Playing the Indian Card

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Light That Failed

One of the saddest things is the world is to see the light of learning go out. Especially in your own children. And I have seen it several times.

At age three or four, kids always seem to be looking forward with great excitement to at last going to school. Certainly my kids were.

By about grade three or four, they always hate school.

Something is wrong here. Love of learning is spontaneous. All of us naturally love to learn.

And that craving for knowledge does not disappear: it is redirected outside of school to learning how to skateboard, how to twerk, how to beat some video game, how to solve Rubik's cube, how to photoshop a picture, how to do almost anything. Learning something new is one of life's great joys.

Only in school is learning considered subversive. Children are actively discouraged from learning, and only “bad” kids fail to get the message. Time taken learning something is seen as time taken away from school.

How could we manage to screw things up so badly?

To begin with, without a free market, any enterprise soon comes to be run for the benefit of the employees, not the customers. Our schools are there for the teachers and the administrators.

Notably, the dumbest university students end up in education, excepting only those who major in public administration—and therefore the dumbest run the schools.

One test in Massachusetts showed that most aspiring public school teachers in that state--73%--could not achieve math standards required of their grade 5 students. The students are on average smarter, and know more, than their teachers. How's that likely to work?

There is a simple principle here: you cannot teach what you do not know.

And another: the best students will be the best teachers. These are the experts at how to learn.

Currently, we are recruiting the worst.

It may be, as many argue, that the best students do not want to be teachers. But it might be worth testing that hypothesis. It may be instead that the best students do not want to go to ed school.

By all reports, you learn nothing there. It is just a lot of busy work. This would be especially frustrating to anyone who is a good student and who loves learning. The educational theories they promote are usually pop psychology: right brain-left brain, “learning styles,” and other notions that never have any scientific basis, nor any basis in the humanities. They have all been pretty comprehensively disproven in the massive “Operation Follow Through” project in the 1970s: every technique sponsored by an ed school did worse than the control.

On the other hand, anyone who has survived classroom life as a student for 16 years or more, particularly at an academically rigorous college, necessarily has a thorough grounding in teaching techniques: in what works, and in what does not work. He or she is not likely to learn anything more of value in a few weeks of classroom observation at ed school. Nor is there any scientific basis for believing classroom observation tells us anything of importance.

In order to justify their existence, the ed schools must continually come up with new theories to teach their students something they do not already know, something that would not have occurred to them naturally, or that they would already have been exposed to in 16 years of classroom attendance. Almost inevitably, these tend to be extremely bad teaching ideas--things no competent teacher would have done. Which the ed school graduate then feels required to introduce to the classrooms of the wider world.

How would that work?

And there is another problem. Any self-governing profession is in essence a cartel, in which the members get to choose their competitors. They have a vested interest in not selecting someone much better at the job them themselves. Accordingly, once the teaching profession established itself as the special preserve of the academically inadequate, it began to work hard to keep good students, and good teachers, out; out of the ed schools, and, if they survive, out of the schools themselves. My daughter, who has been going to a private school, asks, “Why do the best teachers always get fired?”

It is true. And obvious enough to a ten-year-old.

The best prescription for improving the schools is 1) do not hire grads in education, 2) bust the teachers' unions, 3) do not put hiring decisions in the hands of teachers.

Hire the candidate with the best marks from the best school, measured by SAT score required to get in, with a major in the subject they will teach. A grad degree in the subject if available. This is not complicated.

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