Education is the most ridiculed department on any college campus. Its professors are generally not practitioners. Its subject-matter consists of hand-me-down theories from psychology and sociology. Its literature cloaks itself in clumsy jargon in a laughable attempt to sound scientific and, therefore, legitimate.
Graduates fully realize the joke once they start their teaching careers. Faced for the first time with a room full of students to teach, all of the neat theories they spent thousands of dollars learning melt away into oblivion. At the same time, those education professors never quite go away. There will always be a new method or curriculum that some educationist somewhere cooked up and successfully foisted upon some unsuspecting school district. This requires endless hours of professional development sessions accompanied by the requisite drumroll of empty jargon.
It is a never-ending cycle. The new program that took hundreds of hours to learn will eventually be scrapped in favor of a brand new program. The educationists will claim that this is because there have been new and exciting developments in the field of pedagogy. However, teachers know that educationists are merely throwing darts; their programs nothing more than jargonized guesswork.
Despite the general perception of educationists as bumblers and incompetents unfit to compete in the more respected fields of study, they are actually pretty smart. As teachers, from our first moments in the education program up until the last days of our careers, we are never fully out of the orbit of educationists. They will always be around, first as our professors and then as the faceless people whose names grace the latest pedagogical fads. (How is Charlotte Danielson doing, by the way?)
That is because they have successfully established a system where they are considered the experts and we are merely practitioners. Part of this is due to the unique historical circumstances out of which our current system of schooling arose. The late 1800s not only saw the genesis of compulsory public schooling, but also the modern social sciences: psychology, sociology and economics. Compulsory schooling created a need for trained teachers. Those teachers would be trained at the nation’s colleges by professors who took on the trappings of social scientists. It was at that moment that teaching became pedagogy.
So now we have a two-tiered system of pedagogical experts and pedagogical practitioners. It is a system designed to disempower teachers by keeping any semblance of professional autonomy out of our reach. The educationists have a monopoly on research and theory. Those things have always trumped experience. Teachers are told that they have nothing to contribute to the field of pedagogy while, at the same time, the field of pedagogy is able to dictate the way teachers do their jobs. It is a patriarchal system where the teaching workforce, overwhelmingly female since its inception, is expected to be mute so that the experts can talk amongst themselves in the proverbial smoke-filled parlors of academia. They often take time from their bull sessions to order us around. “Today you’re doing whole language.” “Ok, now do balanced literacy.” “Hey, serve up some fuzzy math, will you?” “Don’t forget to differentiate your instruction. There are multiple intelligences out there!”
This is why a recent study of schools of education conducted by the National Counsel for Teacher Quality promises to have interesting implications. Teachers (the practitioners of pedagogy) have been accustomed to being bossed around by outsiders in the current age of education reform. Politicians, businesspeople, celebrities and assorted self-promoters have taken up the cause of public schooling. No matter their particular recommendations, they are in agreement that teachers are the problem. We are the ones that need to change so that education can be saved. It is easy for them to order us around in this way, since the pedagogical experts have been doing as much for a hundred years.
But now, with this NCTQ study, the reformers have found the pedagogical experts lacking. Apparently, the experts have been falling down on the job by not preparing prospective teachers to analyze education data. In the age of the standardized exam, worshipped by reformer outfits like the NCTQ, there promises to be no shortage of education data to be mined. Data training will be one of the most important criteria when the NTCQ releases the rankings for education schools in U.S. News and World Report.
Yet, the NTCQ is meeting resistance from the education experts. Many schools of education refused to share with the NTCQ their syllabi, forcing the NTCQ to obtain them via Freedom of Information Law requests. Apparently, it is easy for reformers to tell teachers what to do, but the pedagogical PhDs are having none of it. This is their field. They are the experts and they do not take kindly to uninitiated outsiders telling them what they have to do. They are tired of hearing that testing is the future of education. After all, it is the educationists who direct education. The NTCQ telling the educationists that testing is the future of education is like Kim Kardashian telling Stephen Hawking that string theory is the future of physics.
In short, the two biggest forces that have sought to disempower teachers (educationists and reformers) are at each other’s throats.
The other interesting implication is seen in the following excerpt:
“A lot of schools of education continue to become quite oppositional to the notion of standardized tests, even though they have very much become a reality in K-12 schools,” said Kate Walsh, NCTQ president. “The ideological resistance is critical.”
This is the type of reptilian discourse that defines everything education reformers say. It is the reformers who justify their high-stakes testing, union busting agenda with “research”. Yet, educational research is conducted by educationists. If the educationists oppose standardized testing, would it not stand to reason that the research does not support the notion of testing?
Oh, but Kate Walsh calls the resistance of educationists “ideological”.
It makes one wonder if the educationists do not support testing and the teachers do not support testing, what justification do the reformers have for supporting testing?
Could it be their own dogmatic ideology?
We can only hope that the NCTQ and the educationists continue to duke it out on the issue of data. Not only will it fan the flames of dissension between the two biggest enemies of teacher autonomy, it will expose the fact that education reformers have absolutely zero justification in educational research to push for more testing.
This does not mean that I am a fan of education research. It means that, from time to time, it is worthwhile to club your opponents with the same bludgeon with which they usually club you.