Sunday, September 24, 2006

We in the staff room have always been indignant of the staff appraisals we have to sit through every so often. We think of them as a "corporate American" idea that puts undue pressure on us and pits us in unhealthy competition against each other to attain the best personal ranking at the end of the year.

This potentially divisive but mandatory exercise in worst case scenarios could lead to backstabbing, theft of ideas and innovations from others, a disruption of trust amongst people who need to work together as a team, leading to a survival-of-the-fittest scramble for the top. Doesn't seem like a healthy environment to bring kids up in, does it?

But Stossel, in "Myths, Lies and Downright Stupidity," is forcing me to have another look at competition and what it does for the consumer. John Stossel is a free-market advocate, and speaks out against government control policies in the US economy. Indeed, the amount of meddling that goes on there that he exposes makes them look like hypocrites when they criticize us for our state-planned economy.

OK, granted that if such a book were written here about our government, there'd be a general consensus to treat it with suspicion, disdain and contempt as we do with Mr Chee and his publications. But Stossel's critique of the US government has nothing to do with us, right?

Anyway, back to our topic of competition. Market forces, Stossel believes, are the answer to pretty much everything that's going wrong in his country. If the market is free to apply Adam Smith's "invisible hand" the US would get the best solutions to poverty, hunger, gender equality, human rights, healthcare, and, yes, education as well. But instead, government controls and regulation kill competition and makes these problems worse than ever.

Competition is good because it forces people to improve and innovate, in order to provide goods and services to consumers at either better prices or some other value-added incentive. The consumer will always benefit because of the choices there are available on the market. Those who aren't chosen go out of business (tough) but the consumer benefits from getting the best value for money every time. In this economic model, if we put the consumer first, then everything supposedly will fall into place.

What if we applied this theory to our own education system as well? How much better would I perform, knowing that if I failed to deliver the goods I'd be immediately replaced by a young tyke eager to earn his stripes? How much more would I be motivated to innovate, to prepare my lessons better, to be more well-read and knowledgeable, to make my lessons more fun and engaging, if I knew the students could choose between boring ol' me or some other less socially inept teacher instead?

Frankly, I'm afraid to know the answer. But it does put the appraisal into another perspective.

Wonder if this idea would apply if we made things more competitive for the students too? Would they be falling over themselves to be more diligent and turn in better work on time? Ok, let's not get carried away.

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