The thing about ed schools is that perfessers and administrators (deans, chairmen) are so SERIOUS! I mean, they are really INTO the flapdoodle. Sure, they grouse and moan that it's time again to do the massive amount of (completely useless) paperwork to get certified by NCATE or INTASC or the other organizations whose cheesy STAMPS make ed schools feel as if they are providing essential training to new teachers (that couldn't be provided by a solid degree in liberal arts, a few good books on how to teach, and a year or two apprenticeship in a good school)--but they LOVE the busyness.
They love all those matrices and rubrics and standards that they have to fill with evidences and artifacts and products.
They love preparing a whole room crammed to the walls with folders and portfolios and CDs and enormous three-ring binders loaded with syllabi and mission statements and conceptual frameworks and self-reflections and everything else except hard data (e.g., pre-test/post-test data) showing that ed students know how to teach and PRODUCE (not facilitate, foster, or nuture) achievement.
Because without all that, they have NOTHING to show.
When is the last time you ever heard of ed students being granted degrees ONLY after they show exactly how to teach all five reading skills, how to correct errors, how to teach long division, how to teach the Declaration of Independence?
How about never?
Professor Plum has read internet documents from over a hundred schools of education. Sources were the list of ed schools accredited by NCATE, or National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. [NCATE, by the way, has all the earmarks of an extortion racket. "Write what we tell you or we won't accredit you!" But that’s for another time.]
Ed schools were also selected from All Education Schools, at
Selection was guided by a simple rule: click on every fourth or fifth school on the list. When they start sounding much the same, stop.
I focused on “mission statements,” “conceptual frameworks,” and “core values.”
Here is a tiny sample of the sort of stuff I found… [Emphasis mine.]
Ed school in
“(W)e commit ourselves to work actively for the establishment of a just and equitable society… (W)e also aim to nurture transformative structures, practices, and discourses that actively promote greater equity. This commitment challenges us to think with a global perspective, to embrace the notion of a preferential option for the poor, and to act with a conviction of equity.”
[They "work actively." That's good to know. Otherwise, we might have thought, mistakenly, that they worked passively. Laying around the office or slumped over on the desks. How exactly do you embrace a notion? "Come here, and let me give you a hug." Nurture a transformative perspective? And that means...? What do you do, feed it mashed potatoes and keep it warm--adding fertilizer every week? How does discourse--which no doubt is real different from talking--promote greater equity?]
Ed school in
“The Department of Human Relations and Multicultural Education provides education in self awareness and skills essential for living and working in a pluralistic, democratic society. Human relations is a multi/interdisciplinary applied field in the study and practice of social responsibility within western and non-western cultures. The department is committed to addressing the serious questions of survival, equity and quality of life facing people around the world. The curriculum presents the voices and perspectives of groups which have historically been excluded from the western canon. Investigative and critical thinking skills are taught in which mainstream and alternative viewpoints are examined for values and veracity.
“Human Relations courses examine the impact of power, resources, cultural standards, and institutional policies and practices on various groups in our society and develop active citizenship skills for participatory democracy. Specifically, the department addresses issues of social and environmental justice within a global context related to race, gender, class, age, religion, disability, physical appearance, sexual/affectional orientation and nationality/ culture...”
[Wow! They have A LOT on
their plate! I wonder if they prepare teachers to teach anything. They
probably run out of time--what with solving all the world's problems--while
poor kids down the street from this school of EDUCATION can't
read or write, and probably have pretty crummy self-esteem. But, hey,
faculty and students feel good about themselves as world change
agents. What exactly is an "affectional orientation?" I
hope they aren't excluding pedophiles--I mean, THEY have been excluded from the
"western canon." And it's just not fair!!]
Here's another from an upper-midwestern state.
“The mission of the Department of Education is to prepare learner-sensitive educators with the knowledge, skills and dispositions to contribute to a better society. The Learner-Sensitive Educator Conceptual Framework is the shared foundation for all education programs at XYZ. The framework is built on a foundation of professional standards and emphasizes five themes: diversity, collaboration, reflection, empowerment and technology.”
["Learner sensitive"!! How long did they grunt and sweat before they hacked up THAT one? What would learner INsensitive be? "Hey, Rita, your kids can't read!" "Who cares!" Notice that the mission logo says NOTHING about teaching. (They NEVER do.) Did you see the interesting architecture? The framework (of words) is built on a foundation (of words). Solid! Real solid! No doubt this is strong enough to hang your hat on. Not a real hat--just the word "hat."]
Do you, Dear Reader, have any idea what they are talking about? Do you believe THEY do?
What's It All Mean?
The combination of internet documents and first-hand experience suggests (to Proferssor P) that with rare exceptions impression management is one of the main activities in the sample of ed schools. By impression management I mean the pretence of
2. "Progressive" values. "social justice," "respect for the individual," "diversity"
3. Technical expertise. "reflective practitioners"
The documments reveal that the ed schools are most concerned with impressing themselves and others with their importance and competence--reason for existence. Therefore, it is interesting (to someone who has nothing much else to do) to examine just HOW ed schools manage their impression.
Using "rough magic," Prospero (in Shakespeare's, The Tempest), created a world for himself and his daughter, Miranda—a world that was an illusion—a "baseless vision," an "insubstantial pageant" of "cloud-capp'd towers," "gorgeous palaces, " and "solemn temples."
The same may be said of some ed schools. The baseless vision is that they
1. Train new teachers to be technically proficient. There is NO evidence that they do this. It's all talk about their commitments and visions and efforts.
2. Possess both the mandate, wisdom, and moral rectitude to be "stewards" of America's children and the future of the world. [Usually when people talk this way, we wrap them in a comfortable strait jacket and give them a few months rest at Bill & Mel's Home for the Overexcited.]
3. Have the authority and wisdom to be "change agents" promoting social justice, tolerance, and "appreciation of diversity."
4. Can sustain the pathetic charade indefinitely.
The insubstantial pageant is
1. Annual round of symposia, forums, and conferences put on by ed schools to
impress and coopt university chancellors, state legislatures, and wealthy
2. Steady stream of brochures advertising "dynamic and
3. Newsletters breathlessly reporting the scholarly
activities of faculty (e.g., a workshop at a local conference, supervision of
4. Artful reports and NCATE matrices providing "evidences" and "artifacts" of program "products" and alignments with "standards."
The cloud-capp'd towers, gorgeous palaces, and solemn temples are ed schools themselves—where halls and classrooms display the often-infantilization and indoctrination of ed students in the form of popsickle sticks adorned with glued mung beans (a mathematics "manipulative") and posters describing "literacy philosophies" and "tenets of middle grades social studies"—complete with spelling errors, crayon drawings, glitter, and shibboleths. "All children have the right to read" (without one word about how to teach them to read).
There are three main differences between the illusory worlds created by Prospero and ed schools.
1. Prospero was a learned person. Faculties at ordinary ed schools--skilled at the manufacture of logically absurd, faddish "innovations" (whole language, "brain-based teaching," "learning styles") that are rarely field tested and almost always a waste of precious student learning time and teachers' trust and good will--merely pretend to be learned. Indeed, pretense is among the more polished performances.
2. Prospero wrestled with his weaknesses—pride and the desire for revenge. But when he achieved enlightenment he brought down the curtain—leaving "not a rack behind." Few schools of education go further than merely to repeat—as though it were a secular mantra--the word "reflection" in virtually every document—yearly report, NCATE accreditation manual, and course syllabus. They do not look for, do not see, and do not achieve insight into their fatal flaws--arrogance, overweening pride, hypocrisy, ineptitude, and, increasingly, irrelevance.
3. Prospero's illusory world hurt no one. In contrast, the ed school charade sustains the poor quality of teacher training curricula which yield teachers who don't know how to teach and who (despite their very hard work and fine intentions) leave millions of children illiterate—with enormously expensive adverse consequences for individuals, families, communities, and the nation—consequences to which ed schools have so far been invulnerable.
Script and Staging
This section shows how ed schools portray what they intend to achieve, what they do, and how they legitimize and valorize their aims and activities—i.e., how they seduce audiences (and themselves) into a willful suspension of disbelief.
The simple assumption is that what we say and write (the words, the concepts signified by words, the propositions) represents how we think and affects how we act. Limited intellectuality, for example, obviates intelligent behavior—including the ability to see even that point.
In general, ed school documents appear designed to create and sustain an illusion of democratic values, technical expertise (e.g., in curriculum design and teaching), and scholarship that is every bit as deep and rigorous as scholarship in other fields. Written documents, symposia, face-to-face interaction with NCATE accreditation teams, discussions in faculty meetings, and classroom lectures are the "front-stage" where actors perform the play to audiences of university administrators, school superintendents, outside evaluators, granting agencies, business groups, ed school students, and ed school personnel themselves.
In other words, the performance is
designed to conceal the truth (superficiality, flawed "theory,"
ill-trained students) with an artful pretense.
The "backstage" consists of endless meetings of administrators and assistants who spend the majority of their time manufacturing forms of talk ("Don't write 'think.' Change it to 'engage in the process of reflecting.”) and documents that are presented as the true picture of the ed school; and faculty meetings where members practice interacting with NCATE visitors. "Make sure to lace your lectures with the conceptual framework. Have students recite the framework."
The most common feature in the
sample of ed school documents is "empty (but high-sounding) words and
poetic metaphors"--to paraphrase Aristotle's description of Plato's theory
of ideas. The most frequent terms are meaning (as in "students
engage in meaning-making"); construction (as in "meaning
construction" and "construction of knowledge"); reflection (as
in "think reflectively"); empowerment (as in "empower historically
excluded minorities"); inquiry (as in "inquiry-based learning"); relevant
(as in "relevant contexts"); developmental (as in
"developmentally appropriate practice"); conceptual framework; standards
(as in "standards-driven assessment"); diversity (as in
"appreciate diversity"); professional (as in "professional
development"); transformative (as in "transformative
experience"); authentic (as in "authentic context"); complex; vision;
inspire; ongoing (as in "ongoing reflection"); engage (as in
"engage in reflection"); process (as in "engage in the ongoing process
of meaning making"); child centered (as in "classrooms should be
child centered"); active (as in "actively working"); global (as in
"global society"); oppression (as in "oppressed
Unfortunately, ed schools rarely say exactly what a person does when he or she reflects; or what, exactly, makes a practice developmentally appropriate. When these terms ARE defined, words of even less substance are used.
"When instruction is child centered, children are empowered to control their own education. They have voice." [Well, that clears it up.]
Moreover, ed schools rarely examine either the logical adequacy or empirical validity of concepts (best practice) and propositions ("Teachers should use best practices."). Clearly, it is impossible ever to confirm statements of what is best.
Yet, there are several beneficial consequences when empty but high-sounding words and metaphors are used. First, one is at liberty to operationally define terms any way one pleases, and therefore to satisfy evaluators and critics.
"When I use a word,"
Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I
choose it to mean—neither more nor less."
If reflection is defined not as applying rules of logic to one's thinking (the ordinary definition), but merely and occasionally directing attention to one's thinking, then a superficial journal entry counts as reflection.
Second, high-sounding words beguile audiences into assuming that the actor is intelligent and has the right values. Who, after all, would be opposed to a "conceptual framework"? By creating in the audience a sense of connection or agreement with an ed school that "fosters lifelong learning," the audience is lulled into a false belief that there is substance behind the words, and therefore the audience need not question the actors. "Exactly what would lifelong nonlearning be?"
A most telling feature of ed school documents is the virtual absence of words that might be expected of organizations that train teachers. Words such as accuracy, fluency, induction, generalization, modeling, range of examples, practice, mastery, logic, sequence, instructional format, skill, effort, precision, persistence, retention, knowledge system, analysis, test, and validate are rare—even in course syllabi. Sometimes the words independence and problem-solving are used, but these are not in the service of discussions of mastery of subjects; they are in the service of discussions of self development.
Documents—especially website documents—are oriented around and appeal strongly to the potential egoism of ed students. With rare exceptions, websites say little about teaching ed students to teach school children. Instead, the emphasis is on the self-knowledge, personal growth, and professional development of ed students. Examples include the conceptual framework, "By Teaching We Learn" (in which case it would appear that the aim is not that children learn, but that teachers learn); or "Each week, write a short story drawn from your own professional experience that illustrates how the theme of the week looks and feels from your point of view." (A less self-centered assignment would be to ask students the implications of what they read for instruction,) Or "The Reflective Teaching Model undergirds the professional knowledge bases. These knowledge bases are centered on knowledge of self..."
One likely consequence of the self orientation in ed schools is to foster in students an intolerance of criticism (which is consistent with supervision that is "learner centered"—meaning that student teachers are not told what errors they are making and what exactly to do instead, but are to reflect on their performance and think of ways to improve it), and the lack of incentive to be guided by research bases and to use field-tested curricula because these (as forms of "external authority") impede self-development and creativity. In the long run, the attitude that the self is the knowledge base makes some new teachers feel unaccountable to external authority—in a word, egoistic.
Sentences in ed school documents are grammatically correct (the right sort of word in the right spot) but often are logically nonsensical and/or trivial. For example, a document reads, "Meaning is constructed when awareness is created by observing and recording information..." This sentence asserts that the creation of awareness (whatever that might mean) produces the construction of meaning. Surely, this is drivel.
Similarly, a syllabus says that a
course will examine "the multiple forms of oppression playing out in
schools and society, especially those based on class, race, gender sexual
orientation, and their intersection." The verb "playing
out" is in the right spot, but the notion that a form is a sort of thing
that plays out is absurd.
Likewise, a description of a "beginning educator support team" states that "Beginning teachers will engage in a process of self-reflection to guide progress and assimilate information..." Here, self-reflection is placed within a process and the process is placed within an activity of engaging. In this way, purveyors of the mundane anoint themselves as secular priests with special knowledge of esoteric processes and engagements—when in fact they are speaking gibberish.
The point is not that ed school personnel write and think poorly—although one can make that point. The point is that grammatically correct but logically nonsensical writing (eduwocky) consisting of terms with little or no content, creates a pleasant dream world—a phantasmagoria of evocative and appealing images—providing members with the sense that they are doing something special and serving important causes ("making meaning," "celebrating diversity," collecting "anti-oppression resources"), when in fact they are merely talking.
Another feature of ed school documents is hyperbole. One ed school says that its conceptual framework "entails ongoing reflection...and widespread discussion." This same school asserts that "not a day should go by without some kind of improvement being made somewhere within our professional education programs..." Such writing may lead audiences to believe that this ed school has things under control. There is no need to ask, "Exactly what things have you improved every day for the past 6 months?"
Another feature of the performance
is a device that might be called the rubber check, or false rigor. This
is often used when the ed school presents itself as concerned with students'
learning. For example, a syllabus states course objectives as including,
"Demonstrate though written and oral discussion an understanding of the
importance of adapting instruction to meet the needs of students from
diverse...backgrounds." Apparently, students need not know exactly how
to adapt instruction, but merely how to demonstrate their understanding that
they ought to be able to do it.
Similarly, one ed school's list of "learner outcomes" includes, "The educator displays a defined sense of purpose on a variety of levels..."; and "The educator recognizes how students develop and learn, and provides settings that assist in their intellectual, social, physical, and individual development." Setting aside the category mistake of placing individual development (the larger class) in a series with intellectual, social, and physical development (examples of individual development), these statements indicate that the ed student does not have to do or know anything in particular (e.g., exactly how to teach), but merely must recognize something or be able to assist. These are probably not difficult "outcomes" to attain.
A final feature of the performance is the manufacture of a state in which nothing is certain, there are no (and can be no) dependable bodies of knowledge, and there are no firm definitions and standards--anomie. One ed school's conceptual framework begins with the following lines.
"In the Okiedokie (not the real
name) College of Education, we see faculty and students coming together as a
community of inquirers to examine the aims of education and the nature of
teaching and learning for achieving worthwhile educational goals...Historically
models of teacher preparation have adhered to the mastery of individual
competencies or skills...The faculty of the Okiedokie College of Education
believe that it is no longer acceptable to view teaching as merely telling,
learning as merely listening, and knowledge as merely facts...Instead, we
believe that a more powerful conceptual view...is possible, one that is
reflective and based on a social constructivist perspective that recognizes the
constructive, integrative, and transformative nature of knowledge."
[By the way, I think the phrase "faculty and students coming together as a community of inquirers" says it all. So stunningly stupid. Can't you just see everyone racing down the halls all excited about joining the high-level communal inquiry at the inquirarium? Actually, I can't.]
In these statements, the Okiedokie
College of Education implies that the field does not know or does not share
either the aims of education or knowledge of how children learn and are best
taught. Therefore, instead of being obliged to begin by teaching
(transmitting) this knowledge to new ed students, the school will be a
"community of inquirers" whose aim is first a relativizing
questioning of what the subject matter is. (Self-styled
"radical" professors will of course argue that education is a form of
Later, the moral responsibility that ed students have (and often feel) to know exactly how to teach reading may not be addressed because ed school curricula are organized around some notion of a self-affirming educational process (a transformative pursuit in which students develop "literacy philosophies" and "appreciations of their students' diverse backgrounds") and not around the notion of ensuring that all ed students leave with a repertoire of solid teaching skills.
Next, the Okiedokie College of Education commits the fallacy of egregious caricature, by depicting mastery learning as merely telling and listening. This device provides the grounds to present the allegedly "more powerful conceptual view." Since the constructivist view rests on the notion that knowledge is not anything "out there" that can be acquired, but is an interpretation—personal or socially negotiated—there is no such thing as "a body of principles and techniques that students must learn." Instead, they will engage in four years of fashionable but empty “discourse" in a "community of inquirers" -- with no idea how stupid their perfessers have made them, and no sense that they have been betrayed—until they are in the classroom.
The short term beneficial effect of ed school pageantry is a sort of self-delusion that provides a sense of security. The school will always be in business—providing new opportunities for students to start from cultural scratch—from the premise that there is no external and authoritative knowledge base to acquire—and the college need not worry that one day knowledge bases, curricula, and certification exams on instructional design, classroom management, reading, history, math, science, and other subjects will be on CD roms or on the web, that schools of ed have finally become superfluous, and that the curtain is finally coming down.