Friday, October 23, 2009

Don't Tell Revolutionaries That You Need A Revolution

Calling scores of education school programs “mediocre,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Thursday implored universities to significantly change the way they prepare teachers to run classrooms, saying a “revolutionary change” was needed to train as many as one million new teachers in five years.

In most disciplines, this would be a major call to arms. Education schools, however, draw so many people interested in social engineering that I fear calling for revolutionary change will motivate them to go from an incrementalist approach to a drastic one -- in the wrong direction.

Lots of the research done by professors at the Teacher's College demonstrates huge normative assumptions in favor of multiculturalism, diversity, and gender neutrality:
  • Challenging the sacredness and nature of content: Centering race/ethnicity in a social studies content course.
  • Preparing engaged citizens in urban K-6 classrooms: Perspectives from urban pre-service teachers.
  • Creating citizens: Lessons in relationships, personal growth, and community in one social studies classroom.
  • Multidimensional Facets of Cultural Competence
  • The sex-stereotyping of music instruments
  • Equity in the education of Emergent Bilinguals: The case of English language learners.
  • Literacy, Speech, and Shame: The Cultural Politics of Literacy and Language in Brazil.
  • Creating Spaces and Finding Voices: Teachers Collaborating for Empowerment
These are just a sample from the random professors' listed publications. Actually, I don't particularly have any issues with the normative goals in favor of multiculturalism, gender neutrality, or diversity. They are, in fact, all worthy and noble goals in my opinion. My issue is primarily the relative emphasis placed on them and secondarily one of selection bias among education professors.

If you search on the Teacher's College web page for expertise in Mathematics Education, it returns three names. Do the same for Reading and Writing, and you get six. Early Childhood Education? Six Science education? Three. Children's literature? One.

But if you look at Diversity, then you get 15. Women/Feminism? 9. Urban Population? 14. Multilingual education? 15.

There are two mitigating factors that I will acknowledge. First, Columbia is in New York City. Therefore, research in multicultural education certainly makes sense simply due to the location. Second, many of these normative issues, by their nature, appear across the entire discipline of education.

Furthermore, I understand that various socioeconomic and cultural factors can affect educational outcomes. Nevertheless, I wholeheartedly reject the idea that studying microaggressions in interracial dyads is more important than studying the best way to teach the material. Making teachers more effective and engaging in teaching their subject will have far more impact on educational outcomes. Again, I'll grant that various cultural, social, and economic differences can affect how a student learns, but it makes far less difference than a shit teacher and a good one.

Now, I understand why education professors are more interested in social questions. Education has always been viewed as a means for social change. Moreover, far more people are going to be interested in the idea of social change than the best way to teach fractions. The issue, however, is that self-selection of people who view it as a means for social change instead of the transmission of facts, knowledge, and skills have distorted the focus of education schools away from how best to teach toward how best to manifest social progress.

What we need are education schools that focus on the effectiveness teaching pedagogy. And I think that's where Sec. Duncan was going:
“By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st-century classroom,” he said.

But Sec. Duncan is obviously not a very pensive person. He's using that cliche about competing in the 21st century, which is bullshit.

If I had the resource to found a new education school, then I'd hire researchers to dig through the history of ideas about pedagogy and look at what was effective, starting with Ratio Studiorum. I'm convinced that the Jesuits have written about every important topic on education already, so best just to have people go reread it all and see if it still would be effective. I have to assume most of it would be. But I would insist that they scour the globe looking for ideas about pedagogy and looking at each idea's historical effectiveness.

The psuedo-scientific experimental approach of observing small groups of children in the classroom or in laboratory environments seems far less effective in comparison. We need the results from large groups of students over long periods of time. Best way to find that is to search out the most effective schools and teaching methods throughout history, and see what they have to offer. But don't worry, professors of education, FLG doesn't have the resources to found his dream school of education.


George Pal said...

On a wide array of social matters that make up human interaction, FLG’s the most temperate, evenhanded, self-restrained, judicious, and percipient blogger I’ve ever come across (maybe). And it’s beginning to irk me.

How, I mean this literally, how does FLG make a reasoned argument on the education of educators, resolved and concluded with the Ratio Studiorum but the best he can come up with re Arnie Duncan is:

“But Sec. Duncan is obviously not a very pensive person.”

Is this FLG’s way of introducing a covert lesson, by way of example, on Christian charity?

Let the intemperate have a swing.

The idea that the Education Secretary could manage anything more than making a bad situation worse, as he demonstrated in his stewardship over the Chicago Public School System is a joke. Arne Duncan is a joke. He’s a fraud, a blot on education. He’s a shuffling apparatchik, the rat in bureaucrat, the Peter Principle writ large and repeatedly demonstrated. The idea that Mr. Duncan can do more than parrot phrases is laughable. Arne Duncan should not be allowed anywhere near an educational facility – in fact, all schools should be declared Arne Duncan-free zones.

FLG said...


I think he'll actually do less damage as Sec of Ed than CEO of Chicago Public Schools.

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