In Part 1 of this series of articles, I ended with the observation that band directors in Texas use their record of contest achievements to get the “best” jobs—those that pay well, are in “good” communities, or offer the opportunity to work with the “best” in the field. In short, they use the students and their hard work for their own advancement, or simply their own prestige. This isn’t a bug—it’s a feature of the system we’ve created. There was a time when you taught the kids to the best of their ability, took the comments from the contest judges, then went back home to work on everything they’d written on the sheets. Other directors heard your band at contest or on the football field and made judgments of their own about your ability to teach. Or they listened to your kids at Region Band tryouts and got to know you in the contest office. These were the ways directors found other jobs or advanced. They didn’t use their kids, instead teaching them as well as they could and letting the chips fall where they may. A director’s best résumé came from concert recordings, Sight Reading ratings, and the Old Boy network.
Today, directors push their kids to ever-increasing levels for that “best” trophy, whatever the flavor of the year is, and use those trophies to show the world their value; not what the kids accomplished, but what they did to get the band there. Never mind what the kids sacrificed to get there, and never mind how hard they worked to do it. Contest achievement has become little more than a jobs program, offering proof for higher pay, more directors, and more consultants to do the jobs directors used to do. Today, a “top” marching program requires at least three directors, a percussion instructor, a color guard instructor, a choreographer, a drill designer, prop designer, an arranger, any number of marching techs, and an army of parents to build sets and do all those little things directors “don’t have time for”.
How does this apply to education in general?
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, education was once about creating knowledgeable adults—students who had a deep understanding of the subjects taught. Everyone once knew this as the dreaded “liberal arts education.” There are still liberal arts colleges and programs, but they are few, and the concept is all but nonexistent now at the secondary level. Most liberal arts colleges are private schools, and a whopping 15% are considered “good for low and middle income students”(source: Niche: College Search, Reviews, and Rankings).
Since those halcyon days of deep understanding of a wide breadth of subjects, colleges have offered increasingly specialized majors. There are several reasons for this, but the primary driver is the school-to-work pipeline (to be discussed in Part 3) and the push to hire teachers specifically to teach these narrowly targeted subjects. You can’t simply teach physics anymore. No, you must offer specialized degrees in quantum physics, nuclear physics, astrophysics, or the new darling—health physics. And to teach these focused students, you must hire faculty who also are experts in these specific fields of study.
So, this narrowing of the curriculum to smaller and smaller niche majors has become little more than a jobs program for niche faculty, and this has had the effect of pushing out more generalized faculty, leading to a university’s unrelenting need for greater numbers of adjuncts. If you’re a dean, and you need the top health physicist in the country to attract students to fill that program, well, you’ll just have to cut the number of general physics professors in lieu of lesser-qualified—and much cheaper—adjuncts. Unless and until adjuncts across the country unionize, their pay and working conditions will never improve, and departments will continue to rely upon their cheap labor to supplement the pay of specialized faculty.
Next up: I discuss the school-to-work phenomenon, and how it’s destroying education in the U.S. at every level. Until then, think good thoughts…