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Educators vs. Education By: George F. Will
Newsweek | Monday, January 23, 2006


Jan. 16, 2006 issue - The surest, quickest way to add quality to primary and secondary education would be addition by subtraction: Close all the schools of education. Consider The Chronicle of Higher Education's recent report concerning the schools that certify America's teachers.

Many education schools discourage, even disqualify, prospective teachers who lack the correct "disposition," meaning those who do not embrace today's "progressive" political catechism. Karen Siegfried had a 3.75 grade-point average at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but after voicing conservative views, she was told by her education professors that she lacked the "professional disposition" teachers need. She is now studying to be an aviation technician.

In 2002 the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education declared that a "professional disposition" is "guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility, and social justice." Regarding that last, the Chronicle reports that the University of Alabama's College of Education proclaims itself "committed to preparing individuals to"—what? "Read, write and reason"? No, "to promote social justice, to be change agents, and to recognize individual and institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism," and to "break silences" about those things and "develop anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-sexist community [sic] and alliances."

Brooklyn College, where a professor of education required her class on Language Literacy in Secondary Education to watch "Fahrenheit 9/11" before the 2004 election, says it educates teacher candidates about, among many other evils, "heterosexism." The University of Alaska Fairbanks, fluent with today's progressive patois, says that, given America's "caste-like system," teachers must be taught "how racial and cultural 'others' negotiate American school systems, and how they perform their identities." Got it?

The permeation of ed schools by politics is a consequence of the vacuity of their curricula. Concerning that, read "Why Johnny's Teacher Can't Teach" by Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute (available at city-journal.org). Today's teacher-education focus on "professional disposition" is just the latest permutation of what Mac Donald calls the education schools' "immutable dogma," which she calls "Anything But Knowledge."

The dogma has been that primary and secondary education is about "self-actualization" or "finding one's joy" or "social adjustment" or "multicultural sensitivity" or "minority empowerment." But is never about anything as banal as mere knowledge. It is about "constructing one's own knowledge" and "contextualizing knowledge," but never about knowledge of things like biology or history.

Mac Donald says "the central educational fallacy of our time," which dates from the Progressive Era of the early 20th century, is "that one can think without having anything to think about." At City College of New York a professor said that in her course Curriculum and Teaching in Elementary Education she would be "building a community, rich of talk" and "getting the students to develop the subtext of what they're doing." Although ed schools fancy themselves as surfers on the wave of the future, Mac Donald believes that teacher education "has been more unchanging than Miss Havisham. Like aging vestal virgins, today's schools lovingly guard the ancient flame of progressivism"—an egalitarianism with two related tenets.

One, says Mac Donald, is that "to accord teachers any superior role in the classroom would be to acknowledge an elite hierarchy of knowledge, possessed by some but not all." Hence, second, emphasis should be on group projects rather than individual accomplishments that are measured by tests that reveal persistent achievement gaps separating whites and Asians from other minorities.

Numerous inner-city charter and private schools are proving that the gaps can be narrowed, even closed, when rigorous pedagogy is practiced by teachers in teacher-centered classrooms where knowledge is regarded as everything. But most ed schools, celebrating "child-centered classrooms" that do not "suffocate discourses," are enemies of rigor.

The steady drizzle of depressing data continues. A new assessment of adult literacy shows a sharp decline over the last decade, with only 31 percent of college graduates able to read and extrapolate from complex material. They were supposed to learn how to read before college, but perhaps their teachers were too busy proving their "professional dispositions" by "breaking silences" as "change agents."

Fewer than half of U.S. eighth graders have math teachers who majored in math as undergraduates or graduate students or studied math for teacher certification. U.S. 12th graders recently performed below the international average for 21 countries on tests of general knowledge of math and science. But perhaps U.S. pupils excel when asked to "perform their identities."

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