida has displayed. I've been teaching for almost fifty years and all I know is that there are many good ways of teaching but there is only one bad way to teach: and that is by insisting that everyone teach one way.