From the Archives 4

A soundly ignored plea: I would really like to get back to the work I want to be doing but the current situation in our college has come to be, for me, of overriding importance because our problems are symptomatic of problems that exist throughout the realm where teacher education programs reside, a realm in which educationalists are the dominant party and educationalism the political ideology that is the dominant force in the decision making process. Educationalism is based in the notion that education, the process, is best carried out by those who are trained in education, in methodologies and psychologies that allow the practitioner to deliver curriculum in a manner fitting the needs of the learner, a learner who is assumed to be understood in terms of capacities and needs because of the psychological profiles the professional educators have been able to develop.Educationalism is, by educationalists, understood to be a science and, from this science evolves proper methods of teaching. In the college of education, research is carried out, at some expense, using the science of educationalism, to both describe the patient—student—and prescribe the proper educational treatment for what ails him or her. Indeed, there is a clinical feel to the operation, the educationalist able to assess the maladies that somehow interfere with students’ educational health and having in hand the research tested elixirs that will cure.The problem with this approach is the assumption that the student is a patient and that there exist those who know of the proper remedies for solving the learning problems the students is assumed to have. Colleges of education would like to be seen as schools of educational medicine and, in posturing as such, they work to destroy education. If one were to look at the typical college of education he or she would find that a preponderance of faculty have little expertise in the disciplines in which the schools are supposed to help students attain high levels of understanding. For lack of background in the disciplines, the educationist develops methodologies that are discipline neutral, what amounts to teaching tricks that have little relevance to development of truly meaningful understandings of what the disciplines have to teach.A reading specialist can, supposedly, teach those who will teach methods that will work in any subject area. And, the research will be worked to show that the methods really do work. The problem is that they do not work to teach students what they know about how to go about reading for deep understanding, reading to get at the critical meanings that are conveyed through the literature that contains the concepts that make up a discipline and understanding of how those concepts are applied to make sense of things so that human beings know how to deal with the contingencies with which human beings have to deal.Every discipline carries a body of information but that information is of little use unless one understands how one is to think about that information in order to make good use of it. The disciplines have their structures and their deep structures and these structures are applied to create knowledge, knowledge that stands as knowledge because the ideas have been tested and tested again for their truth-value. It is knowledge of the process by which disciplinary knowledge becomes knowledge that allows one to truly understand the real meaning of disciplinary knowledge.Educationists know little of this process but they do know techniques of reading and even of techniques for thinking that can be proven to be effective using tests they have developed that can measure reading ability, perhaps, but reading ability primarily in the sense of being able to hear in the head what is being said on a page. What is not really tested is whether or not the reader can think about the concepts discussed in such a way as to get at their real meanings imbedded in the material they are reading. Of course, what students read, in the textbooks, is often washed of the deeper meanings so that the discipline is made accessible to those with relatively low levels of real reading ability.I use reading as an example and I ask that those concerned with education consider the implied claim here that colleges of education have contributed mightily to the dumbing down of education. And I ask that people who care about this democracy consider the consequences of this dumbing down. Does the American public, educated in American schools, really know how to go about reading the world well enough to make the kinds of decisions a democratic people in the 21st century are required to participate in making? Can students really show their ability to do what is necessary to participate in such decision making by bubbling in circles on standardized tests?Yes, many in colleges of education do find the current system to be problematic and many do rail against the standardized test and reform movements that work to take away teachers’ power to make decisions regarding curriculum and methods. But, what too many in such colleges wish to do is replace one brand of pre-packaged decisions (made for teachers, not by them) for another and, these packages of research based curriculum and methods, inadequate in the obvious because new ones appear regularly to replace the previous batch that failed to produce the results advertised and arguments in colleges of education are regularly about which new package is the best, which holds the best tricks for teachers to learn to perform, few if any, of course, related in any truly meaningful way to students attaining truly meaningful understandings through the courses in which the tricks are performed.On a personal note, I have failed miserably in doing what I needed to do. I have tried over the years to have the conversation with colleagues that would cause a change in the way curriculum and methods in our college of education are developed. For the most part, the curriculum and methods discussions are dominated by the interests of educationalists who want to do the next series of research studies that will lead to the new set of trick that make our students comfortable and content, the assumption being that we can teach anyone how to teach because those teaching do not need to be able to think for themselves. The wizards of the college can tell people what they need to do and, truth be told, the wizards have failed and I have failed to block their interference in the creation of a teacher education program that develops the talents of the capable so that the new teacher could go into the school and thoughtfully work with real people, not statistically developed notions of people, to help them learn something far more important than tricks, the ability to think for themselves and think well.Indeed, there are, as I have said before, students who need more help than others. The farce that has been playing out in colleges of education, and in the schools, as a result, is that those who do not need “special” help are getting what they need even when a good amount of what teachers have been conditioned to do is discover the problems all students have with learning and attend to the problems at the expense of giving proper attention to the concepts the disciplines have to offer, robust concepts that, when taught well, over come problems so often discussed in educationist circles such as motivation, inattentions, and reading disabilities. The cause of most of these effects is teaching that is done without enthusiasm because too many of the teachers, enough so that they hold sway in the decision making processes, have not been taught in such a way as to understand what it is that is exciting, even glorious about the disciplines and what they have to teach.Schools are run, for the most part by those who have been deemed good teachers by those who have developed schools into places where the majority can be comfortable working, working with the teacher proof materials that are parts of the packages provided by administrators, at the behest of school boards, to individuals who are malleable, who are willing to cope with the kind of real problems created by the bad decisions made, the purchase of texts about the most interesting ideas every to be generated by human beings made dull and boring, about methods that cause students to want to sleep or text when lessons are in progress. Shouldn’t it be curious to people that students, surrounded by others, their peers, being exposed to concepts that, when properly understood are mind-blowing, have to go to their cell phones to converse about interesting things with those they find to be interesting??? Or to Google to sources of information that provide information they care to access????The current reorganization of my college of education, the one in which I work is exactly the kind of place that Arnold Duncan has been criticizing, a college of education that consistently claims to be doing the good work necessary to make schools the kind of places they need to be in order to educate students well, but with little to show for the time and energy and resources expended except numbers of publications in journals that few read and conferences attended where educationists can pat other educationists on the back for the good work, the goodness of which is never really considered.Duncan has told those in the nation listening that colleges of education are not producing whatever it is that would help to provide students in our schools with a good education, going so far as to argue, and rightly so, that teachers with master’s degrees from colleges of education are no better at educating students properly than are those without the education master’s degree. I don’t know of the studies, but I will begin to look for them, that show how teachers with advanced degrees in their disciplines differ from those with only the baccalaureate degree. My hypothesis would be that, if they stay in teaching, they do much better at helping students understand the structure of the discipline and its methods for knowledge production because they have spent time doing the kind of thinking they should be helping their students to be able to do.

By lafered

Retired professor of education concerned with thoughtfulness

Leave a Reply