During a recent event in Nashville, I made news by saying, “Teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.”
I have said this many times, in public and in private, and will likely say it again. This time it was important because Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee was present. Many were outraged. I was not speaking for the governor, and I would rather do anything than embarrass him. If I have done that, I apologize to him.
If the governor had not been there, there’s a good chance no one would have paid attention to it, but I will explain what I meant anyway.
My father was a teacher, I’m a teacher
One point should be obvious: I meant no disparagement of teachers. Anyone who reads my writings, or considers what I do for a living, would understand that I respect teachers and have long criticized what the education bureaucracy has done to the profession.
My father was a teacher in the public schools, and I am a teacher. I both employ and teach alongside a distinguished faculty. Most of my closest friends are teachers. Our college advises a network of excellent public school teachers across the country. I do not disrespect teachers – but I do disrespect what has been inflicted upon them.
Many well-intentioned people become teachers for the best reasons. Today, these good people are thwarted by bad programs in our education schools and the establishment they support.
We know this firsthand because many of the excellent teachers in the public charter schools we advise have fled the education establishment in search of a better way. They report feeling crushed by the push for standardization and the politicized environment.
In classical schools, they find what they were looking for all along – the freedom to teach and a curriculum that makes real teaching possible.
Contemporary teacher certification programs prevent teachers from fully pursuing the course of study required for the job. Future teachers are forced to spend the majority of their coursework focused on methods of delivery rather than on mastery of the subject to be taught. A recent American Enterprise Institute study found that only about 1 in 8 principals and a mere 1 in 14 superintendents express confidence in teacher certification. That’s alarming.
Many undergraduate education programs emphasize areas unrelated to the content covered in K-12 classrooms (such as administrative practices, classroom technology, counseling and diversity, equity and inclusion). As well-intentioned as they may be, these programs often steer educators away from the subject matter and toward a political agenda.
Teaching practices ‘rooted in social justice’
For example, the University of Michigan – ranked third in the nation for elementary education and eighth for best overall education – declares that its program “has a strong emphasis on developing teachers’ instructional practices for the purpose of disrupting inequities in schools.” Students who earn a degree in education “learn teaching practices that adopt a ‘subject-matter serious’ perspective and are rooted in social justice.”
In America today, most of education is ruled by a cold, life-draining web of bureaucracy – the blueprints of which were brought over from Europe and activated during the wave of progressivism that swept over the United States in the early 20th century. Education bureaucracies control more than half the budgets in every state, and they control the education departments where teachers are trained.
Yet if this specialty of education is sovereign inside colleges and schools, is it also sovereign outside them? If history teachers, for example, cannot be authorities on teaching without a degree in teaching, what about parents? Not long ago, a gubernatorial candidate questioned how much authority parents really need to have over the education of their children. In a surprise only to everyone who does not understand parenting, that candidate lost.
I think the solution is clear. It is to recognize that the sovereign location in education is the school, not the district or the state. It is the teachers and the parents together who know and love the students best, and they are the ones who should be empowered to make decisions. At Hillsdale College, our desire is that children all across America have access to high-quality education. We help thousands of teachers across the country in that pursuit.
To be a teacher is one of the noblest things. Good teachers have developed skills few of us can match and all of us can applaud. We need these teachers to help students come to know beauty, truth and goodness. Students need to be shown that some things are higher than others, and the highest most worthy of pursuit. They need to be shown how to appreciate, seek and live out such things throughout the course of their lives. They need to develop the character to live according to those things.
Through the instruction of this sort, one rises to self-government. And it is only through the instruction of this sort that we will preserve our republic.
Larry P. Arnn is president of Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan.