Defending teachers from the noise machine


Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

118 Responses

  1. Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

    > However, one thing I will never blog about is how
    > teachers should be teaching.

    Good God, man, you realize what you’ve done here? How can you be taken seriously as a pundito if you don’t wax authoritative over topics like teaching? You mean to say this blogging thing *isn’t* just a gimmick to get you on a CNN panel?Report

  2. Avatar Jay Daniel says:

    E.D., I don’t know what is going on in your life, but I think you’ll look back on this particular period someday with a little bit of embarrassment. Which is fine; I do think that its cool in some ways that you’re willing to write while you change your mind about things in real-time.

    But this fetishizing of teachers lately is pretty annoying. You’re NEVER going to blog about how teachers teach? Dude, teachers are not priests engaged in some sacred, occult practice that mere mortals can’t understand. I know E.D. Kain Version 3.0 doesn’t like Michelle Rhee and the Teach for America crowd, but TFA has shown that a smart motivated kid with 6 weeks of training can do a pretty damn good job in the classroom. Furthermore, the skills associated with “teaching” are skills that everyone should work on. Parents, business managers, people who want to teach sunday school — you have to try hard to not need teaching skills as an adult engaged in society. Public school teachers have a very important job, but their *profession* is mostly the adaptation of a general skill we should all be honing to a particular context.

    I have to say, declaring teaching off-limits looks like a cop-out to obtain some moral high ground on the issue.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Jay Daniel –
      I’m not fetishizing teachers. I’m premising my argument on the fact that teaching is best tackled at the classroom level and that teachers and professional educators know the best way to handle their own teaching situations. Does this mean we can’t have a strong curriculum for them to teach from? Absolutely not. But we should allow teachers room to teach creatively, give them support to do so, and encourage their own professional development.
      You say I will be embarrassed looking back on this, but this isn’t really any different than anything I’ve ever written about teachers. Nor do I understand how you are in any position to suggest what I may or not be embarrassed about in the future. That’s a fairly arrogant assumption to make.
      In any case, if you’re annoyed by it, don’t read my education posts – then voila! The problem is solved.

      Re: Teach for America – I think it’s a lot of hype and entirely the wrong direction to take teaching. These kids often are really good, enthusiastic people. But they pop in for a little while and then dash off to some other more lucrative career. We need to make teaching a more lucrative career and – like Finland – a better respected one. TFA doesn’t do this – if anything it makes teaching look easy, which it’s not.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        Hear Hear! With one caveat. If we are going to give teachers a freer hand to teach with, we MUST give school administrators a freer hand to shape their staff. Teacher Unions must remove the abnormally difficult rules that govern the dismissal of teachers from the school. I can understand some of why the rules are there (so administrators can’t cull the older teachers to save money, or get rid of teachers they just don’t like), but maybe schools across the country need more trigger rules.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          A better balance could certainly be achieved, no doubt.Report

        • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

          Someone ought to explain to me why this is difficult.

          A pedagogical environment isn’t like a store. In many ways, it’s a lot more like a software engineering shop. And software engineering shops can be run in *entirely different process models* and be equally effective. Look at Fog Creek software vs. Microsoft vs. the Apache project. Haul a major producer at one of those places and dump them in one of the others and the culture shock alone would probably kill ’em.

          I don’t and never have understood why this isn’t something that can’t be addressed at the school district level. Why can’t a principal set his/her organizational environment, hiring the teachers that work according to the school’s philosophy, and letting the teachers that work better under another environment *go there*. There are dozens of schools in PUSD, just for one example. If one school wants to offer a very strict environment, you’re telling me they can’t find 15 teachers that want to work in that environment? If another wants a very creative environment, you can’t find another 15 teachers that want to work *there*?

          Is this what *school district* officials ought to be fishing doing? Facilitating the management of the employees across the individual schools?Report

          • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

            I see no reason why the various powers that be couldn’t work something like this out.Report

            • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

              It would require measured thought and honest compromise to put the goals of education above the immediate goals of the stakeholders. Yanno, the sort of thing you need real leadership to accomplish.

              You’re tenured by the State of California, not by a district, not by a school. You have preferences as to geographical area, but only to a degree. The principal has a lot of autonomy about his/her school. The school district’s job completely changes from management to facilitation.

              Which is really the kicker. Because the school district is heavily influenced by the board, and the board is usually very interested in doing things their way.Report

      • Avatar Jay Daniel says:

        As I said, I know you don’t like Teach for America. The point is that while they are in the classroom, they generally do a good job teaching despite having little experience and almost no “professional” training. Do you disagree with that narrow point? You shouldn’t; this has been pretty heavily evaluated.

        If you agree with that narrow point, I think it necessarily leads to my larger point that teachers — individually or in larger groups — should not be immune from a critique regarding teaching merely because the critic is himself not a currently-employed school teacher.

        Finally, I’m sorry if I offended you. It’s my own impression that your perspective has undergone a pretty radical shift, but maybe you’ve found the perspective that you will settle into for the rest of your life. However, given the number of views on your Forbes pieces, I don’t think you should be asking a reader to stop reading your writing simply because he finds one of your positions to be annoying — unless your goal is to only have readers who agree with the new you.Report

      • Avatar Koz says:

        “We need to make teaching a more lucrative career and – like Finland – a better respected one.”

        Actually, we need to make it a part time career, so that the responsibilities and frustrations of teaching are propagated to a wider slice of society.Report

    • Avatar Koz says:

      “Dude, teachers are not priests engaged in some sacred, occult practice that mere mortals can’t understand. “

      No, they’re not. To be fair, most teachers don’t pretend otherwise. For those that do, shame on them.Report

  3. “My philosophy is pretty simple: nobody knows how to teach better than a teacher does. They are trained to teach by people who are often either teachers themselves or experts in the subject of teaching. And they learn from years of teaching in the trenches what outside observers could never learn reading education papers and analyzing test scores.”

    ED – I know you’re a relatively new father so all I can say is just wait until your kids start telling you about their school days and see if you still feel that way.

    Maybe you don’t want to talk education because it’s not an area you feel knowledgeable about – but to give them a pass is just ludicrous. The problem is that these teachers are cranked out by teaching programs that are constantly revising their curriculum and teaching methods partly out of boredom and partly out of a desire to justify the existence of those programs. These programs directly influence school boards and school administrators and then we end up with years of nonsense programs.

    Here’s a newsflash – those inner city and poor rural kids that have the most educational problems – they are the ones that benefit most from structure. Study after study shows they function best in a highly-organized teaching environment. That means strong discipline, uniforms and basic three Rs instruction. They also need consistency from day to day and week to week. Unfortunately they are also the same kids that your hallowed ‘teaching experts’ like to experiment on the most. They try all their new programs on these kids. They use them as guinea pigs for all of their new classroom instruction techniques. They are just pawns used by your ‘teaching experts’ to justify their own ridiculous teaching degrees.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      I so completely disagree with this mike, I see very very little reason to argue over it, we come from such entirely different views.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Though you may indeed be correct about the value of strict order in inner city schools. They should totally try that based on their unique situation and local knowledge. I’m against one size fits all solutions, not against all solutions.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Mike, coming from the other direction my Father was a teacher and I can’t even count the number of times he and his peers would grumble about the parents. There were the indifferent ones who functionally cared not a damn what their kid did; the insane ones who were shocked (SHOCKED!!) that their child would ever be accused of acting up and this must be a plot to persecute their poor angel or the even worse ones who fly into a gibbering frenzy at the idea of science curriculums not discussing Adam and Eve or some poor teacher trying to explain to the teenagers how to not knock up a chick (oh no my Jane/Johnny would never even think about sex? What? Sex Talk. Oh no, we don’t talk about stuff like that *uncomfortable cough*)… I mean I could go on.

      I understand that you are a parent yourself and respect that but for you to give parents a pass and blame this all on teachers seems just as ludicrous to me as trying to exempt teachers from any blame.

      I mean home conditions; discipline and parental interference surely are at least as debilitative as bad on student outcomes as bad teachers being protected by hidebound unions are. I dare say the former is more pervasive and wide spread than the latter.
      None of this is to say that the union’s mischief is above examination but there needs to be a lot more change done than simply busting the unions. Ununionized teacher cores are turning out student results that are just as bad (or worse) than the unionized ones.

      Somehow a new balance is going to have to be found that lets parent be involved but not enough that they can ruin things; that holds teachers accountable to standards yet leaves them free to figure out how to educate their students and that provides a good environment for learning without costing the bank or creating gilded learning ghettos. I’m glad I’m not being paid to try and sort it out.Report

      • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

        Stealing from another blog – let’s get this done before we start worrying about pensions.

        [quote]Just retired teacher, health problem.
        1. give me students who have had good meals regularly; enough sleep that they are not sleeping during 1st block; parental concern about grades, work, etc.,
        2. give me parents who answer the phone calls and come to conferences (out of 100 students during a semester I would be lucky to see 5 sets of parents)
        3. give me a schedule that takes into account the data on teenage brains; they are asleep at 7 am even if the body is in the desk;
        4. do not give them 3 months to forget what they have learned. a school calendar that is not based on having the students at home to work in the fields
        5. give me enough textbooks, workbooks, etc.
        6. Do NOT give me 30+ students in an English class and expect detailed essay grading; I will give more multiple choice questions when you overload me with students. I need time to differentiate the lessons to EACH student’s needs.
        7. give me a society that respects learning and education and does not put down “nuance.”
        8. give me at least the respect and encouragement you give the football coach.
        9. give me a society that expects students to be educated to think and not just become consumers. I want to turn out citizens, not serfs.[/quote]Report

        • Avatar Koz says:

          No chance. The point being isn’t that the complaints aren’t legit, but they involve things out of our control. But, we can end the pension plan.Report

          • Avatar Barry says:

            We can’t do A, but we can do B, so therefore we should do B?

            What was the old joke?

            ‘Something must be done; this is something, so we must do this’Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

              I lost my watch down the block, but I’m looking here by the lamppost, because the light is better.Report

            • Avatar Koz says:

              It’s a little bit more subtle than that. Let’s think of supervision of the public school system as a form of corporate management.

              If a project isn’t succeeding, super-brilliant management looks at all facets of the problem, adjusts personnel, funding, organization, etc., so that whatever logjam causing the problem is removed and real progress is made.

              Competent management sees the project isn’t working and shuts it down.

              Horrifically incompetent management can’t see that the project isn’t working or chooses to ignore it and simply continues the status quo.

              Viewed this way, we the public are exercising incompetent management over the school system. It would be great if we could be genius executives but first let’s at least show some competence. We may not know how to make the public schools a success (in a way that we can actually do), but we can quit funding the failure.Report

        • Avatar Trumwill says:

          This logic can be used for just about anything… let’s solve this before we worry about increasing another penny toward education. Let’s solve this before we worry about teacher qualifications. Or, for that matter, preserving their pensions to begin with.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Good teachers are leaving the profession. I won’t pat myself on the back, but I was not a bad teacher and I left the profession for one which had more respect for my abilities, feeling awful about my choice.

            My wife left the profession after being assaulted twice in the same year. She felt awful about her choice. She was a good teacher, if I was not, and has the awards to prove it.

            So, don’t put another penny toward education. All the good teachers have left, all the ones I know and my wife knows.

            Any suggestions you might have to keep good teachers in the profession are entirely welcome. I eagerly await them, but I do not believe you will have any.Report

            • How about we let history majors teach history, science majors teach science and see if the passion they have for the subject matter trumps their lack of a teaching certificate? I don’t think teaching certificate advocates understand how many people out there would love to teach but don’t want to waste two years getting some bullshit teaching certificate. Let’s get them in a classroom and let them TEACH. it worked for the first 150 years or so of this country – i don’t see why it couldn’t work again.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Ecch, I see what you’re trying to say. In one sense, you’re onto something here: I’d strongly approve of more and earlier specialization in education, once a child is sufficiently literate and numerate enough to approach a subject such as history or science.

                Still, I’m a great believer in standards. I wouldn’t want to see someone teaching children without the rudiments of pedagogy, a lengthy apprenticeship under a senior teacher and what we’d call Good Order in the military.

                Though I was a drill instructor, I strongly disapprove of harsh treatment or bullying. Nonetheless, maintaining discipline in the classroom is vital and not everyone has the temperament for teaching. It is my observation teachers burn out at this level: the Army doesn’t keep drill instructors in the job very long. They burn out, the trainees start blurring together, you lose sight of the objective, you get callous and then sloppy. Commanders and XOs come and go.

                Hard to explain.

                Teachers need sabbaticals, time to get out of the rut, go back to university, refresh their own love of learning.Report

              • Avatar Barry says:

                Mike, last I heard this is being done in many states, if not most – a prospective teacher can go through some quick training, ‘apprentice’ under an experienced teacher, and then fulfill more requirements later.Report

            • Avatar Trumwill says:

              My point really wasn’t to advocate a particular position regarding teacher pensions and education spending. It was to say “We should concentrate on Y before we do X” when:

              X = Something over which we have little control and little hope of correcting.
              Y = Something we have more control over.

              That being said, I’m with Mike. At one point, I was actually going to go into teaching (my original minor was education-related). I changed my mind when I realized it required a whole lot of time and money to get training for something before I’d have any idea as to whether or not it was something I would be interested in. Good alternative certification programs, as well as classwork where necessary (in my case, I already took half of it), could do wonders.

              (It’s kind of harder to make that argument, however, when there are certified teachers across the country substituting and substituting while waiting for a position to open up.)Report

      • “I understand that you are a parent yourself and respect that but for you to give parents a pass and blame this all on teachers seems just as ludicrous to me as trying to exempt teachers from any blame.”

        Whoa North – I am certainly not giving parents a pass. I know how much work we put in to augment what our kids get in school and I think every child deserves at least that or more. E.D. was specifically talking about letting ‘teaching experts’ do their thing with no/minimal interference so that is what I focused on. If he had posted about letting parents parent and leaving them alone I would have been equally critical.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      Do you have any practical experience in K-12 education? Doesn’t seem like it. Those revisions to the teaching curriculum do not arise from the teacher, but from the various state mandates for this ‘n that. That’s the reality. Your assertion is dead wrong, and the rest of this thread is just so much reassertion of something which cannot be defended from the facts.

      Here’s a newsflash. Uniforms don’t improve grades. Uniforms are there to keep gang colors out of schools. Once again, you’re cordially invited to get a clue: once again you are dead wrong.

      I’ve put three kids through public schools, been on school boards, steering committees and been married to a K-12 teacher for 30 years. A teacher who, despite being tenured for many years, with two master’s degrees, quit the profession.

      In short, you have crammed so much error into this comment, it would burst if you tried to cram any more in.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

        Blaise who are you responding to?Report

      • Blaise,

        Well if we’re comparing resumes:

        – Five years in public education, teaching students, teaching teachers, etc.
        – Wife works for the school system
        – Relatives teach in the school system
        – Two kids with a combined 20 years in the public school system
        – Etc

        I never said uniforms inprove grades. Neither does tougher disciplinary standards, BUT they both contribue to a more safe and structured environment where kids can focus on learning. I guess I’m kind of naive but I feel like schools should be safe places without distractions.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          That’s a bit of a wriggle. Are you actually a certified teacher in a school system?Report

          • No – but if I read your post correctly, neither are you. I taught children for five years as part of a state and federally-certified public education program at a historic site here in Kentucky. I also helped write curriculum-specific education plans for a couple of museums and spent three years leading workshops with teachers where we showed them how them how to teach outside of their classrooms.

            I explored a teaching degree more than once because after archaeology my dream was to teach history at my old high school. Unfortunately the years I spend working with teachers completely soured me on a teaching degree. It wasn’t that they were bad teachers but I have no respect for teaching programs.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Look, I’ve been a drill sergeant, a military trainer, as well as a fourth, fifth and ninth grade teacher. I left the profession when the public school system in Chicago went completely haywire.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Actually I am a certified teacher. I taught for four years in the Chicago school system. That’s where I met my wife.Report

            • Well then we both have plenty of skin in the game. You are a teacher, I worked with teachers and taught their students.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Look, you’re completely wrong about curriculum. Teachers want to teach, they actually do know what works. They’d like to have some say-so in their own classrooms and they have none. All their curriculum is handed down by the school board.Report

              • I know where curriculum comes from. When we were building the education programs at those museums we had to make sure they met state curriculum guidelines. Teachers have discretion over HOW they teach that curriculum. That’s where I find fault.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Huh? How? First you tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em. Then you tell ’em. You take questions. Then you tell ’em what you told ’em. You give a quiz on Friday. You grade it Sunday night, you hand it back Monday morning.

                That’s how.Report

          • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

            Hey, Blaise you question Mikie’s statements and we’re supposed to accept your pecksniffian bs? I’ll take my stand with Mikie. But, you do appear to fit the role of a apparatchik/bureaucrat.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Mikie and I will manage this just fine without your bumptiousness, Father Brown. I was a teacher. Mikie knows a thing or three and answered just fine, on his own. I pushed him to finally admit it’s not a matter of teachers playing around with the curriculum: the state imposes standards on the process.

              Let’s review:

              Maybe you don’t want to talk education because it’s not an area you feel knowledgeable about – but to give them a pass is just ludicrous. The problem is that these teachers are cranked out by teaching programs that are constantly revising their curriculum and teaching methods partly out of boredom and partly out of a desire to justify the existence of those programs. These programs directly influence school boards and school administrators and then we end up with years of nonsense programs.

              Now, with very considerable justification, from his own admission, I might have accused Mike of being part of the Nonsense Program problem, what with his historical site write-ups and his Teaching of Teachers. But I won’t, because he’s honest enough to admit the state constrains even what he does. I’ve made my point and that was enough. I presume he’s doing yeoman’s work keeping his historical site vital and informative for the troops of children and their teachers who come there, year after year.

              You may stand with Mike. I will too, when he’s right. And it’s a rare sight to see someone admit where he might have overstated his point. When I’m wrong, I do hope you’ll have the facts to rebut me. At present, your bluster is blissfully unencumbered with them.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Being a ‘commie-Dem’ I thought you might appreciate the fact that ‘feelings’ must play a significant role in, not only public edumacation, but also any analysis that you might provide of our derailed culture.
                With that said, I’m in the middle of a nasty fight with a Ohio ‘teacher’, and former ‘friend’. who resents my pro-governor Walker position and has instructed me that he is the holder of, not only a ‘Masters Degree’ but 200 additional hours of collegiate work. My retort was that his collegiate achievements officially certified him as not only a statist bootlick but a apparatchik/bureaucrat of the first order.
                Sadly, the truth of the matter is that you and your colleagues in the teaching profession have pretty much failed the ‘chillrun.’ Or, that’s what the compliance reports appear to indicate. Very simply, way too many can’t read, write, or do math. I’d call that a failure. The question is WHY?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Why do we fail children? If I told you, I’d have to kill you. It involves secret initiation ceremonies, a ball peen hammer and lots of flaming torches. We have to swear allegiance to the satanic powers. We prop up the corpse of Teddy Kennedy on an eldritch throne and dance before it, naked as jaybirds…

                There, see, I’ve told you too much. Now I’ll have to kill you. Regrettable, I know, but unless you agree, immediately, to forswear your allegiance to the Princes of Dumbitude and submit to our induction rituals forthwith, well…..

                Compliance reports? You don’t say. We used to call those report cards, back in the day. They were sent home to the parents, who had to sign them.Report

              • Avatar Heidegger says:

                Bob-a “statist bootlick”–LOVE IT!! You can’t lose my friend. Hey good news–Chris, yes our Cognitive Chris, will once again be leading a group of every crazie known to man to the next tea party rally. God bless him, a most God-fearing atheist if there has ever been one, but he has told me he wants a “secret” baptism with water from Lourdes. How could I turn him down? If, by chance you’re able to make it to the rally, you’ll know it’s Chris in the crowd by the Enlightened halo above his head. and his Che t-shirt. The DC police took his cannon and Revolutionary horse and buggy from the last rally-said one levitation of the Pentagon every 100 years was more than enough….Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Overwritten, Mr. Cheeks, although I enjoyed it and agreed with the sentiment.

                My retort was that his collegiate achievements officially certified him as not only a statist bootlick but a apparatchik/bureaucrat of the first order.

                Overwriting is more the province of the left, indeed de rigeur. Anything worth stating is worth overstating. This is why a Coulter is so jarring to both left and right and why your comments, although just having the same amount of mad fun as say a BlaiseP, are sore thumbs to the readership here gathered.

                Indeed, you go past their mark with the “commie-dem” thing. It’s unnecessary. “Progressive” is accurate and equally heinous, as is “leftist.”

                Just call the spade a spade.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                H-man, keep throwing those trench grenades!
                Mr. Van Dyke, thanks, as always, for the critique. I not only appreciate the hep but the kind intent.
                You’re right of course. Over the top, well is reactionary and kinda fun. As far as my ‘commie-dem’ if it annoys I do apologize. The phrase has gotten me kicked off some rather sensitive blogs but it does wake up the lobotomized left and while not exactly a ‘pathetic fallacy’ it acts to make the object aware of just how seriously and dangerously derailed they are in a pneumopathological sense. For example the object might aske, “Why’d he say that about me,” with the answer being,” ’cause I love ya dude!” I might be the final warning before the abyss.
                BlaiseP, I wanna apologize re: my remarks about your abandonment of teaching. I’ve always considered ‘teaching’, real teaching, to be not only a Socratic exercise, but a ‘profession’ right up there with prophet, monk, and philosopher, all of which requires man to turn toward the ground and thus engaged that inherent humanity revealed in that tension conceived by God, Himself. And, of course, there aren’t many of those folks left.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                You’re not amusing. Teaching is a different sort of job, one with actual influence in the lives of children, with the power to change their lives, introduce them to the aspects of learning which will inspire them to be better people.

                Conservatives hate teachers, precisely because they want to be the power to un-change those lives. The reason why Conservatives will never win this struggle is because they hate freedom of thought. You want preachers, not teachers.

                You have already drive off the good teachers from the profession, harming the culture and were you given your wish, you would turn this country back to some bizarre vision of a past that never was.

                Your apology is not accepted, not while you thank the likes of Tom van Dyke for toadying up to your nasty aspersions.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                It really does come down to you or me. You can stay and I’ll leave. How’s that, Tom? I’m not here to take your slagging.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Blaise, dude, I’m beginning to think you might need some serious help.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Very likely I do need help, by your lights. It took many years to overcome the weight of credulity and superstition. Now I watch out for folks who will inject God into their equations. Infinities make for bad math and bad thinking both.

                Teaching is just a job. Some people do it reasonably well, others don’t. This much I do know: the craft of teaching comes in for much faint praise from people who want us to do it for the price of peanuts. It’s supposed to be a Calling, you say, as if we can take these children into our classrooms, close the doors for 45 minutes and the rest of their lives go away, as we do whatever it is we do (and by your lights, very badly) to produce happy, well adjusted children who will pass your tests.

                That you have been kicked off other, more sensitive blogs ought to give you pause, but it does not.

                I will tell you this: I am something of a prophet. I am on record for predicting the resignation of Richard Nixon the night Watergate was first reported and the end of the Communist empire as early as 1983. I predicted the sectarian dog’s dinner of the War on Iraq months before Bush invaded. I predicted the return of the Taliban and Pakistan’s connivance in 2002.

                Now I will make a prediction about this War on the Teacher. In light of the divisive rhetoric for the soul of the teacher, the Federal Government will begin to intervene: the states have proven incapable administrators of the public school system and the nation needs an educated workforce. Today’s Conservatives, breathing out fire and invective about teachers’ unions, will be given a brutal slap and told to get back to administering their church schools. And they will go, for they are not as united as they might seem. In Wisconsin, the GOP will win the short haul battle and lose the war. Walker, already short of support, will find himself friendless soon enough: the recall process will scare the life out of his initiatives and he will be blamed for the fallout. It will be little different than Eisenhower’s assumption of command over the National Guard in the era of Faubus.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                That’s the spirit!
                Your ideations of illegal federal projections of power into the state issue of overpaid/over pensioned teachers may come to pass but, in turn, may have the serendipitous effect of swelling the federal congress and sundry state houses with Tea Party Republicans who will righteously rage against such usurpations.
                I should like to point out that the reason all this fecal matter is hitting the fan is because your people have ruined the states’ budgets and as a result the temples were cleansed of commie-dems. It looks as if the ‘average’ voter, the poor clown that has to pay the bills you people generate, has had enough of this silliness. The Golden Goose has been butchered and eaten…ain’t greed fascinating, ya gotta love the benighted union leadership and a significant portion of the rank and file.
                It appears the law abiding GOP governors aren’t going wobbly on us…looking forward to the demonstations:
                “LBJ, LBJ, HOW MANY KIDS DID YOU KILL TODAY?”Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Didn’t say I liked it. Just said how it would play out.Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                “Your ideations of illegal federal projections of power into the state issue of overpaid/over pensioned teachers may come to pass but, in turn, may have the serendipitous effect of swelling the federal congress and sundry state houses with Tea Party Republicans who will righteously rage against such usurpations.”


                I’ll probably write more about this later, but our team is getting beat pretty bad in Wisconsin at the moment, though some public sector unions may end up getting crushed.

                Basically, for the first time in two years, we’re on the wrong end of a message battle. It’s been circulated that the unions would accept the compensation cuts but not the loss of collective bargaining, and Gov Walker’s reasons for not taking that deal have not been persuasive.

                And the reasons behind that have to do with your bete-noire Alinsky. People understand the abstract value of rights in the concrete struggle to defend their own. If we want to uphold popular sovereignty in Wisconsin or America in general, the citizens have to be made to understand that their sovereignty is being taken away and mobilize accordingly. Where the other team has dug in as hard as they have, it’s not anything Gov Walker or the GOP in Wisconsin should expect to accomplish by their own fiat.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

                Actually, Koz, you’ve made a rather brilliant Beckian point and trust me, dude, “I’m down for the struggle.”
                e.g., assuming I understood your point…my mind’s wandering.
                And, yes I agree that Walker could make your points re: sovereignty, constitutionalism, states’ rights, and the pernicious effects of the evil commie union/dem movement with regard to freedom, liberty, etc. The problem is, if he brings up Alinsky and the evil commie-dems he gets nailed by the msm as a kook.
                Also, what other political force stands between the evil commie-unions but the Tea Party wing of the GOP? Some Neos and RINO’s will join and some will continue to cower in their skirts.
                However, I agree that these GOP governors should do as you suggest. The trick is the message and how to deliver it to the unwashed.
                I wanna read your thoughts on this. DO A GUEST BLOG!!!!!Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                Actually, I mean something slightly different. I’m not saying
                Gov Walker should cite Alinsky, I’m saying he should use his ideas (I have a higher opinion of Alinsky than just about anybody on the Right btw).

                Ie, he shouldn’t get rid of public sector unions because he wants to. He should get rid of them because Wisconsin wants it, and he represents them. That means making some different moves than what he’s done, in particular letting the unions and D’s in Wi State Senate win this particular round.

                And related to that, political theatrics are almost always bad for our team. Instead, we need to make moves that engage the citizens the substance of the issues. Among other things, we’re doing much better in Washington than Wisconsin.

                The other team likes to complain about Citizens United and money in politics and all the rest of it. Truth be told, it’s mostly a crock. In this environment, message is king and we own the message. Our politicians can’t afford to get caught in ego traps and lose our advantage in message.Report

              • Blaise,

                You may be over-stating my overstatement…

                While the above quote from me is a little hard to follow upon re-reading I think the core point is still there. The people that create curriculum guidelines ARE influenced heavily by teachers and teaching programs. So that’s Strike #1 for Kain’s notion of ‘letting teachers teach’. Additionally, the bigger problem as I see it is implementation. Curriculum guidelines might tell a teacher that their students need to be able to multiply by a certain age but the teachers have some discretion on how they teach that skill. I’ve seen teaching methods change a lot in the last 20 years and I don’t see much of it as an improvement. I think the kids coming out of high schools now are far less prepared than we were 20 years ago when I graduated. My parents didn’t have to augment my education to nearly the degree that I have had to with my own children.

                So whether we blame curriculum or teaching methods – the ‘teaching experts’ are involved in both and these are the same people that Kain wants to give a pass to.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Wrong. Teachers have no input into their curriculum. For Christ’s sake, they don’t even have control of how they teach: they’re assessed by the school board.

                And don’t bother me with tales of yesteryear. The kids of yesteryear were educated in a world where teachers did have control of their schoolrooms, to the point they could strike a student and routinely did, with the full cooperation of the administration and the parents.Report

              • Avatar Koz says:

                “For Christ’s sake, they don’t even have control of how they teach: they’re assessed by the school board. “

                Yikes. I don’t think this quite makes sense.Report

              • Blaise – I am confused about your statements. First you said,

                “I’ve…been on school boards.”

                Then you said:

                “Actually I am a certified teacher.”

                And then:

                “Teachers want to teach… All their curriculum is handed down by the school board.”

                But now you are saying:

                “Teachers have no input into their curriculum. “

                if teachers are serving on school boards then don’t teachers have a say in curriculum? I know it’s not the teachers who are actually doing the teaching that are involved but shouldn’t they be able to trust their collegaues to design a good curriculum?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Heh. I wasn’t all these things at the same time. I was first a teacher. Only many years later did I serve on a school board. I can’t speak for every state, but Illinois school boards work within the boundaries of the State Board of Ed. A local school board has precious little authority.Report

  4. Avatar Sam M says:

    “My philosophy is pretty simple: nobody knows how to teach better than a teacher does.”

    I agree on some level, but I think you overstate things when you call it “appalling” to call their methods into question.

    Look at something like medical care. Do I know how to suture an artery? Oc course not, so I should not opine on that at all. But many, many elements of health decisions are, in fact, open to question. And many do, in fact, respond to incentives, perverse or otherwise.

    We see this all the time when insurers or Medicare changes reimbursements. Guess what happens? Referrals change dramatically. So precedures that used to be done in an OR are suddenly done at an ambulatory surgery center, or vice versa. Conditions that used to get treated with a procedure now get treated with drugs, or vice versa. Or stuff that used to get done doesn’t get done at all. Or lawsuits associated with Condition X enourage hugely expensive testing to rule out Condition X. Etc.

    But this shouldn’t happen, right? If the doctor is basing 100 percent of his decision on “what’s best for the patient,” the referral pattern should stay the same. But it doesn’t stay the same. In fact, we see dramatic swings.

    This is not to say that individual doctors are “robbing the system” or “gaming” it in some way. Some do that, of course, but the vast majority are conscientious and caring. And yet… incentives matter. They do things in their own self interest. And sometimes those interests are NOT aligned with the patients’, or with cost control, or with any number of other legitimate concerns.

    It sounds good to say that we leave the teaching to the teachers and the health care to the doctors and the fightinng to the soldiers. But there are limits, even to local expertise. Or maybe ESPECIALLY to local expertise.

    Are you OK with the biology teacher deciding how to teach biology? What if he’s a creationist? Fine, that’s a curricular issue, maybe done at the administrative level. But I can imagine plenty of pedagogical issues I would take issue with if my kid were involved. Just like I constantly question what my doctor prescribes.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      I said teacher-proof curriculum was appalling.Report

      • Avatar Sam M says:

        OK. Regardless. Sorry for the mis-read. But still, the idea that we should NEVER question how teachers teach seems pretty over the top.

        All experts expect this kind of deference, and it’s NEVER a good idea to give it to them.

        I don’t know how to storm a pillbox, but I sure as hell think it’s a good idea for non soldiers to CONSTANTLY question the way our soldiers conduct themselves in combat. I think it’s vitally important to always be questioning what doctors do. This is why we have civilian control of the military, and why hospitals have administrators. It’s why police forces have civilian review panels.

        This creates tension, yes. And ideological struggles. But to declare that the expert has carte blanche seems like a profound abdication of responsibility.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

          I never said that either. I said my blog would not be about that. teachers need to work with each other, principals and others on teaching methods and professional development all the time. that should be continuous.Report

          • Avatar Sam M says:

            You also said:

            “My philosophy is pretty simple: nobody knows how to teach better than a teacher does.”


            “…teachers and professional educators know the best way to handle their own teaching situations.”

            I think lots of people can, and very often do, know better. Of course, they very often don’t. So what we are aiming for here is a contantly moving target of interference and deference from non-teachers, bloggers and parents included.

            The fact of the matter is, no they DON’T always know the best way to handle their own teaching situations. Quick: You are the one teacher in a small school district. It’s so small that you have kids of widely varying abilities in the classroom. Do you cater to the top 10 percent? The bottom? The middle 80?

            If I live in that district, I am going to interfere. If I live in a district where they use some strict “whole language” pedagogy, I am going to interfere. Because I don’t think people who use that pedagogy do, in fact, know best how to handle their own teaching situation.

            “Education pundits, school reformers, and politicians all think they know what’s best for students and by extension what sort of pedagogy a teacher should adopt.”

            Of course they do. And they should.

            I am not saying that’s what your blog should be about. But you appear to be making a much broader statement than that. You are saying, “My blog will not be about that because…”Report

  5. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    Again, easiest way to “improve” education. Cut the rate of child poverty in half. All the charter schools, union busting, and wage decreasing in the world won’t improve results as long as a kid is more worried about whether the lights will be on or he’ll have dinner on his plate than his English homework.Report

  6. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I am willing to say that every single one of us who showed up in this thread (so far, anyway) has had at least one really excellent English teacher. Someone who inspired us to read, ruminate, and *WRITE*. I know that I have at least 2 in my past and 3 or 4 if you want to count people who happened to be important in my life despite not being paid to teach me.

    Just having one of these, however, can make all of the difference… it can make up for a crappy teacher in 6th Grade, a dull, dull, dull one in 10th, or a harried TA who spends more time discussing the memories inspired by one’s examples than one’s composition.

    Of course, I lived in a good part of town and went to good part of town schools and got kicked upstairs into the smart kids from the good part of town classes.

    Sure, everybody ought to have a drama teacher who taught us how to read the lines. No, *READ* the *LINES*. (I still remember mine. Wanna hear it? “I will, my Lord.” I was a guard.)

    The problem is not that, out of 12 English teachers from 12 different years that I “only” had 2 spectacular ones and 4 decent ones and 6 mediocre ones.

    The problem is that there are school districts where there are 10 cruddy ones, 1 awful one, and, if you’re lucky, 1 mediocre one.

    And when we talk about busting up the unions or harming the children, it’s impossible to not remember Mr. Richardson and how well he taught Winesburg, Ohio. Look, I’m not after Mr. Richardson. He was awesome.

    Heck, I’m not even particularly after the 10 cruddy ones. It seems so weird to put a fence up around the 1 awful one because of the union issues of some of the critics, and the hidden agendas, and the insincere crocodile tears of the people crying “What About The Children?”

    But my kids, assuming I had some, would have at least 2 people in their lives who could pass for decent enough English teachers and would do their damnedest to instill a love of books, reading, ruminating, and writing in them… me and Maribou. Of course, I’d also do my damnedest to make sure that my kids went to the nice part of town schools and try to see that they’d be kicked upstairs into the smart kids from the good part of town classes (assuming smartness, of course).

    And the worst they’d have to put up with is mediocrity.

    So, from a selfish perspective, I’d say that the system works and works fine and we don’t need to change a darn thing.

    If I pretended to care about “The Children” in general (as opposed to the kids in specific that are in my life), I’d be troubled that the worst excesses from the most awful examples from the parts of town that I only drive past are so very awful. Surely we’d want the worst excesses from the most awful examples to inspire “oh, that’s not *THAT* bad” stories rather than “nobody’s trying to excuse…” disclaimers?

    Because it would make sense to me that I’d want to protect my kids and their schools and their teachers at pretty much any cost, assuming I had any, of course. The fact that crappy teachers would be shunted from my school to the school on the crappy side of town (thus not weakening the union that also protects the good teachers in my kids’ school) is something that would make me happy because it would best serve my kids… and, of course, *MY* kids are far, far more important to me than the kids from the crappy part of town.

    I don’t understand why people who make more claims to higher morality than I do agree with this theoretical me-with-kids on this issue, though.Report

  7. Avatar E.D. Kain says:

    Mike –
    Like I said, I’m not really interested in arguing this point. We have fundamentally different premises here and that’s not going to change.

    The unique problems facing schools here are often related to Native American issues (though not always). These issues are different from problems facing other cultural/racial groups, because these sorts of race/culture issues are inevitably unique to the specific subgroups involved. Certainly the unique problems facing inner-city neighborhoods (drugs, gangs, violence) are different than those facing very rural areas (transportation issues, etc.) and those facing my town are inevitably going to be unique – as are problems facing each specific class, and each specific student. I’m not a teacher, so I don’t have a great handle on all the very specific problems, but one is that a lot of Navajo people have extremely different cultural values regarding education, not to mention the history of education being used as a weapon against them (Indian boarding schools).

    But really, I don’t think the impetus is on those wanting to retain local control and autonomy. The impetus is on those who think they know better. What is the perfect one-size-fits-all solution that you propose? What is your solution for my community’s schools?Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      mike also

      In the ten years since testing began in earnest in order to hold schools and teachers ‘accountable’ we have lost more extra-curricular activities, more ‘non-essential’ programs like art and music and theatre, and more sports funding than we lost in decades preceding that, even as the overall wealth of the area grew. This is a problem facing our schools. Maybe there is a way to address this from a national level.Report

      • ED,

        You’ll get no argument from me that losing non-essential programs hurts schools. For example, I think music education is vitally important. Funding remains a separate issue from proper teaching strategies though.Report

        • Avatar Heidegger says:

          A big Bravo to you Mike! Music is every bit as important as math, languages, social sciences, natural sciences. We’ve only just begun to see the importance of music and its effect on the brain. Thank you, all you neuroscience folks! I think I even hear Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms…giving you guys a standing ovation–please, keep at it! We’re going down fighting, that I can assure.Report

    • ED,

      You said,

      “I’m not a teacher, so I don’t have a great handle on all the very specific problems, but one is that a lot of Navajo people have extremely different cultural values regarding education, not to mention the history of education being used as a weapon against them (Indian boarding schools).”

      Okay so Navajo people may think differently about education than poor blacks in Louisville. I am not disputing that point. But we’re talking about how teachers teach. None of those cultural problems make 2+2 equal something different in AZ than it does in KY. None of those cultural issues make a noun something other than a noun.

      I think your angle speaks directly to a key misunderstanding. The issues you are talking about are ancillary to teaching. Yes, a school system should address issues regarding transportation in rural areas or gangs in inner cities, etc. My wife is a social worker with our school system and that’s a big part of her job. But the part of your post that I initially quoted was about TEACHING. That means specifically how do you get students to learn what you want them to learn. In that area my belief is that more standardization, not less, is better.

      A child’s poverty or cultural heritage does not make him less likely to undestand a math problem when given the same proper instruction as a child from a wealthy background.Report

  8. Good intentions may sit at the root of all this reform, but that doesn’t change the direction the road they paved is headed. American public schools have served most Americans well. The problems in our system comes in areas of deep poverty, typically in impoverished inner cities, on Native American reservations, and in poor rural areas. You don’t remake an entire system from the top down due to the outliers, nor do you remake a system of education in order to compete with other countries. These are problems that need to be addressed, but not in the way we’ve been addressing them over the past decade.

    So then, what do you do in areas where there is a lot of poverty? What do you do with Native American, African American and Hispanic kids who face a lot of problems and where the system is failing them?

    I worry that when you call these areas “outliers” you make them areas that we don’t have to care about.Report

  9. Avatar James K says:

    When I look at the education system, what I see is a knowledge deficit. There’s a lot we don’t know about good teaching, and local circumstances definitely matter, as you say.

    The logical thing for me then is to experiment, let schools do different things and see what works. Of course to do that you have to be able to define “works” in a rigorous and measurable way, and that leads to what I see as the big problem of education: policy makers aren’t sure what they want education to accomplish. Any policy that lacks specific, feasible, measurable, attributable goals has practically no hope of success. Those goals need not be centrally determined, but some one has to be willing to sate what they want a school to accomplish, and then figure out how to check if its doing that.Report

  10. “The logical thing for me then is to experiment, let schools do different things and see what works.”

    The problem with experimentation is that it never stops and our kids are the guinea pigs.Report

    • Avatar James K says:

      And the problem with not experimenting is that you either do the same stupid thing over and over again, or you keep changing what you’re doing without knowing whether its working or not.Report

  11. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Okay, so let me get this straight. You don’t know enough about teaching to criticise teachers, but you think that parents should take a larger role in the education of their children.

    So you don’t know how to do it, but it’s important that you do it?Report

  12. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    Erik, just want to say that your Forbes blogging has been like Extra-Strength 99.99% Germ-Killing Lysol for the grimy, toxic, sick-making public discussion about teaching, teachers, and education in this country broadly for the last ten years or so, and specifically (as the main component of the discussion about public employees, none of whom we ask as much of as we do of teachers) in the last month.

    The rhetorical direction we’ve gone in does nothing but demoralize young professionals who want to teach, and whose potential to be good or great teachers we simply can’t assess yet. And this obviously does nothing to get more children into classrooms with inspiring, effective teachers going forward.

    We needed a corrective to this public atmosphere around this profession from which we ask more than any other in our. So, thank you for your recent work, Erik. And, of course, thank goodness for Jon Stewart:—-like-shiny-apples.phpReport

  13. Avatar Koz says:

    “My philosophy is pretty simple: nobody knows how to teach better than a teacher does.”

    This applies to teachers individually. As applied to teachers collectively, it’s the exact opposite of the truth.

    Independent of the subject matter being taught, there are some things important to know in order to teach. They take between a day and a week to learn. The knowledge base for correctly preparing hamburgers at McDonald’s is substantially more complicated.

    Preparation, knowledge of the subject matter, personal presence, commitment, energy: these things are ten times as important as the education curriculum. If we could do one thing for the taxpayers and schools of America, banning graduate work in education would be a pretty good choice.Report

  14. Avatar BSK says:


    As a teacher, I appreciate your sentiment. It boggles my mind that major education decisions are made by people who have never stepped foot in a classroom or did so over 30 years ago. Obviously, the government has its fingers in everything nowadays, but education seems to be the area with the greatest imbalance between control and knowledge.

    That being said, the unfortunate reality is that many teachers are not “… trained to teach by people who are often either teachers themselves or experts in the subject of teaching. And they learn from years of teaching in the trenches what outside observers could never learn reading education papers and analyzing test scores.” As an insider, I used to bristle at the notion that anybody can teach or that teachers are unqualified. As I’ve seen more of the seemly underbelly of the profession, I can see that much of the reputation is unfortunately deserved. There are a lot of bad, unqualified, uncaring teachers out there. And the great work of the many great teachers that do exist is marred by being lumped in the crappy ones.

    Here is how I see the problem:
    1.) Teaching standards are too low. In many areas, an Associates Degree and a passing grade on a test that any monkey could pass is all that is needed to become a teacher (that is changing, thankfully).
    2.) As a result of low standards, inadequate teachers are hired.
    3.) Higher-ups see that these teachers are unprepared to design effective curriculum and develop effective instructional methods. As a result, they implement the “teacher proof” curricula that auto-mate instruction.
    4.) Bad teachers using a bad curriculum teach poorly.
    5.) Return to step 3.

    Obviously, the situation is a bit more complicated than this, but I think it sums it up in general.

    The solution? Unfortunately, I don’t think it is going to come from the outside. I think that the good teachers, the caring teachers, the ones who work 12 hour days and pursue higher degrees from elite universities, need to stand up and say they do not want to be associated with the bad teachers. They need to demand reform from their unions or abstain from them altogether. That is why loved Michelle Rhee’s plan in DC.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain says:

      Very well said, BSK. I completely agree that A) standards should be set high and that B) the good teachers, the hard-working experienced teachers need to play a stronger leading role. It has to happen from the bottom-up.

      That being said, I don’t think Rhee was on the right track at all. What did you love about her plan? Was it the two-tier plan?Report

      • Avatar BSK says:


        First, I have to admit that I am no expert on Rhee, so if my understanding is unrepresentative of reality, I apologize in advance.

        As I understood it, she offered teachers an opportunity to opt out of union contracts, forfeiting union protections, submitting themselves to stricter evaluation and potentially resultant penalties (including firing), offering them greater liberty in the classroom, and higher pay. Basically, the teachers who were already busting their asses because of a sense of pride, passion, and dedication would be recognized as such and paid accordingly. In a general sense, I am very on board with that. I don’t know exactly the methodology in which she went about doing this. And I do realize that her tenure was rife with all kinds of major faults.

        If I’m misrepresenting her ideals that I support, I will gladly withdraw my support. Regardless, what I understand her approach to have been is one I wholeheartedly support, at least as a short-term measure. It does absolve current teachers of taking a leadership role, allowing them to simply opt out individually, but my hope is that a groundswell will occur. The problem I worry about is whether or not any bottom-up movement will change state-mandated standards?

        I appreciate your agreement, by the way. Even if we’re wrong, I like knowing that smart people see what I see. It assures me I’m not entirely crazy….Report

    • Avatar Trumwill says:

      Teaching standards are too low. In many areas, an Associates Degree and a passing grade on a test that any monkey could pass is all that is needed to become a teacher (that is changing, thankfully).

      ??!! In what areas is this the case? Even a bachelor’s degree is inadequate in places where I’ve lived. The only exception I’ve seen is one state that offered alternative certification, but it required a college degree and going back to school to get an ed degree while you were teaching. And you weren’t actually certified until you’d put several years in (and, I think, got that degree), meaning that if a certified teacher applied for your job you were out. Everywhere else you needed the standard ed degree with preference given to those with a master’s.Report

      • Avatar BSK says:


        Luckily, that is the way most states have moved. Many now also require that a master’s degree is completed or started within the first 5 years. All great steps. However, many of these are relatively new developments. And the teacher tests I’ve seen and taken are still absurdly easy. And the problem is that many teachers are already in the system and tenured and got in under the far less strict standards.Report

        • Avatar Trumwill says:

          Can you point me to a state that, up until recently, did not require a bachelor’s degree?Report

          • Avatar BSK says:


            Looking further into the issue, it seems that my experience as a pre-school teacher are not representative of the experiences of elementary, middle, or high school teachers. There are still many places where the basic requirements for being a pre-school teacher do not include a bachelor’s degree. At this point, all elementary, middle, or high school certifications do require a bachelor’s degree.

            My initial statement was not entirely accurate and I regret the information. That being said, I still think the standards are woefully low, at all levels.Report

            • Avatar Trumwill says:

              No problem. We all make mistakes. I was wondering if maybe you were thinking of either preschool or substitute teaching.

              Regarding standards, I could write an entire post on that (and I probably will), but ultimately I think it’s a different question than “more standards” or “less standards.” The current system (intentionally or not) is more about barriers to entry and exit than it is about proper identification and training of people that are or would be good teachers.Report

              • Avatar BSK says:

                I don’t know if the answer is more or less standards… just BETTER standards, both for certification and for employment (the former is no guarantee of the latter). School leaders should be better trained to identify good or potentially good teachers. Schools should be better equipped to offer opportunities for the necessary professional development to ensured that teachers are up to date on the latest research and best practices. I had a family member who is a teacher in MA tell me that she needs to get her Master’s within 5 years to reach the next level of certification (a great idea) but that since the degree is compulsory, it often ends up being perfunctory, with teachers going for the cheapest/easiest graduate school just to get the letters after their name.

                I’d love to see further thoughts on it, since I think the training and certifying of teachers is an area where so much improvement could be made.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill says:

                I can’t disagree with a word of that. That’s unusual, because I am generally quite disagreeable on the subject of education. I ordinarily avoid talking about it for that reason. I think the fact that I spend 2-3 days a week these days in K-12 makes avoiding it harder.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                “Conservatives” cannot be blamed for the failures of the educational/academic establishment, which is firmly in the hands of the left.

                Let’s get that straight. Neither are “conservatives” to blame for the corrupt union/Democrat/benefits phalanx that is bankrupting the states and localities.

                Let’s get that straight.

                And a friend of mine, a gentleman of uncommon common sense, learned to keep his mouth shut about the nonsense that was being fed him in getting his masters in education. He played their game, because it was the only game in town.

                So now that we’ve got all that straight, that Johnny Can’t Read isn’t necessarily the fault of the left, although they aren’t helping. The family/social problems are likely paramount, and if we were ever to peel away the partisan problems, we as a nation, state or locality might be able to make some headway.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill says:

                I am unaware of anywhere that I blamed the conservatives for the failure of our education system.Report

  15. As a teacher, I will generally (99% or so) agree with you that administrators, politicians, and bureaucrats should just butt out from actual lesson content. But what’s to not say that teaching now isn’t like firefighting used to be ( basically a memetic, emergent order based on folk-wisdom and first-principles.

    I don’t want to imply that teaching is like alchemy or that the transmission of teaching wisdom from person to person is highly magical, but there could be systematic mistakes that we’re all missing which centralized scientific investigation could shed light on.

    Personally, I think the content of lessons should remain the responsibility of the individual teacher and there should be less focus on standardized testing than there is now, but I like the system my mother (also a teacher) has in Massachusetts. Every year, during school vacations, she is required to obtain a certain number of credits at seminars for teachers. There is a lot of flexibility. One of the seminars she took was called “Design in Nature”, which consisted of comparing morphologies of animals and human inventions. For instance, the class would first investigate the physics of bird flight, and then construct model airplanes; next they would look at ducks and then build model boats; fish and submarines followed; and finally there were snakes on a plane.

    Anyways, my ideal system for education would be more decentralized than my ideal system for medicine, but still highly dependent on well-documented best practices. At the margins, I’m down for deregulation of education, but I hope we don’t go too far.Report

  16. Avatar BSK says:

    Some hasty amateur research SEEMS to imply that my general understandings of Rhee’s approach are accurate. However, her attempts at “evaluation” of teachers who submit themselves to higher scrutiny seem to be primarily, if not entirely, predicated upon test scores. Fail.Report

  17. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    An interesting perspective

  18. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I always wonder why, when this subject comes up (every fortnight or so) we always ask how teaching could be improved, but never how studying could be improved. Not to say that teaching can’t be improved quite a bit, but I’m not sure that parents sticking the kids in front of a glowing digital screen from the time they can talk is even remotely a good idea.Report

    • Avatar Trumwill says:

      A question of that which we can control versus that which we cannot. By and large, most of the commenters here are not worried about our own kids. I know my kids will get a good education regardless of what school they attend. I will make sure of it. But we also recognize that most parents are not us and that if we’re going to help them out, it’s most likely going to involve something going through the schools and the teachers.Report