Bad teachers and bad policy

In response to this article posted by Diane Ravitch on her blog site.  It was posted to that website.

A can of nasty complexity here that must be considered critically so that good teaching (really a difficult thing to do) is not made the problem because some teachers cannot do what is necessary to help their students to become the kind of thoughtful citizens who would be able to see and understand the kind of issues under discussion here. That the neoliberal approach is a problem, with this I fully agree. In fact, I see it as inhumane, the preparation of students for the workplace, ready to obey every command of the employer, unthinkingly. Neoliberal notions of education and its purpose are more about making an inhuman economic system not only palatable, but, no matter how much pain one suffers for it, understood to be the best there can possibly be. If a teacher is not willing or able to help students acquire and grow the skills that are essential to engage in what Neil Postman a long time ago called “bullshit detection” than that teacher is not worthy of being a teacher. This article and the arguments of those cited are examples of bullshit detection. A decent education would have allowed, ENCOURAGED those who vote to think first about what the candidates were really about and, in turn, because the voters were wise enough to demand such there would have been sound candidates who those voters could come to understand were viable ones because they would know that the agenda would be theirs, the citizen-voters agenda.

So, that so many are either hoodwinked or forced to decide either/or when none of the above is good enough, needs to be studied and, from that study derived a proper job description for educators.

I personally know of many excellent teachers, most of these terribly frustrated by the system in which they work, in large part because they are smart enough to resent being controlled by a system that works against what they know to be legitimate goals for education. They cannot teach well because decisions regarding what things are taught and how they need be taught are not theirs but decisions made by others whose goals are the wrong ones.

There is a mess from which we, people interested in good education, need to extricate ourselves and that mess is signified in the article to which I am responding. Teachers are, it is ever so true, an oppressed and under appreciated class of people. They are rigidly controlled and, in the school environment, restricted in ways that undermine initiative, innovation, creativity. They are not to think too critically about the curriculum they are handed and hardly ever asked with sincerity to participate in the development of curriculum or methods for instruction. Sad but true, there are many teachers who like the job because it does not require too much thought. There are curriculum manuals and teachers’ editions of the textbook that spell out step by step how instruction should be “delivered.” Too many are habituated to direct instruction approaches that wholly ignore the nature of the individuals being taught. Direct instruction teacher plug into a methodology that has for every question a right answer that is to be taken as true and right because it is in the book. There is hardly, if any, room for teacher or student to think about things and work toward conclusions that are based on their own knowledge and reasoning.

So, sad as it may be, there are bad teachers in the system and sadder, within the system, because they obey, they are said to be good teachers. The same goes for students. If they do what they are told, accept what is said as right, they succeed in school. If they ever question authority, they are punished in some way or another, many of these students labelled rebellious and good numbers of them not thriving in the system. I know these students. I now teach for them in a community college where I am an instructor in remedial English.

So there are not so good and even bad teachers. But the approach to dealing with them as per the Bill and Hillary approach is wholly inappropriate because it has nothing much to do with making sure that the quality of instruction is worthy of a citizenry that is supposed to be able to govern itself. I remember Hillary, in a talk recorded and played on a Pacifica station, touting educational programs that would turn out, en mass, new entrepreneurs, the entrepreneur, for her, the model for what all should aspire to. She said nothing about informed and thoughtful citizen. Her bad teacher would be one who did not buy into the system, who encouraged students to understand the system and properly critique it so that they could make decisions, personal and private based on what their thinking led them to believe was best.

We need good teachers and we do students a great wrong when we allow them to be taught by those who are not good. We need to reward teachers for their good work by paying them decent salaries. We need to force good salaries by refusing to allow the hiring of those who are not good examples of the well informed and thoughtful human being. From the lowest grades up, the teachers by whom students are taught need to be intellectual active beings who understand the subject matter and understand it properly by understand the context in which the disciplines work and the meaning of the understandings they produce. Teachers in the good school system would work together to create the proper curriculum for the students they teach. They would work together to adapt and create methods appropriate for the actual students in their classrooms. They would, by nature, be creative, innovative, and engaged regularly in discovery and critical thought. They would rebel against those who tried to cage them in and would force them to sing a gospel in which they did not see righteousness.

So, yes. The neoliberal approach is as anti-intellectual as the direct instruction approach and neither should ever be allowed into the schools. Since they are there and dominant now, they need to be expunged so that teacher have the freedom to be thoughtful teachers and students the right to grow up to be effective participants in their society, in determining what is right and wrong, good and bad so their decisions, personal and public, are based on understanding and not blind acceptance.

By lafered

Retired professor of education concerned with thoughtfulness

2 replies on “Bad teachers and bad policy”

lafered – I enjoyed all of your comments on Diane’s blog today. Please don’t be a stranger around there. Dissenting voices are sorely needed.

This particular contribution is beautiful. Thanks – I’ll try to stop by your blog more often now that I’ve found you.

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