Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Failure of Education

The  pundits have been holding forth on the problems with our education system.  All can see the problems and all have solutions.  Yet, none mention what has really over taken our system and why K-12 education is failing so many.  The problem: the least educated and prepared go into teaching in large numbers.  Schools of Education now turn out abysmally educated teachers.  Many of these teachers are well-meaning and sincerely interested in teaching, but they have neither the skills nor the intellect to cope with the current system.  This is not their fault nor the fault of college teaching courses. Yes, there are still many brilliant and dedicated teachers but their numbers are dwarfed by those not as talented or as dedicated.

The education system we have was designed and came into being when teaching was one of the few professions women could enter.  The very brightest found that the only use they could make of their college degrees was to teach.  Most of my female high school teachers had advanced degrees in the subject they taught.  I planned to become a teacher myself until I reached high school and began to read science fiction, then I decided I would become a nuclear physicist like my heroes/heroines in science fiction. I had school counselors tell me this was a foolish idea, that I needed to be sensible. I was undeterred and did go on to receive and advanced degree. I did not become a physicist although I took advance physics courses and did well. No, my Ph.D. is in analytical chemistry.  Often I was the only woman in the advanced mathematics classes.  I had one chemistry professor tell me I was his best thermodynamics student ever, but he did not want a woman in his lab.  That was okay with me, I didn't like his research field. I went on to have a career in environmental science.  The only teaching I have done is in college.  While few women chose science, many women of my age chose fields of study that gave them careers outside of teaching.  The change had begun.

In the years that followed women flooded the professional schools and non-education oriented careers.  Women who once would have become teachers now found other vocations. No longer did the best and brightest of women become teachers, now those who avoided specific academic degrees and studied only education became teachers.  In too many schools, these were women who did not intend to make teaching a career, but only saw college as a chance to meet their future husband.  They could not foresee that they would work most of their lives.  I saw this happen in my time in college.

A good friend of mine roomed briefly in a commercial dorm because her parents had to move suddenly and that was all they could find. (She had been living at home.)  She was also a science major, and those years as young women pursuing a science degree made us close friends.  (One physics class consisted of 150 men and the two of us.)  Anyway, her roommates and suite mates were all female education members.  They never studied.  I reached this conclusion from personal observation and from their own statements.  These young women did not understand why my friend and I spent hours in the library studying.  Their attitude proved such a problem that my friend was move to a suite where she was the sole occupant because no other female student wanted to be bound by her requests to not party when she needed to study for an exam.  The next year she found a room to rent in a retired woman professor's house.  Her commercial dorm had a nickname: the rabbit hutch because so many young women became pregnant and had to marry. These were the women of my generation that went on to teach.  I know that not all teachers of that time had this history because I have known some, particularly women with advanced chemistry degrees that went on to teach chemistry in high school.   Nevertheless, most of the women who were education majors were not interested in academics or really developing their skills as teachers.

After my time, the flood of women into the business world and the professions increased.  The best and brightest chose fields where their brains and drive would be rewarded financially something teaching never did.  Slowly, the female teachers that had entered the profession when it was one of the few places for educated women retired.  As they did, the quality of teaching overall declined.  Now we are reaping what we sowed.  We underpaid teachers for years because there was an educated group (women with college degrees) with limited opportunities who desperately needed the jobs.  The few men in teaching became administrators whether they were capable or not based solely on their maleness.  Their salaries have greatly increased over the years, disproportionately to teachers' salaries.  So incompetent men ran a system that failed to reward competent women.  Now the system is collapsing.

Teachers are being blamed, but little is said about the competence of administrators.  Coaches still become administrators while excellent teachers are not rewarded.  Teachers salaries are low, administrators are not.  Class sizes are too large and technology is often absent from the classroom.  None of this would matter if women were still forced into teaching.  Teaching has too often been a consolation prize for those with education degrees.  That must change.

Teaching needs to be seen as a profession equal to that of doctors and lawyers.  The only way to achieve this is too require every teacher have an academic degree before they enter the school or college of education.   Teaching degrees must be graduate degrees and rewarded financially as such.  Education cannot remain the scorned college degree.  Women are no longer trapped.  Schools need to be freed also from a system that never recognized the importance and talent of women.  Money will ultimately be the issue.  School system need to become independent of local funding and be funded at the state or even federal level.  School systems must be run just as college systems are.  Private school systems must be free to compete with public institutions.  Money must come not only from government but also from endowments.  Parents must be required to pay or work for the school systems.  Extensive scholarships for the poor must be available.  Change must come.

Photo by kevindooley

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