How Educators Account for Themselves

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Many
commentators, perhaps most notably Thomas Sowell, have written about
the public education establishment recently. Among the common complaints
are that education majors are the weakest academic group on campus;
that education programs teach primarily faddish education theories
and devalue subject matter expertise; and that teachers' unions
work only to preserve teachers' jobs, and do not prioritize improving
education. All these points are easy enough to confirm. There are
other considerations that have not been as well covered by most
of the recent commentary, however, and they shed more light on the
problems with public education.

To
see what education departments have to say about themselves, I studied
the education programs at University of Alabama (my main alma mater)
and Oregon State University, because it was as far away geographically,
and probably culturally, as you could get from Alabama. I was interested
mainly in public universities. UA admits undergraduate education
majors competitively on the basis of the usual things – test scores,
grades, extracurricular activities – plus "the applicant's understanding
of, and commitment to, teaching as a profession…." Such a commitment,
whatever it means, is not required of engineering majors, or even
of those pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology at Alabama. I was
intrigued by another peculiarity of the education program: While
the engineering and psychology departments outline their courses
of study in the general catalogs, the education program notes that
it chooses not to do so, but makes degree requirements available
only through individual counselors in the program.

Oregon
State does not appear to offer undergraduate programs in education,
but their introduction to the graduate program is a primer in political
correctness. As at Alabama, "commitment" to the profession
is required for admission. Early in the introduction, the program
claims to be committed to diversity of ideas, but this claim is
belied as you read further. They "challenge dogmatic opinions,"
but this is code for conservative or libertarian opinions, because
further on they commit to a "progressive social vision,"
which is not even code for statist social engineering. This is later
confirmed, as they proudly adhere to "issues of equity and
diversity in learning communities," with "diversity"
being defined still later as "diverse populations," which
of course means skin color. "Equity," as we know, means
preferences in admissions and hiring.

The
OSU School of Education finishes its introduction with a flourish:
Their goal is to "Influence programs and policies of professional
groups that represent policy makers and professional and state bodies
that enact and implement licensure, accreditation, program approval
and certification standards and procedures." Can anyone imagine
an engineering, psychology, or even political science department
saying such a thing? OSU is at least honest, as all across the nation
teachers' unions and university education departments work together
to intimidate legislators through block voting. Remember they were
powerful enough to force Al Gore and everyone else in the Democrat
Party to vote against school vouchers when most Democrat luminaries
seem to have their own children in private schools. (I am not quite
endorsing voucher programs, however; many analysts from the Right
have noted the potential for vouchers to institute national government
control of private and religious schools.)

So
how do these people present themselves in the classroom? Given my
own experience, every derogation of the competence of education
specialists is plausible. I took a graduate course in "music
research" taught by an EdD. For whatever reason, our teacher
and the textbook took it upon themselves to instruct us on logic
and psychology. The textbook's distinction between inductive and
deductive logic was the obsolete and incorrect general-to-specific-and-vice-versa
criterion, which has been touted for generations by logicians themselves
as meaningless. I knew this because I studied logic at Alabama,
and our logic textbook was written by a logician. I checked: All
other logic texts I could find at the library agreed that the proper
distinction was between logical necessity (deduction) and logical
probability (induction) of the conclusion of an argument.

The
textbook also subdivided the general field of psychology in a nonsensical
way, and got completely wrong the definition of psychological test
validity, a crucial concept in the field. I knew this because at
the time I had just completed an MS in industrial psychology. At
my graduation from the music program, I sat next to a student who
had just completed his PhD in chemistry. He was laughing, and when
I asked what about, he said "the education majors over there."
I learned the chemist had taken a graduate chemistry course in the
education department, and he reported they were teaching false and
obsolete information there, too (!; about chemistry?).

How
do the educators respond to course-content criticisms? As my final
paper in that music research course, I chose to document the problems
with the textbook. For example, I provided the proper way to distinguish
between induction and deduction. I referred to logic textbooks,
and the page numbers cited all were in the single digits, signifying
that logicians consider this basic, introductory material. To my
surprise, after the semester the teacher sent my paper to the author.
The textbook had not yet been published – we were using a prepublication
draft – so it was possible that my comments would make the author
review some primary sources. Three years later, I saw another student
with a more recent draft of the same text, so I looked inside for
coverage of the logic issue. The author was still using the obsolete
and incorrect general-to-specific notion, demonstrating a baffling
belligerence in the face of plain truth about uncontroversial, technical
terminology.

Home
school your children.

March
12, 2001

Brad
Edmonds, Doctor of Musical Arts, is a banker in Alabama.

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