Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Good Education is Bad

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Only in our nation’s capital does having a conversation cost a few billion dollars. Two weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan unveiled a $5 billion competitive grant proposal designed to “formally renew this national conversation around the future of teaching.” Project RESPECT – Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching – is part of the Obama administration’s efforts to revamp the way the nation’s public school teachers are trained, evaluated, and compensated. 

Like President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, Project RESPECT allows states to apply for federal dollars in exchange for promises of reform. The main difference is RESPECT is focused entirely on teachers.

Most of the program’s proposals are conventional – higher salaries, tenure reform, better teacher evaluations – but one of RESPECT’s proposals calls for improving teacher training colleges by making them more selective. 

A 2010 McKinsey & Company report found, “The U.S. … recruits most teachers from the bottom two-thirds of college classes, and, for many schools in poor neighborhoods, from the bottom third. …” 

Recruiting better teaching candidates is obviously a worthy goal for reformers. 

However, the more important goal should be ridding the nation’s teacher colleges of left-wing professors who are more focused on equipping young teachers with a radical worldview than they are in equipping teachers with the skills that actually lead to student learning.

That's not surprising. As the young radicals of the 1960s and '70s moved into the professional world, many ended up teaching at the university level, often in schools of education. And many of them brought their left-wing philosophies with them, in an effort to train a new generation of public school teachers who are more concerned with "social justice" than they are with the fundamentals.

That, they theorized, would create new generations of leftists who will do their revolutionary bidding long after they're gone.

Their movement has been frighteningly successful. That's why so many public school teachers and union leaders are encouraging students around the nation to support radical causes like Occupy Wall Street. Dozens of teachers in the Oakland, California district recently pledged to spend class time teaching about Occupy in a positive light.

The idea, we suppose, is that it's okay if Johnny graduates with limited academic or intellectual skills, just so he strongly objects to free enterprise, property rights and U.S. foreign policy.

'Sites of resistance'

One former teacher, Larry Sand of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, recalled his college days in the recent article "No Wonder Johnny (Still) Can't Read."

"Teachers-to-be were forced to learn about this ethnic group, that impoverished group, this sexually anomalous group, that under-represented group - all under the rubric of 'Culturally Responsive Education,'" Sand writes.

Lisa Keegan, former head of Arizona's public school system, recently identified who she believes is the "poster child" of the radical approach to K-12 teaching: Former domestic terrorist-turned-educator Bill Ayers, who was actually elected Vice President for Curriculum Studies by the American Educational Research Association in 2008.

“Ayers’ call is for teachers to recognize that education must be a mutual discovery, a way of informing students that they are incomplete, and that they should seek to be more human," Keegan explained in an interview with EAG.

"Any direct instructional methods … as in suggesting to students that certain letters always make certain sounds, or that the Pythagorean Theorem always works … are seen as attempts to ‘colonize’ and dehumanize students. The theory is that if I, as a teacher, tell you what is true, then you are not free to discover that for yourself."

Ayers is a  firm believer that young teachers, and the public schools they work in, should be focused on and dedicated to radical political causes. We assume that leaves little time for traditional subjects like math, history or English.

"Mr. Ayers is the founder of the 'small schools movement,' in which individual schools built around specific political themes push students to 'confront issues of inequity, war and violence,' wrote Stanley Kurtz in the Wall Street Journal. "He believes teacher education programs should serve as 'sites of resistance' to an oppressive system.

"The point, says Mr. Ayers in his 'Teaching Toward Freedom,' is to 'teach against oppression,' against America's history of evil and racism, thereby forcing social transformation."

According to a 2008 report by the Lexington Institute, Ayers' writings are widely taught in schools of education around the country. 

"His book 'To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher,' is required reading in programs including Arizona State University's Mary Lou Fulton College of Education, UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, Georgia Southern University, the University of Northern Iowa, and many others."

And then there's Freire

Another good example is the popularity of the book "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" by the Brazilian Marxist Paulo Freire. A 2003 study of 16 schools of education in the U.S., including 14 of the top-ranked institutions, found that the book was one of the most frequently assigned texts in philosophy of education classes.

The footnotes of the book reveal the sources of Freire's inspiration, and the people he wanted the students of the Western World to learn about and respect - Marx, Lenin, Mao, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, to name just a few.

"The odd thing is that Freire's magnum opus isn't, in the end, about education - certainly not about the education of children," wrote Sol Stern in the City Journal in 2009. "(It) mentions none of the issues that troubled education reformers throughout the 20th century: testing, standards, curriculum, the role of parents, how to organize schools, what subjects should be taught in the various grades, how to best train teachers, the most effective way of teaching disadvantaged students.

"This ed-school best seller is, instead, a utopian political tract calling for the overthrow of capitalist hegemony and the creation of classless societies."

Secretary Duncan is correct in calling for changes in the nation’s schools of education. But it’s a problem that can only be fixed with pink slips -- not with money.

Students, parents, and lawmakers must insist that teacher colleges be purged of far-left political agendas and focus solely on the fundamentals of teaching and learning. 

Ben Velderman

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