12. Let’s Be Less Productive (Homage to all you teachers, and to Tim Jackson)

Tim Jackson’s article, “Let’s Be Less Productive,” in the New York Times (May 27, 2012) was a much-needed breath of fresh air for teachers. It seems every day brings more venom and negativity to bear down on our workaday lives, as if it can be best to outsource teaching to “e-learning” via computer or to punish teachers for the poverty of the children entrusted to their care. Even those of us who work in the most favorable situations on college campuses have noted a sea-change of late, faced with an increasingly hostile student body that perceives education more as a service proffered to clients, and administrations eager to seize on bottom-line rationales to winnow out less “marketable” programs.
To this market-based profit-oriented way of thinking, Jackson provides a useful corrective. “The care and concern of one human being for another is a peculiar ‘commodity,’” Jackson writes. “It can’t be stockpiled. It becomes degraded through trade. It isn’t delivered by machines. Its quality rests entirely on the attention paid by one person to another. Even to speak of reducing the time involved is to misunderstand its value. … The endemic modern tendency to streamline or phase out such professions [such as teaching] highlights the lunacy at the heart of the growth-obsessed, resource-intensive consumer economy. Low productivity is seen as a disease.”
So on this day, on the cusp of summer vacation, I offer a shout out to all of you whose labor obliges work with devotion, patience and attention. Thank you for a job well done. May you have a summer un-plagued by productivity, and re-enter the fray next fall with renewed zest for the important role you play in generating, and keeping alive, hope for our collective future. We’re counting on you.

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