Teacher views opposite mine

Although I am sympathetic to teachers, many of them disagree with me because I look at their situations from the opposite perspective.

For example, they look at the need for education reform, and they immediately want administrators, school board members, and state legislators to lead the way. I look at education reform by first looking at the history of public education. Then I conclude that governing elites will be the last people to lead reform.  They have benefited from our current system — they are administrators, school board members, and state legislators.

A related example is that teachers believe they are powerless to reform education, but I believe teachers are powerful.  I look at it from the perspective of a reformer who has an important idea for improving education.  What is that reformer’s greatest frustration?  Wouldn’t it be that, no matter how good the idea, 99% of teachers would ignore it and continue to do what they have always done? Teachers hold the ultimate power concerning classroom and school improvement, reform, or lack of reform.  Many teachers, however, have been taught to believe otherwise. And teachers believe what they are taught.

A third example of looking from the opposite perspective is the question of how to assess and improve teaching.  Educators believe improved teaching is the key to improved education, but they are frustrated by the difficulty of assessing and improving instruction.  Furthermore, many administrators and parents say it is almost impossible to fire bad teachers, which is a concern of all who want to improve schools.

Looking at firing bad teachers from the opposite perspective, I believe it is simple. If a teacher does not have the imagination or other virtues needed to be a good teacher (like any artist who has nothing significant to communicate), they should be asked to develop those virtues, or find a different career.

The typical response is: “But you can’t measure virtues!”  I don’t need to measure anybody’s virtue because I am looking from the opposite direction.  Policy makers, administrators and teachers believe that, in order to fire a teacher, supervisors have to “catch” a teacher being so bad that their “badness” offends our understanding of the absolute minimum that teachers must do and not do.  One example of being “that bad” is inappropriate sexual behavior involving students. We all know teachers are fired for this, but teachers are rarely fired for anything else.  Why is that?

The reason is that educators believe supervisors have to catch a teacher being so bad that they can go to court and do the following three things:

1.  Explain why a teacher’s specific “badness” should result in termination (taking a teacher’s property right).

2.  Explain, under cross examination, whether or not this teacher has ever been a “good” teacher for some students, knowing that students and parents will be called by the defense to vouch for the teacher.

3.  Explain, under cross examination, why similarly “bad” teachers have not also been fired.

All this legal wrangling results from having no definition of the minimum all teachers must do. (Lawyers love this fact.) The path to such a  minimum is a universal definition of the educated person.  If we had such a definition, the minimum for all teachers would be to model and teach that definition.

I look at firing teachers from the opposite direction.  The six-virtues define the educated person, so the minimum all teachers must do is model and teach (1) understanding, (2) imagination, (3) strong character, (4) courage, (5) humility and (6) generosity.  Instead of a supervisor having to catch teachers being “bad,” it is the responsibility of teachers to provide evidence of the ways they model and teach the virtues.  Teachers who cannot describe situations in which they modeled the virtues and in which students learned them should find a different career.  Here is my testimony in court:

Thank you for inviting me to testify, Mr./Ms. prosecuting attorney.  For the three years prior to this one Mr. Smith reported 2, 3, and 2 times when he modeled any of the virtues or his students learned any of them.  Therefore, his improvement plan for this year required him to describe at least 10 such situations, which is the norm teachers agreed to in our school. This year Mr. Smith described only 4 virtue modeling and learning situations.  According to his own reports, Mr. Smith has four years of poor performance, and I recommend non-renewal.  Please cross-examine me, Mr./Ms. defense attorney.

In this example of seeing things from the opposite direction, the fundamental question is, “What makes a good teacher?”  Policy makers and teachers believe good teachers are those whose methods are “effective,” based on educational research descriptions, and objective measures, like test scores.  From this perspective, good teaching takes many different forms, so instructional supervisors are hard-pressed to make the case that a “bad” teacher is not also a “good” teacher (effective) in some ways.

I have an advantage because I start with a universal, aesthetic definition of the educated person and the good teacher.  Teachers, professors, administrators, and policy makers argue that there is no such definition because they believe “educated” must be defined in terms of knowledge and skills. They have  never thought deeply enough to see that, the amount of knowledge and the number of skills are infinite.  Therefore, there is no universal, knowledge and skills definition of the educated person.  They have also never thought deeply enough to see that no knowledge or skill can be learned without bringing the six virtues to the learning situation.  And everybody can, and does, develop the six virtues to different extents throughout their lifetimes.

Is it possible that I am right and they are wrong?  Let’s take a look.  Which of the six virtues do you not want your child to develop?  Which other virtue is not a combination of these six?  If the answer to both questions is “none,” how are the six virtues not the definition of the educated person?

We can choose to adopt either a social science paradigm for improving education, or an aesthetic one.  The choice is ours.  The first has failed to improve education over the last 60 years.  The second always improves education — whenever adults create beautiful situations for young people.


There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment