JOHN CHUCKMAN COMMENT: TEACHERS’ UNIONS A BARRIER TO EDUCATION?   Leave a comment

JOHN CHUCKMAN
 
POSTED RESPONSE TO A COLUMN BY CLIVE CROOK IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES

Teachers’ unions are a barrier to improving public education, not the only barrier, but the single greatest one.

The unions always make noises about being concerned with quality education and the welfare of children, yet their primary effort is to protect the jobs, levels of remuneration, and number of responsibilities of their members. These two primary goals are not compatible.

The unions will always say the public should spend more, but they speak from a point of view that assumes resources are virtually limitless. They are not, of course. In many jurisdictions the taxes on the homes of retired couples and widows support the schools.

If you examine the budget of any school, you will see the teachers’ income is overwhelmingly the bulk of the budget, leaving no room for better libraries, music rooms, art rooms, and even computer labs.

Many, many teachers do not even know how to use a computer, something that should be a condition of hiring and/or continued employment. You cannot even bring the benefits of computerization with people who cannot use them.

While there are many outstanding teachers, there are also many virtual incompetents, and the system we have not only tolerates this, it encourages it.

The entire establishment, from top to bottom, is corrupted by the power of the unions. The teachers’ colleges, many of them, have low standards of admission and teach politically correct pap and unanalyzed notions. Even at a place like Harvard, you have a professor known for “multiple intelligences,” a notion with no empirical basis. Yet you’ll find professionally printed posters in classrooms promoting multiple intelligences.

The education schools simply adopt notions from pop psychology or business literature in a highly naïve fashion and teach them as though they were a body of facts. Ideas like those of the late and now-disgraced Bruno Bettleheim get sucked into the curriculum. Why?

Because teaching wants to be called a profession, rather than an avocation which is what it really is. There is not legitimate body of scientific and analytical knowledge which makes teaching a profession, the way there is for science or law or medicine. There are the tips and tricks of experienced, successful teachers, but these are often forgotten by an establishment trying to render itself a profession.

We would improve our schools overnight if we opened teaching to enthusiastic and knowledgeable people who want to teach and help kids, including retired managers and engineers from industry, musicians, actors, scientists, and photographers, and just great young enthusiasts with expert knowledge.

We need a simple system where such people are used as substitutes and practice teachers a brief time and then, upon demonstrated competence, given their own classes.

What most teachers learn in education courses contributes nothing to education. Rather it is all part of an elaborate guild system supporting the fallacious notion of “professional educators.”

My best and most remembered teachers were the people who knew a great deal about their subject and were enthusiastic communicating it. That is the ideal we should have, not the almost Soviet idea of professional educators.

Indeed great past educators, like Roger Ascham who taught Elizabeth Gloriana, have said it is important to have the best teachers at an early age. We often have the opposite today, grade schools teachers thinking they are competent in almost anything while often it is actually nothing.

Typically schools – because wages and benefits are so high – cannot afford specialists in many subjects, and they pretend teachers are interchangeable from gym to math or library to English. Simply ridiculous, and we are wasting vast resources.

We get nonsense coming out of the educational establishment like the idea that teachers need only the expertise of teaching theory rather than any real knowledge about what they are teaching. That’s why the textbooks today so often have large crib sections in the teachers’ edition, basically telling people about something they are about to teach yet know little or nothing about.

In many schools in America, you’ll find ridiculous banners about being somebody and being self-confident. There are even morning rituals, like some kind of Pol Pot rally, around the theme. The teachers and administrators (virtually all former teachers too) carrying on this stuff have no idea of what they are talking about. The prisons are full of hard criminals loaded with self-confidence, as one observer has noted.

The principals running schools are generally just former teachers who have no genuine experience administering anything. Sometimes it happens they rise to the challenge, but all too frequently they do not. They’ve taken some additional gimpy education courses – and if you haven’t been exposed to these, you cannot believe how soft and without real content they are – and earn meaningless graduate degrees.

The politics of dealing with the mess we’ve created are almost impossible. That’s why I put my faith in technology. We are already starting to see the beginnings of a new future with things like the best teachers being recorded and available that way online at any time. I do think in fifty years our idea of the conventional classroom will be as outdated as the guild halls.

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