Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teaching for Whose America?

Tom Friedman's recent op-ed column in The New York Times, "Teaching for America", is garnering a lot of attention among education bloggers and commentators.  For a couple of responses, check here and here.

As for me - well, I'm not a huge Tom Friedman fan in general, and I think this piece is particularly riddled with inconsistencies and misstatements.  For example, on the one hand he says (or quotes Tony Wagner as saying) that we need to focus on the most important skills for the knowledge economy: critical thinking, communication skills, and collaboration.  I buy that, though I would say that this list is hardly exhaustive.  However, Friedman goes on to say that we should use student achievement data (read: standardized test scores) to calculate teacher compensation.  Even if we accept the premise that standardized test scores accurately measure student achievement in certain academic areas, which I do not, they clearly do not measure how effectively a teacher has developed critical thinking, communication skills, or collaboration in her students.  One has to be in the classroom watching the dance between  teacher and student in order to properly evaluate how well a teacher is inculcating his students with these abilities.

We need more good teachers in our schools, that is for sure.  But this is another area where Friedman totally misses the boat.  He says that since countries that are successfully educating their youth - specifically Finland and Denmark - require that all their teachers come from the top 1/3 of their college graduating classes, that we would be wise to follow suit.  Statistics 101, people - correlation does NOT imply causation.  Better students do not necessarily make better teachers - I would argue that the opposite might just as well be true in a system where school "success" requires regurgitating facts and filling in little black dots with #2 pencils better than your peers.  Teaching is an avocation, a gift - and a skill, one that can be honed and refined, but not one that can be predicted from a person's GPA.

And here's the kicker:
Wagner thinks we should create a West Point for teachers: “We need a new National Education Academy, modeled after our military academies, to raise the status of the profession and to support the R.& D. that is essential for reinventing teaching, learning and assessment in the 21st century.”
Setting aside the mixed metaphors - are our schools like the military, or like a Fortune 100 company? - the idea that we need to create a high-profile academy in order to raise the status of teachers is, once again, totally missing the mark.  As long as we view schools as simply training grounds for raising the next generation of money-makers, the teachers will continue to be seen as the privates in the trenches, making possible the work of the high-ranked generals who are really running the show.  The only way we are going to raise the status of teachers is to start valuing the work they do for what it is, and not what it will one day become.

If we want our children to not only develop the skills they need to participate in tomorrow's workforce (whatever that will mean), but to develop the qualities they need to be happy, responsible and productive human beings, then we need to rethink the whole system.  This is one place where Friedman got it right - we parents need to do our parts.  We need to demand, and to build, places where students can learn how to learn, where they can develop their unique gifts and talents, where they can nurture the sparks of curiosity and creativity that lies within each of them - places, of course, like Wellspring!

No comments:

Post a Comment