Making It Up As We Go

This link goes to a pdf of a very long but well-written look at the education policies of the United States versus those of high performing nations such as Finland, Shanghai, Canada, and Japan.

I haven’t even finished reading it and it already makes me feel a variety of emotions. I feel angry, frustrated, boggled, and dismayed. Our educational policies are amazingly different from the high performing nations. And, what’s more, it doesn’t look like our so-called “Ed Reform” is going to get us closer. Amazingly, it looks to me as if the “Ed Reformers” such as Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Bill Gates and so on don’t want to improve our educational system.

It looks like they want to destroy it.

Let’s say I wanted to be a great teacher. I could do a couple of things. Assume that I already have a college education, such as a bachelor’s degree, and a teaching credential. But, I want to really be a great teacher.

Scenario 1: I sit down and look at other people like lawyers or doctors or sales people or engineers. I examine the top performers in those fields and emulate them. I see that lawyers learn to speak well and that they will sometimes bend the truth to get their clients what they want. So, I incorporate that into my teaching. I see that top CEOs of companies will ruthlessly weed out low-performing workers and cut expenses to increase profits. I incorporate that into my teaching. I see that top doctors are uncompromising in their dedication to excellence and they will not tolerate incompetence in the operating room. I see that top engineers focus on solving problems with total efficiency and elegance, wasting nothing. I incorporate all of these ideas into my teaching. In order to do this, I find that my teaching style is nothing like other teachers so I must find ways to reinvent teaching as we know it, doing things that no other teacher in my school is doing.

Scenario 2: I identify high quality teachers by their educational status (i.e. their college degrees), their years in the field, and by how the students seem to like them and learn from them. I go to the good teachers on my campus and sit in their classes, observing how they interact, how they deliver instruction. After, I ask questions and note their answers. I read some books by respected educators. I go to the internet and social media to find out what other high quality instructors are doing. I might even go to other schools to study their high performing teachers. I take that information and imitate those good teachers. I copy their methods and find that I am engaging in the practices that the best teachers are as well.

Which scenario seems most likely to produce my goal of becoming a great teacher?

Obviously, what makes the most sense is that you imitate the leaders in the field. If I want to be a great writer, I study and imitate great writers. If I want to be a great martial artist, I study and imitate great warriors. If I want to be a great doctor, lawyer, scientist, or whatever, I study and imitate the great ones.

So, tell me, why do our educational leaders think they should ignore what the top performing countries are doing in education and make it up on their own? Further, why are we allowing people like Bill Gates, a computer programmer, to opine on how to improve education?

Bottom line, we should be following the examples of leaders in the field, not making it up as we go.


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