Wednesday, January 06, 2010

More Whining From the Choir?

Found this interesting article authored by an academic, this morning.
Teachers change lives and careers, not just writing styles, says bestselling author and editor Janis Kaplan, recalling her professor at Yale, William Zinsser. “Theoretically, books can change lives. But practically, it’s great teachers who do.” Sadly each year many such teachers pack up their briefcases and reenter the job market as consultants, real estate brokers, or a hundred other non-academic professions.

Exactly why they leave is hard to tell. Some say money is the problem. Certainly a person seeking wealth should never become a teacher, for there are few bonuses and pay incentives for even the best in the field.

Speaking as a teacher of over 30 years, I feel that even if we increased professors’ salaries by 15%, it still wouldn’t pay those dedicated men and women what they deserve for educating the next generation of America’s doctors, lawyers, clergy and CEOs, for ours is the prime profession: We teach all the other professions. Without us, civilization would wither on the stem like an autumn rose.

Here's my response:
When you say "Without us, civilization would wither on the stem like an autumn rose," I become skeptical. Society is resilient. If teachers don't teach, people would learn how to learn on their own. The apprenticeship model worked long before there was a formal organized, regimented, industrial education complex. Clearly, "because we don't get paid what we are worth" is an argument to be made, but not without the "you get what you pay for caveat." What the market will bear is how professional athlete salaries are always justified. But clearly, societal values are warped when entertainment is substantially and exponentially rewarded over education. Rather than whine about poor quality teaching (on the student/customer side), or poor salaries (on the faculty side), what we should focus on is how to remedy what's truly wrong with the educational enterprise; that it's not structured from the ground up to entice and spur learning more than it is to act as the gate keeping function by squashing enthusiasm for expeditionary and intrepid exploration of both the truth and development of new knowledge. Toward that end, perhaps the evolution of the internet will make all formal education obsolete, but until that day, we will need great teachers to spark enthusiasm for learning. The argument can be made that learning is best facilitated by great teaching. In the end, proof of learning is only obviated by the evidence of change and improvement. And in that respect, if there has been no change but negative change in how teachers are viewed and valued, might we not only have ourselves to blame?

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