Dinosaur Orange Peelers Face the Tar Pits

July 28, 1994|By PHIL GREENFIELD

ANNAPOLIS — Let history record that an educational reform has been offered up in the state of Maryland that actually makes a certain amount of sense. You live long enough, you see everything.

Under a plan submitted to the state Board of Education at the end of June, prospective elementary-school teachers would be required to earn undergraduate liberal-arts degrees with an emphasis on science and math, while high school teachers (as is already the case in most circumstances) would need to earn degrees in the subjects they actually teach.

The education major, in short, will go the way of the dinosaur if the task force gets its way. That's wonderful news for anyone who cares about knowledge and its dissemination in the classrooms of Maryland. When all is said and done, there is only one legitimate reason for an educator to walk into a room and attempt to teach a class, and that is the blazing conviction that the acquisition of knowledge is among the most uplifting and empowering of human pursuits and that the sharing of what one has studied is one of mankind's noblest callings.

And that's the problem with ed majors. They have never really studied and mastered anything of true intellectual consequence. When it comes to education -- the academic discipline -- there's no ''there'' there. Chemists absorb the periodic table and balance their inscrutable equations. English majors interpret towering works of literature, while mathematicians factor, derive and solve all that arcane voodoo they do.

But ed majors? They peel an orange, then brainstorm ways to convey the essence of the experience to others. And that's in grad school. There's no discipline, no sense of intellectual rigor attached to what they themselves are expected to know. So how can they be expected to demand and oversee true scholarly dedication from others? For heaven's sake, these are people who spend their days watching video tapes of other folks learning!

Am I saying, then, that teachers are dumb? Absolutely not. In fact the good teachers I know, ed majors included, have to work diligently to bring sophisticated content with them into the classroom and do their level best to put it across -- often in the most daunting of circumstances. But did ''Principles of This'' or ''Theoretical Foundations of That'' help them acquire such erudition? Fat chance.

My colleagues -- the ones who truly value the life of the mind -- universally dismiss the jargonized flatulence they heard in their ed courses as completely irrelevant to their professional lives.

So who is it that takes seriously all this ''affective-, non-graded, non-tracked enhancement of self-esteem,'' ''no student can fail,'' brainstorming-equity-MSPAP,'' ''we must scrap behavioral expectations to account for cultural differences'' baloney?

You guessed it. Ed majors.

There's another bunch of them lurking out there, and that's the cadre of ed majors who actually run our schools. These social dreamers don't do five shows a day, 180 days a year. There's been no pressure on them to master anything of scholarly substance that has to be imparted to others. Theoreticians all, their influence extends far beyond any single classroom, for they control every educational bureaucracy that exists everywhere. If there were an Office of Equitable Curriculum development on Neptune, an ed major would staff it.

Pick any silly idea that plagues American education today and you'll find ed major fingerprints all over it. Do theoretical physicists spout empty egalitarian slogans like ''Self Image Is the Key to Excellence'' as if any dolt could wax eloquent on the ''Uncertainty Principle'' as long as his level of ''self- esteem'' were high enough? Who but an ed major would design a state-wide ''Functional Writing Test'' that fails to hold students accountable for proper spelling?

Open-space classrooms? Now there's a concept. How wonderful study an Emily Dickinson poem with your class while a colleague on the other side of the paper-thin divider cranks up the film ''Victory at Sea'' at full volume. Kaboom!

It's ed majors who have declared war on elementary teachers who have the audacity to teach spelling, phonics and grammar totheir kids when they should be focusing on higher-level ''metacognition'' skills.

Ed majors , you see, believe that ''critical thinking'' must be taught in an intellectual vacuum. They try to convince us that every child -- no matter how thuggish or unprepared -- is a genius and that standards mandating a measure of academic polish are equity-denying evils that must be sacrificed on the altar of social leveling. Ed majors think analytical thought is some newly minted concept fresh from the Harvard School of Education. These champions of ''critical thinking'' wouldn't recognize Socrates if he walked into Nancy Grasmick's office and bit a pupil-personnel worker.

So, by all means, bring on the beefed-up academic requirements for the classroom teachers of Maryland. Where a master's is required for certification purposes, let's make that a scholarly degree, too, not a mere exercise in orange peeling.

But it's just as important to extend these substantive criteria to the educational bureaucracy. For only when people who really know something about something are placed in charge will schools get any better.

Phil Greenfield, who reviews classical music for The Sun for Anne Arundel County, also teaches social studies at Annapolis High School.

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