Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Obsolescence of Schools of Education

Having been trained exclusively in schools of education in public universities, one might think I would be highly critical of this recent NYTimes article. Unfortunately, my experience won't let me. Some of the worst teaching I have ever witnessed and was forced to matriculate through as the courses were required were the ones unpacking "proper" pedagogy. Think about it - a full hour and a half on how to hold your chalk? Like that helps you with controlling discipline in the classroom or teaches you how to handle parents who lie for their children so they can get out of doing the homework you assign.

I asked one School of Education researcher once, after she had gone through an elaborate discourse on her year long research venture where she video taped a mathematics classroom for a whole year, "do you think that by studying what is going on rather than conducting experiments on what can be done better you are only furthering mediocrity in the classroom rather than change and innovation?" She was dumbfounded and didn't answer. Of course, the question really nullifies more than a year’s work on her part and the expense of so many graduate students doing the actual labor on the research project. She didn't like the underlying sentiment laced in the question, but I was trying to make a point.

What we need is wholesale reform from the ground up. That is, we have to ask difficult questions like, "how do we train people to train teachers?" Why is it that the beginning teachers rather than experienced teachers are tossed into the more challenging classroom settings (say, teaching delinquents math over honors algebra)? There are much better questions to discuss and answer rather than simply taking a look at what is going on in classrooms today.

If we were to dream the perfect school and the most dazzling educational experience, it would look considerably different than what has emerged from about 150 years of staid wrote practice of how it was done before. The students of today shouldn't stand for it, and neither should we.


Today, education schools face pressure to improve from all directions. A flurry of new studies challenges their ideological bias and low admissions standards. Critics now question their very existence, with competition from fast-track routes to certification threatening their long-held monopoly on training teachers. The soul-searching has accelerated with the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which demands a "highly qualified" teacher - state certified, with a bachelor's degree and proven knowledge of subject - in every classroom by the end of this coming school year.

In fact, No Child Left Behind, with its emphasis on standards and hard data, has placed national policy in direct conflict with the prevailing approach of many colleges, where the John Dewey tradition of progressive education holds sway, marked by a deep antipathy toward testing.


Nedhead said...

To add my two cents (which given the weak dollar may actually be worth less), the school systems tend to be institutionalized. By that I mean creativity on the part of teachers is stifled and conformance with "approved" methods and materials are demanded. This applies to all levels of education and is the rule, not the exception. By allowing the younger teachers (who are generally more creative since they have not been influenced by years of the same) some freedom in teaching materials and methods, I think would make a tremendous difference in the lives of our youths.

But what do I know, I hated school and couldn't wait to get out.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Nedhead!

School is a waste of time for anyone who has the ability to learn themselves. And a waste of time for anyone who doesn't have the ability to learn themselves, they don't learn anything. Did I leave anyone out?

Catch-22, education is like writing. If you need to be taught, you can't write or be educated.

The worst aspect of college is that it teaches an unthinking portion of the population to make the proper noises through sheer rote drill. Their writing is grammatically correct but doesn't make sense.

SheaNC said...

I went to some bad schools, some not so bad, and I had some great teachers and some horrid ones. I loved school, generally. The problems I had were with other kids, more than anything else. That's why I am not surprised by all the cruelty in the world... memories of other kids.

Nedhead said...

Ahh, open an entirely new vein of discussion...