SCHOOLS: by Kevin DonnellyNews Weekly
Time to close teacher-training schools?
, March 4, 2006
New teachers are no longer equipped to teach students how to read and write, writes Kevin Donnelly.What is the best way to raise standards and ensure that students are well educated? Forget about more money and smaller classes. Why not - as George Will has argued in America's Newsweek (January 16, 2006) - close the schools of education?
Those schools, instead of giving beginning teachers a mastery of their subject matter, especially in areas such as primary literacy and numeracy, are more concerned with inculcating politically correct values.
The late 1960s and '70s were not only about Woodstock, moratoriums and flower power: equally important was the Left's long march through the institutions and the way education was targeted as a key instrument in the culture wars.
In the US, academics such as Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis argue that "inequalities in education are part of the web of capitalist society" and that "an equal and liberating school system requires a revolutionary transformation of economic life".Disadvantaged
In England, sociologists such as M.F.D. Young argue that there is nothing inherently superior or worthwhile about academic studies. What counts as knowledge is a socio-cultural construct used to marginalise so-called disadvantaged groups.
As Monash-based teacher educator Georgina Tsolidis notes in her summary of teacher training in Australia, education is redefined as a political process whereby students have to be empowered to challenge the status quo.
"Many of us cut our teaching teeth in a climate of advocacy related to student-centred pedagogy, curriculum and assessment," she says.
"Notions of empowerment [popularised by Paulo Freire] have been the bread and butter for those of us concerned with teaching, particularly teaching involving the 'other'. Our job was to produce young adults who would challenge the status quo through skills of critical inquiry. Within the classroom of the self-styled liberatory pedagogue there existed clear distinctions between the marginal and the mainstream."
Judging by teacher training at many Australian universities and the work of professional groups such as the Australian Council of Deans of Education (ACDE) and the Australian Curriculum Studies Association (ACSA), little has changed.
Future teachers at Deakin University are taught "a clear awareness of the sociopolitical role of education in society, an understanding of the impact of economic and ideological change on the practice of educators" and are urged to "work for social justice".
Charles Sturt University also expects teachers to develop a "socially and politically responsive view of education", a "commitment to social justice" and to view schooling as "socially and historically constructed".
Flinders University expects teachers to act as "agents for social change and justice".
The Victorian University of Technology's school of education proclaims its "commitment to social justice and equity as the purpose and outcome of both school and teacher education".
Literacy was once about reading and writing. Not so at Griffith University, where literacy is taught within a "critical social-constructivist framework" and defined as "multi-modal mediated texts that are influenced by cultural and social factors".
To make matters worse, teachers are generally given a left-wing view of such matters. As argued in Making the Difference
, widely set for education courses during the 1980s, Australian society is "disfigured by class exploitation, sexual and racial oppression and in chronic danger of war and environmental destruction".
Education, instead of providing a ladder of opportunity or dealing with what Matthew Arnold termed "the best which has been thought and said", is defined as "the process of liberation" and teachers are told "to decide whose side they are on".
The ACSA also views education as a "social and historical construction" that "typically serves the interests of particular social groups at the expense of others". Based on the work of the French leftist Pierre Bourdieu, the association argues that teachers must acknowledge the "role of education in the reproduction and transformation of society".Radical change
The University of Tasmania's faculty of education describes its agenda as embracing "radical curriculum change in Tasmanian schools by adopting the new Essential Learnings Framework". Ignored is that the framework is full of education jargon and has little academic merit. Melbourne's RMIT adopts all the clichés associated with a social-constructivist view of learning: so-called new learners have to think strategically, be risk-takers, juggle multiple perspectives and become deep and lifelong learners.
What's ignored is that high standards and higher-order skills depend on rote learning and mastering the basics. Also ignored is that in the real world there are right and wrong answers and that generic skills such as problem solving are subject-specific.
- Kevin Donnelly is director of Education Strategies and author of Why Our Schools are Failing (2004).