Ed School Follies

Who Teaches the Teachers?

Picture a classroom with groups of people sitting at tables working on a math problem. It’s a simple task, but the groups are having trouble and keep asking for more instructions. Finally a teacher breaks up the class, singing out, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands . . . ”

Sounds like a typical grade school class, doesn’t it? But it’s not. The students are adults attending a teachers’ college. The idea is that they’re learning how to teach children by acting like children.

But it also illustrates how teacher education courses are being “dumbed down.”

For all the controversy over the sorry state of American education, no one has taken a look at the teachers themselves—or at the training they receive. No one, that is, until recently. Journalist Rita Kramer spent a year visiting education schools across the country, sitting in on classes and talking to students and teachers. She published her findings in a book called Ed School Follies: The Miseducation of America’s Teachers.

And they are anything but reassuring.

University students who major in education don’t always seem to be the best equipped to teach others. Kramer heard students whose language was sprinkled with adolescent slang, who could not get through a sentence without using the word like. One professor told her, “We can’t assume our students know anything. They’ve never even learned the states and their capitals.”

Unfortunately the courses offered by education departments do little to remedy these shortcomings. Would-be teachers learn that the goal of education is not excellence but equity. Grades are disdained as elitist. Any standards of behavior are frowned upon.

In one class, a student teacher suggested handing out motivational stamps to kids who come to class on time. No good, said her classmates. It makes the children who don’t get them feel bad about themselves.

The major goal of education has become making kids feel good about themselves. Popular psychology seems to assume kids’ self-esteem is so fragile that a single low mark could turn them into dropouts and drug addicts.

But without any outside standards, the only standard of reference left is the “self.” So today’s curriculum doesn’t stress objective knowledge but self-knowledge. Social studies doesn’t develop awareness of the world but self-awareness. Art is supposed to encourage not expression but self-expression.

There was a time when education was about teaching basic skills and transmitting a common culture. But today’s upcoming teachers see schools as solvers of social problems. Not by equipping kids to think but by boosting their self-esteem.

Child-centered education, as it is called, once served a good purpose. It stressed ways to personalize education in a system that had become arid and abstract. But today child-centered education has swung to the opposite extreme: It elevates personal experience to the end-all of education and has lost all sense of transmitting objective truth.

We often hear American schools accused of failing to meet their goals. But as Rita Kramer makes painfully clear in her book, they are meeting their goals—because their goals are no longer academic but social. Upcoming teachers see themselves as agents of social change.

And that they are doing—all too well.


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