I respect intelligent people. And yet, I often find myself reading the ideas of intellectuals with a tainted perspective, as if I don't quite believe that they know what they're talking about. You see, as a teacher, I am not that intelligent, according to the great philosopher, Arthur Levine.
In a recent essay for the Boston Globe, Levine reminds the public that "At one state university we visited, most prospective teachers were underprepared students from poorly performing local schools, admitted under low admissions standards, taking easier versions of traditional liberal arts classes." I'll give Levine the benefit of the doubt that he is truly trying to improve the education system by improving the state of teacher training. But I deem his subtly subversive comments as offensive.
Sure, I'll admit it, he's smarter than me. That's why he is president emeritus of Teacher's College, Columbia University. And good for him. He certainly has some valid points about the quality of teacher education programs. I agree with the notion that prospective teachers "should complete a traditional arts and sciences bachelor's degree in a content area such as math, history or English, and then undertake a year of graduate study to learn how to communicate their subject in ways that promote student learning." Having completed a degree of Bachelor's Arts prior to entering the teacher certification program, I believe I benefited my chosen career.
And yet, Levine implies that teachers are underachieving slackers who can barely read or write. His Columbia University elitism won't gain him many allies among the blue collar rowdies of today's high schools. What Levine fails to realize is that, simply because not every teacher is trained by "distinguished" faculty, most teachers have the tools to be effective. And while I agree with Levine that teaching is a profession, and one worthy of more pay, as he also notes, there is an element of craft that must be learned "on the job;" further, there is also an element of vocation--a word derived from the latin vocare, or to call. For as intelligent as someone like Levine might be, or as skillfuly trained as someone might be if they were to graduate from Columbia, if he has no interest in the living, breathing students walking through his door, he will fail.
Levine is correct to challenge our schools of education to improve; he is correct to see us as professionals, worthy of much more than we make; however, he is wrong to assume that the only way to improve teaching is through researched practices. As I've stated many times, my research happens not only during the fifty minutes I have with each student during the day, but also at the sporting events, plays, concerts, and other activities after school.
This latent elitism of the education researchers does more harm to American public education than it helps, and therefore, not worth much more than the time it takes to finish reading it.