In class last a few weeks back, I overheard a student complain because her parents didn’t buy here a North Face fleece for her birthday. Her friend was wearing the fleece she desired so she was jealous. I tried to intervene. I explain there was nothing wrong with the fleece she had on. “But it isn’t North Face!” she exclaimed. “And Mr. Bloch you have a North Face so why shouldn’t I?” Wow! How do I counter that argument? I tried to explain that I had recently received the fleece as a present for Christmas from my wife. I always admired North Face products but resisted purchasing them due to cost. I was sure that a “store” brand would handle my needs. I don’t live in the mountains and wasn’t planing an adventure into the wilderness anytime soon. (Sound fun maybe sooner now.) These are hard concepts for teenagers to grasp. Desire of the “Name” brand fashions is a way to maintain or gain popularity. Students learn this from our product placement advertising culture. Many don’t realize their favorite actors are paid to wear the fashions to get them to purchase them. Of course adults learn to not worry about name brand eventually, right?
No, many adults are similar to children, feeling that name brands can be important and if something cost more it must be better. Frankly some name brands are better quality products and some aren’t. Has this name brand consumer culture pasted over into education?
Sadly, yes. Many feel that the name on the school (or associated state ranking) defines what happens inside each classroom. I realized this in a recent conversation with a teacher friend. She is looking to move from her current apartment to a house. She has a young daughter and has been spending time looking at all the school rankings to decided where to live. When Amy, my wife suggested a near-by condo complex. Her reaction was “Oh, No the school is not rated well.” It just so happens the school she was referring to is where our son attends. Our school is in a stable community, located in our sub-division. Every teacher that has worked with our third grade son has been incredible in their own way. I personally feel it is a GREAT school environment for our children to attend. (We also have 4-year-old twins)
Later that evening Amy asked me what I thought about her comments. Being the ever mindful teachers I answered with a question: “What was your response?” Amy shared how she told our friend that the school was great and we had nothing but positive experiences. In the end, she pointed to the ranking and said “I don’t think it is best for my daughter.”
Rankings are going to make adults choose the brand “ranking” over their neighborhood school. Brand names and marketing will win the school of choice war. Lower ranked schools will slowly but surely disappear. The ranking will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Parents who can afford the choice will choose “The North Face” over “the store brand”, those who can’t will complain about where they are stuck. The lower ranked schools will slide down the slope and go the way of Ben Franklin’s, Kmart’s and Circuit City’s of the world.
Educators need to change this perceptions of schools. Schools are more than any ranking. Furthermore education is what an INDIVIDUAL makes out of opportunities not what OPPORTUNITIES that come to an individual. Live in an affordable home, nice community, clean neighborhood, near a school. Attend this school and make it great. If opportunities aren’t present seek them out! Help the teachers succeed. Be involved. Ultimately schools are a true reflection of the communities around them. Parents who seek out the Name Brand School for comfort forget about all the hard work that made the brand. The more transient brand seekers that move into a school the quicker the brand will deteriorate. What school wants to be the “Members Only Jacket” of this decade?
Help build your neighborhood school into a lasting brand. Don’t worry about the ranking now, go in and make the school the way it should be: full of involved staff, parents and students who all want to succeed together. Make your school the Coca-Cola or GE, one that will have its ups and downs but be strong for the long haul!!