“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.


Teachers Must Practice What They Teach

by Robert Pondiscio
January 9th, 2010

Indiana teachers will need a degree in the subject they will teach under new licensing rules approved Wednesday.  The original proposal from the state’s Education Superintendent Tony Bennett would have required elementary education majors to take no more than 30 college credit hours in teaching methods, notes the Indianapolis Star.

Bennett released his proposals six months ago. But in a series of public meetings, there were howls of protest, primarily from universities that said the proposals focused too much on a teacher’s knowledge of a subject and not enough on teaching methods.  Education schools were against Bennett’s proposal, which would have limited the number of teaching-method classes required for a degree. The schools wanted to maintain control of their degree requirements. And they won.

Other the new rules, secondary teachers must earn a bachelor’s degree in the subject they will teach and a minor in education. Elementary teachers must earn a bachelor’s degree in education with a subject minor (or a subject major with an education minor). School boards will be now be allowed to hire superintendents from outside of education.  And all teachers will have to pass subject knowledge tests.

Indoctrination and Dispositions

by Robert Pondiscio
December 1st, 2009

The University of Minnesota’s ed school has found itself embroiled in controversy after a newspaper columnist claimed the school is seeking to indoctrinate would-be teachers with radical ideologies–and might prevent those who do not toe the line from teaching.  As described by Katherine Kersten, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune,

The Race, Culture, Class and Gender Task Group at the U’s College of Education and Human Development recommended that aspiring teachers there must repudiate the notion of “the American Dream” in order to obtain the recommendation for licensure required by the Minnesota Board of Teaching. Instead, teacher candidates must embrace — and be prepared to teach our state’s kids — the task force’s own vision of America as an oppressive hellhole: racist, sexist and homophobic.

The “oppresive hellhole” language is Kersten’s own; it appears nowhere in the task force report.  Here’s the passage in question:

The story of the United States is often told in terms of the American Dream….Future teachers will understand that despite an ideal about what is considered common culture in the United States, that many groups are typically not included within this celebrated cultural identity and more often than not, many students with multi-generational histories in the United States are routinely perceived to be new immigrants or foreign. That such exclusion is frequently a result of dissimilarities in power and influence. 

Jean K. Quam, the dean of UM’s ed school responds in the Star Tribune that discussion of these issues is not indoctrination. “Our belief is that acknowledging these issues is essential to teacher and student success and that ignoring them will not make them go away,” she writes. “A teacher with expert subject knowledge but without skills to connect with students or to be flexible and inventive in the classroom is an ineffective teacher,” she says.  

All well and good, but one still might ask to what degree the University concerns itself with ensuring its graduates are teachers with “expert subject knowledge,” something that is typically not a huge ed school concern.  The UM controversy raises the issue of ed schools insistence on evaluating teacher ”dispositions,” a hot-button term for many.  In a 2007 Education Next piece, Kent State professor Laurie Moses Hines questioned the purpose of such assessments:

Whether the standard is mental hygiene or possessing the proper political and ideological disposition, the elimination of candidates who do not pass muster gives teacher educators the power to determine who gains access to a classroom based on the values the teacher educators prefer. While the courts have permitted certifying agencies to require “good moral character” of teacher applicants, as legal scholars Martha McCarthy and Nelda Cambron-McCabe note, they “will intervene…if statutory or constitutional rights are abridged.” Thus, while pledging loyalty to federal and state constitutions is a permissible condition for obtaining a teacher license, swearing an oath to progressivism is not. Given the evidence and the history, there should be real concern, as teacher educator Gary Galluzzo has said, that “students’ views and personalities are being used against them” whenever dispositions are assessed. Those committed to academic freedom within higher education should be concerned when professional socialization trumps freedom of conscience in teacher education programs.

As a purely practical matter, one wonders why “dispositions” are a criteria at all in determining who gets to teach, and if time might be better spent ensuring future teachers have mastered their subject and craft, and are well-prepared to be effective classroom managers.  It seems reasonable to say that far more ground is sacrificed by teachers who are overwhelmed and unprepared than by those who are not, er, correctly disposed. 

(via Joanne Jacobs)

While You Were Out

by Robert Pondiscio
June 30th, 2008

I’m almost sorry I chose to be on the north rim of the Grand Canyon when my home state of New York announced that universal proficiency is nigh. Better than four out of five public school students in the Empire State are suddenly at or above grade level in math up from 73 percent last year while 69 percent of students were at or above state standards.

There’s so much to say about lowering the bar and how the good news doesn’t square with NAEP results, but lots of other commenters including Sol Stern were on the job while I was away:

Sometime in the next decade, the white children of Lake George and the black children of New York City will come face to face with reality. On a high school math Regents test—or on an SAT test, or in a college remediation course—they will discover that they are not quite as proficient as New York State once assured them.

Other fascinating items waiting in my inbox: Karin Chenoweth’s take on the IES Reading First report is crystal clear on what the data shows…and what it doesn’t; and a study shows elementary-school teachers are poorly prepared by education schools to teach math. Hmmm. I wonder why no one is suggesting copying whatever it is that has helped New York’s teachers do so well.

Nice to be back.