Thinking and Doing

So I’ll take it easy as I get back in the saddle. Don’t want to pull a hammy.

This article from the Yale daily captures for me a big piece of the major impasse facing teacher preparation in general and colleges and universities of the traditional sort (CUTS) in particular. At Yale, the teacher education program is in jeopardy, and its defenders are working hard not only to sustain the program, but also to fight over its status as a “pre-professional” program. And herein is the problem for teacher programs at CUTS: are we studying a theoretical field or getting people ready to do a job? From the article:

“the true merit of education Studies lay in its focus on psychology and teaching theory rather than on hands-on training.”

In short: teachers seem to need one set of knowledge and skills in order to engage in their professional practice. However, the faculty at CUTS like Yale who are charged with preparing them for their professional lives are pressured to pursue–and, more importantly, publish and fund– an entirely different kind of knowledge in their research. This creates a conflict when these folks enter the professional world, armed with ideas that are fit for journals, but do not always support them in engaging in their professional practice.

So this is not a new problem. Lagemann’s book takes a helpful historical view of how we got here, charting the path of teacher education from normal schools, through departments of psychology, and finally to the days when CUTS established Ed departments and schools as their own fields of study.

But making education its own “legitimate field” did not solve the problem that teachers wanted one thing, and education, trying to be a “legitimate field” wanted to be something else within the University. From Lagemann:

“The changes for rigorous discipline-driven research were diminished by the long-standing constraints that have always defined educational scholarship. When educational scholarship was professionalized, it was viewed with contempt by noneducationists; when it was discipline-based, it was shunned by students, who had wanted “recipes for practice.”… Being torn between these opposing forces seemed to be an enduring dilemma for scholars of education. (p.179)

To be fair to teacher education, lots of fields face this issue. Vets tell me that the fourth year of vet school (the first year out of CUTS) is when they really learn to care for animals and be professionals. Doctors have said to be they learn more in residency about practicing medicine than in Org Chem.

But it seems to be that schools of ed need something more than additional student teaching time. That there needs to be a choice of sorts about education for those who will go on to be teachers and leaders of teachers. As CUTS are facing their own identity dilemma, schools of education need take this time to do the same: to whom are we trying to prove ourselves? For whom are we producing the greatest value?

The roots of education as an academic field have led us here, but it seems that business and management schools faced a similar fork in the road long ago: and chose professional practice. I hope that schools of education make a similar choice, and make it soon. The wind is starting to shift.

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