Thursday, July 21, 2011

Theirs is not to question why

Apparently the people who want to “reform” education have realized that they need to reform education schools, too, to make sure that all those aspiring teachers won’t start asking hard questions about the assumptions of the day and the interests that are served by them. The Times reports today on efforts to remove all intellectual content from the process of becoming a teacher -- er, I mean, to shift education schools to a “nearly single-minded focus on practical teaching techniques.”

The Times, for example, describes “Teacher U,” an education graduate school started by three “charter school chains,” including KIPP. No lofty debates about the goals, purposes, or social functions of education for these future teachers; this program is “tightly focused ‘on stuff that will help you be a better teacher on Monday.’” Unsurprisingly, being “a better teacher” is defined entirely in terms of raising standardized test scores, and nothing else.
There was no mention of John Dewey, Howard Gardner or Paulo Freire, the canon of intellectuals that tend to take up an outsize portion of the theory taught at traditional education graduate schools. But that seemed fine with the students, who chatted avidly about their own experiences.
It’s funny, just yesterday I was complaining to my wife that our kids’ teachers have spent too much time reading Paulo Freire, are too intellectual, and have put too much energy into thinking about what it means to be well educated. Oh wait, no -- actually I wasn’t saying that at all. What I was saying, like a broken record, is that our schools don’t seem to reflect any concern with getting the kids to think critically about the world around them, and seem designed simply to produce obedient little worker bees who will score high on standardized tests and fear all authority.
The goal, [said the president of a new education school], is to reach beyond the charter school world, and for half of its students to be traditional public school teachers. “The techniques and strategies that you are learning here are applicable to all settings and to all types of kids,” he said. “However,” he allowed, “if you believe that children shouldn’t have homework, or you believe that testing is evil, this probably isn’t the best program for you.”
God knows education schools have their problems. But any place worthy of calling itself a “school of education” should encourage its students to think about and debate the value of homework and the role of standardized testing in our schools, rather than start with an ideological premise and discourage non-believers in that premise from enrolling. Good teaching and good public policy don’t come from enforcing an unquestioned party line. But what better way to prevent the kids from learning to think critically than by making sure that their teachers don’t learn it either?

1 comment:

FedUpMom said...

Chris -- I was going to link to this on my blog! The quote about homework really stuck in my craw.