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Published in Print: September 6, 2000, as Bar-Code Reform

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Bar-Code Reform

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Suffer the little children to be bar-coded.

Now that we have the technology (and a bottomless appetite for it) isn't it time we used that technology to reform education once and for all?

The advantages of the scheme I propose are so immediate and obvious that I'm sure other educators have thought of it, too, and quickly repressed the notion as unprofessional and impious. But sometimes impious is sobering, especially in a profession whose arteries are clogged with pieties. So I offer this suggestion as an exercise in sobriety: Suffer the little children to be bar-coded!

Implant scanners in the teachers' heads. Bill the parents or school districts the same way lawyers bill them—by the hour.

This first occurred to me when I was selling some real estate. It occurred to me again when the parent of a particularly needy child came in to see me to complain that a teacher was being unfair.

Fair? Parents who have been careful to be sure that their children come to school nourished, healthy, confident, well-mannered, read to, and self-reliant would generate, under my plan, a relatively small bill. Teachers would not be spending time trying to remedy deficiencies or supply what these parents clearly have paid for up front with their own time, energy, and resources.

Parents who have been too busy to teach their children good manners, to read to them, to nourish them would, therefore, generate correspondingly higher bills.

Under bar-code reform, teachers who spend enormous amounts of extra time struggling to meet the demands of these very needy children would be compensated fairly for their extra measures of caring. Indifferent teachers would be rewarded in a lesser measure.

If they were forced to confront through billing the number of extra hours caring teachers put in, the public would take these teachers less for granted.

If they were more crisply aware of what the weak parents cost, the public would also be less likely to take good parents for granted.

Unions could focus on bills and hourly rates and abandon their endless chases after chimeras of equity in teaching loads.

Legislators would have a system for monitoring costs that would be as easily adapted to centralized systems as to decentralized choice systems.

Educrats—consultants, curriculum experts, and systems designers, the folks who work in buildings where there are no children—would be paid appropriately.

Parents themselves would see more clearly not only what they were getting, but what they had given.

Students would be offered a similar perspective.

Administrators would have a useful tool for evaluation.

Good teachers would finally be paid.


Bruce E. Buxton is the headmaster of Falmouth Academy in Falmouth, Mass.

Vol. 20, Issue 1, Page 62

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