“No Professional Teacher Should Major in Education”

by Robert Pondiscio
November 13th, 2012

Sometimes, it takes someone outside the field of education to speak the truth.  Historian David McCullough says no professional teacher should major in education.

The award-winning biographer of Harry Truman and John Adams was profiled on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday, and his comments highlighted over at The Answer Sheet.  He notes that Americans are “historically illiterate” and tells the depressing story of meeting a student who “came up to me after one of my talks and said that until she heard me speak that morning she’d never understood that the original 13 colonies were all on the East Coast.”

“And I thought, ‘What are we doing that’s so wrong, so pathetic?’ I tried it again at several other places, colleges and universities, same thing. Now, it’s not their fault. It’s our fault. And when I say our fault I don’t mean just the teachers. I mean the parents and grandparents. We have to take part. The stories around the family dinner table. I say bring back dinner if you want to improve how children get to know history.’

McCullough believes we need to “seriously revamp, the teaching of the teachers.”

“I don’t feel that any professional teacher should major in education. They should major in a subject, know something. The best teachers are those who have a gift and the energy and enthusiasm to convey their love for science or history or Shakespeare or whatever it is. ‘Show them what you love’ is the old adage. And we’ve all had them, where they can change your life. They can electrify the morning when you come into the classroom.

I’ve long favored organizing teacher training around subject matter, rather than what Leon Botstein once termed “the pseudoscience of pedagogy.”  I’ve also never been able to resist seeing teaching, like writing, not as a “profession” but as craft work.   The best writers and teachers master their subject, and then find their voice.