Hopefully you will receive dozens of e-mails from teachers who, like me, are insulted by Michael Larrick’s commentary piece (May 2-5 edition), which reveals more about the author’s ignorance than it does about the current state of education. He says we should keep the graduation exam as a means of gauging teacher quality; that the current sorry state of education can be laid in the laps of academically challenged teachers who are responsible for inflating grades and engaging in social work more than teaching academics.
Where did his statistics come from? Not one source was cited.
He objects to the fact that over “two-thirds (69 percent) of all public elementary school teachers majored in ‘general education’ and not in a specific subject as undergraduates.” In California, that’s a liberal studies degree, and what is wrong with that? Elementary school teachers teach all subjects — math, social studies, language arts, science, etc. What subject should prospective teachers major in to cover all that?
For those of us who did not have the foresight to major in liberal studies, there is the MSAT, a comprehensive test of competency in all subjects that must be passed to enter a teacher credential program. (Teachers, as far as I know, are not required to take the GRE to enter a credential program, so I don’t know where this author got his information regarding teachers coming from the “absolute bottom” of GRE examinees.) Teachers must attend continuing education classes in order to renew their credentials every five years. This is not the profession of dunces Mr. Larrick imagines. In my own case, I graduated from Mills College with honors without taking one “Mickey Mouse course.”
Mr. Larrick declares us guilty of discarding traditional scholarship and adopting the “psychologist, social worker model” of education. I am mystified as to what that is, unless he’s referring to teachers who must deal with society’s dysfunctions, which get in the way of education. Mr. Larrick, what would you have me do?
By law I have to teach all who come through my classroom door, regardless of traumas experienced, learning disabilities, medical conditions, ADHD, etc. I would love to have a class of well-adjusted individuals whose families are intact, who never see their fathers hitting their mothers, who never see their parents taking drugs, who have never had a parent in jail, who have never been beaten, who regularly eat well-balanced meals, who go to summer camp, whose parents take them to museums and parks and the library, who grow up with a solid sense of right and wrong.
This is the reality of the public school classroom: While most of my students are well-adjusted, enough are emotionally unprepared for the classroom that I can’t ignore my “social worker” role. My primary concern is the academic success of all my students, and sometimes that means I have to focus on non-academic factors in their lives.
Mr. Larrick claims the average Joe was better educated 100 years ago. On what basis does he make this claim? Just on the content of one test? How does he know that the average Joe actually passed the test? What percentage of the U.S. population 100 years ago went to school? Were average Joes black as well as white? Were they girls as well as boys? Were they poor as well as rich? What constituted the curriculum 100 years ago that students would be better educated?
Mr. Larrick believes we are over-paid. Compared to whom? If you take into account the level of education required for teaching and compare that to other professions with similar requirements, which profession is the least paid? Also, Mr. Larrick bases his assumption on an erroneous belief that we are paid for nine months. We are actually paid for and work 10 months.
I am disappointed this paper would run commentary so sloppy in its scholarship. Next time you run a piece on education, get it from somebody who knows what he or she is talking about.