Although I often criticize the education unions for protecting bad teachers (as in, earlier this morning), I have to admit to having been touched by this teacher's in-class plight:
Halfway through my first year as a history teacher at an inner-city comprehensive in England, I am reeling from the volley of abuse and misbehavior that makes up my daily grind.
I can be sure that at some point in my day I will be aggressively confronted, blithely disobeyed, and probably sworn at. Restless nights are common, and nervousness ongoing.
Still, talking to my friends from teacher training, I feel I'm having a comparatively easy ride. I have not yet been physically assaulted, and so far I have avoided the much-feared mid-lesson breakdown.
The author of the piece, which appears in the marvelous online magazine Standpoint, uses the pseudonym Matthew Hunter. His experiences teaching in an inner-city comprehensive school in England have driven the poor man to the desperate measure of blogging ( see: “Good-bye, Mr. Hunter”).
Hunter’s observations from England, where one in five students leave secondary schools functionally illiterate, have relevance for U.S. schools. Hunter teaches in poor schools and is shocked by the deprivation, but it is “not a material deprivation that shocks” Hunter. It is the deprivation of discipline.
He writes in the “about Matthew Hunter” section of his blog:
Half a century of ‘progressive’ ideas have left our schools deprived of the fundamentals of good schooling. The need for classroom discipline is derided, the importance of school ethos is ignored, and any belief in the love of learning is non-existent.
So, yes, he’s talking about England, but it does sound a lot like the U.S., where litigation-fearing teachers don’t dare attempt to impose classroom discipline and education has been so dumbed down that too many children emerge from school with no more education, but perhaps less disciplined, than when they began their schooling.
What is important about Hunter’s Standpoint piece is that he fingers the culprits: education theorists who believed in child-led learning which requires teachers to merely “facilitate.” Student-led learning also became widespread in the U.S., where the extremely influential John Dewey was a leading proponent.
When Hunter was preparing to become a teacher, there was no discussion about how to manage a classroom; “facilitators” don’t go in for that sort of thing. Instead, Hunter and other future pedagogues spent time thinking about the "root cause" of bad behavior.
"What is more important," we were asked, "in explaining bad behavior at schools: absent fathers, or children not eating a healthy breakfast?" Such sessions seemed more concerned with making armchair sociologists of us than effective classroom teachers.
When the Conservatives came into power in the 1980s, their attempts to rescue the nation’s failing education system consisted mostly of applying free-market principles to running schools, but they did nothing to displace the progressive educators or their philosophy, thereby dooming reform to failure. Does this sound familiar?
New Labour was even worse. They, after all, really believed in this teacher-as-facilitator stuff. Indeed, a leading New Labour thinker wrote: “Expecting young people automatically to accept someone's authority because they are in a position of power is unrealistic, as well as unhealthy."
But unless schools can require students to accept the authority of teachers, teaching can’t take place, and it's teaching, not facilitating, that prepares students to read and solve math problems.
This all sounds uncannily familiar to a U.S. reader. I’m all for introducing free-market reforms into education, but a geuine solution may require more than that.
Perhaps we also must break the monopoly of destructive ideas.