The teachers:
Things run in families.  When my mother was a good deal younger than I am I remember her getting involved with a rather quixotic campaign.  At that time schools were still rather traditional, at least in our part of the world.  The teacher drilled the students and at the same time introduced them to the context of what they were learning. 

I and my classmates were particularly lucky for less than the best of reasons.  There was an enormous university in the town, and of course the faculty were bright and educated and their spouses were as well; generally that meant their wives.  A rule was that no two people from a family could be on the faculty at the same time.  So the wives, many quite qualified and capable of teaching college courses, often looked for other ways to occupy their energies and add to the modest faculty income.  There were not so many jobs for women then, so the competition to become public school teachers was strong.  I had brilliant teachers from K through 12 with any exceptions countable on one hand. 

And of course it was fun.

At the same time, there was a cloud on the horizon.  The College of Education was extending its influence.  The requirements to teach were less and less knowledge of what to be taught but instead of having gone to education courses.  My mother and a friend of hers thought that a top priority for the teachers was knowing the subject they taught, and knowing it at a level of sophistication far beyond what their students would be expected to attain at their own age.

This education in the subject matter was being progressively denied teachers in training.  Worse than that, from what I was told, the education courses were intensely boring.  A bright person would have difficulty sitting them out.  Brains, like other talents, yearn to be exercised.  At least that was my mother’s story.  She said that the field was systematically excluding the best talent.  I am far from recent experience, but I haven’t heard of much changing. 

My mothers failure to reverse history was so spectacular that even today wise folk say (John E. Burris It’s the Teachers SCIENCE vol. 335 no. 6065 January 13, 2023 page 146) that we have a problem.  On an international scale the educational performance of American students is abysmally low.  And yet it was not that long ago that American public education was the best the world has ever seen.  If I am wrong, please somebody let me know, but before, oh say, 1955 I cannot imagine that any other country offered a decent secondary education to absolutely everybody, and that education was excellent.  Yes, minorities got an education, too. 

Sure American students have tended to make up in college what they have missed in high school.  But a boring high school followed by a ghastly catch up period is nothing like a challenging high school followed by rather more independence in college. 

Of course modern commentators even now dare not say, “Let’s just dump the colleges of education; get the future teachers to take a couple “How to Teach” courses from the psychology department and be done with it.  I can’t complain.  I’m not saying it either. 

Instead they gently suggest that teachers might do with a little more knowledge about whatever the dickens they teach.  There are also calls for more respect and independence for teachers.  They certainly had it in the old days. 

It wasn’t all the colleges of education.  There were other social events that compromised public education in those days.  But they were things that have gone away, that were always going to go away.  In contrast it may be a far day when teachers are supposed to know what they are teaching.

In fact, teachers ought to be a community resource.  Every town has a biology teacher.  If a question in biology were to come up, whom would you ask?  I ask opinions all the time and rarely get an answer.  There is nobody I can turn to and say, “See if you can find out what is going on here.”  I cannot imagine that this would happen often, but teachers ought to be prepared for it and a mechanism should be present for them to demand answers from people who might know. 

So here I am engaged on my own quest, toiling against the tide of history, looking at things which seem obvious and no doubt some day will be obvious.  I’m not that strange.  It’s a family sort of thing.

There have been 45,269 visitors so far.

Home page.