Right-wing bashing of teacher education

Monday Book Reviews

March 09, 1992|By Jeannette Veatch

ED SCHOOL FOLLIES: THE MISEDUCATION OF AMERICA'S TEACHERS. By Rita Kramer. The Free Press. 228 pages. $22.95. THIS BOOK supports my long-held suspicion that there is a campaign, if not an actual conspiracy, to destroy public schooling and the schools of education in America.

Certainly these institutions have problems, but the savagery of this attack and others is far from helpful. In fact, Ms. Kramer's book provides a "smoking gun," so to speak, for my suspicion. Ms. Kramer credits "Midge Decter . . . [who] planted the idea, watered it and watched it grow and then did the necessary job of weeding. Her unfailing interest . . . kept me going . . ."

Ms. Decter, of course, is a well-known neo-conservative, anti-feminist, wife of Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine. All of which, of course, is quite legal. But why is the neo-conservative movement, along with a curious coalition of those in the Old Right and New Right, so hostile to teacher education?

I find the pro-authoritarian tenor of their educational beliefs a reasonable explanation. They seem not to know the difference between B.F. Skinner and John Dewey. Their failure to understand democratic school traditions arouses in this writer too many painful memories of classrooms dependent on textbooks and ruled over by authoritarian teachers.

And are the schools of education the only rotten apples in higher education? I don't think so. For years, university authorities have discriminated against teacher education in numerous ways. In colleges of science, arts, business, agriculture, engineering, etc., etc., salaries are frequently twice as high as those in colleges of education, especially among male professors. In schools of education, promotions are hard to come by. Common are subtle insults, personal and professional, denigrating teaching and glorifying research. John Goodlad, a noted and greatly respected writer and researcher, reports, "One major problem for teacher education is the antagonism from other schools or colleges in the university world." But Ms. Kramer, who never earned a living in a classroom, didn't find that out.

Isn't it curious that rarely do books appear that examine teaching in the departments of anthropology, history or medicine? A recent issue of the Nation has a scathing front-page article about medical education at George Washington University. Ms. Kramer's husband is a psychiatrist. Why not study schools of psychiatry? There are problems in teacher education, yes, but the rest of the campus has some, too.

But back to the book. Ms. Kramer visits classes in selected colleges of education. In general, what she sees and writes about many of us could duplicate, in spades, any day of the week. Ms. Kramer writes well and reacts quite normally to the classes she experiences in her travels. She is bored. She's excited. She probes into professors' philosophies. Once she even finds a "methods" course she likes! Her lampooning of educational gobbledygook and testing is marvelous. She recognizes that "No teacher preparation program can prepare a teacher . . . without . . . apprenticeship." Here, and in her praise of "mentors," she is right on the mark.

Yet, perhaps under the influence of Ms. Decter, Ms. Kramer worries about "Marxist revisionists . . . nowhere more radical than in the field of schooling." This about people who are the most apolitical I know! And she makes some incredible statements: "High school teachers need to be better than elementary teachers. They need to go to school longer as there is so much more to learn." Piaget would have loved that! Similarly: "How to teach can be learned in one summer." Her anti-union bias is right in line with neo-conservative thinking but wearies one who did not earn $2,000 until her 12th year of teaching.

Ms. Kramer has a perfect right to have her say on my profession, but she reveals little appreciation of what is needed at this time in our nation's history. This book will add to the income of its author and publisher and will add more ammunition to the current attacks on public education. It is regrettable that it has so little to offer that will improve the field.

Jeannette Veatch is professor emerita of Arizona State University.

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