Thursday, January 12, 2006

Good Teachers

George Will rightly blasts contemporary teacher training in this Newsweek column. Will writes in part:

Many education schools discourage, even disqualify, prospective teachers who lack the correct "disposition," meaning those who do not embrace today's "progressive" political catechism. Karen Siegfried had a 3.75 grade-point average at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but after voicing conservative views, she was told by her education professors that she lacked the "professional disposition" teachers need. She is now studying to be an aviation technician.

In 2002 the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education declared that a "professional disposition" is "guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility, and social justice." Regarding that last, the Chronicle reports that the University of Alabama's College of Education proclaims itself "committed to preparing individuals to"-what? "Read, write and reason"? No, "to promote social justice, to be change agents, and to recognize individual and institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism," and to "break silences" about those things and "develop anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-sexist community [sic] and alliances."

Brooklyn College, where a professor of education required her class on Language Literacy in Secondary Education to watch "Fahrenheit 9/11" before the 2004 election, says it educates teacher candidates about, among many other evils, "heterosexism." The University of Alaska Fairbanks, fluent with today's progressive patois, says that, given America's "caste-like system," teachers must be taught "how racial and cultural 'others' negotiate American school systems, and how they perform their identities." Got it?

Such schools are a joke, of course, or would be if the consequences of their politically correct fecklessness weren't so serious, but even so, even among sensible people much of the discussion about what makes a good teacher misses the point.

We tend to think that the problem with teachers is that they just don't know enough, but based upon 35 years of observing my colleagues in a public high school I submit that knowledge is only one aspect of what it takes to be a good teacher. Perhaps it should go without saying that the ability to promote social justice, to be change agents, and to recognize individual and institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism," and to "break silences" about those things and "develop anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-sexist community [sic] and alliances are not even on the list.

Here are the five most crucial attributes of quality teachers, listed in what I believe to be their order of importance:

1. Character: A teacher is a role model whether he/she wants to be or not. If a prospective teacher doesn't want to be a role model then that individual should seek out another career. The teacher needs to present an image to students of what a good man or woman should be. He or she must be someone any parent would want his or her child to emulate. This means, among other things, that they should be exemplary in their personal lives, have an outstanding work ethic, and strive for fairness and kindness in the classroom.

2. Desire: A quality teacher must have a strong motivation to do the best job he or she possibly can. Teachers must demonstrably love kids and enjoy being around them and they must be willing to do much more for students than what their contract obligates them to do. Teachers who are in and out with the bell send the message that they don't really enjoy what they're doing and that message detracts from their performance in the classroom in a host of subtle ways.

3. Personality: To be effective a teacher has to have a personality that students find appealing. A teacher need not, and, in fact, should not, seek to be the students' "friend," but should rather be the sort of person that students enjoy spending time with in class.

4. Discipline: A teacher who cannot maintain a good learning environment in his or her classroom is not going to be effective. All the character, desire, and personality in the world do not help a teacher teach if the classroom is in chaos.

5. Knowledge: Contrary to conventional wisdom, teachers need not come to the job with a lot of expertise, but to be a quality teacher he/she must be willing, indeed eager, to learn as much as possible, not just about the subject matter entrusted to them to convey, but about all sorts of things, just for the sake of learning them. The best teachers communicate a love of learning to their students, it enriches their classrooms and their students, and students will absorb much more if they perceive the teacher to truly love the material he's teaching. Students will be more likely to be infected themselves with a desire to learn because they sit in a classroom where knowledge and understanding are prized and where a contagious love of learning is pervasive.

The best teachers I have known excelled in each of these characteristics, and a young man or young woman who lacks any of these is going to be less effective as a teacher than he or she might otherwise be. The good news, however, is that all of these qualities, even #3, can be nurtured, developed, and improved as long as the will to do so is present.

The Fight For Naturalism

The Darwinist totalitarians are busily at work in California. A week or so ago we noted that the Left is never content to win the battle they say they want to win. Rather, each victory leads them to on to another fight to change the culture. So it is in Bakersfield where a school district took the oponents of Intelligent Design at their word when they said that ID is appropriate for a social studies or philosophy class but not a science class.

The administrators at Frazier Mountain High School decided to offer an elective philosophy course that would compare various theories of origins including, but not limited to, ID and naturalistic evolution.

Despite the fact that the course is a philosophy course and is an elective The Americans United for the Separation of Church and State have threatened the district with litigation if they don't yank it. See here for the story.

It should be becoming clear to average Americans that the fight against ID is not merely a battle to maintain the purity of science, as if such a thing existed, rather it is a battle to determine which metaphysical worldview is going to dominate our culture, including our schools: naturalistic materialism or some form of non-naturalism.

The naturalists are desperate that our young people not be informed that there are alternatives to naturalism, and thus ID must be kept out of our schools at all costs. Whether it is seen as a scientific or philosophical alternative or a sociological phenomenon doesn't matter. Students must not be allowed to think that there is any alternative to naturalism.

The day is not far off, we predict, when it will be seriously proposed that anyone with strong religious convictions be prohibited from teaching biology for fear that their convictions will spill over into his classroom instruction and taint his teaching. The day is even closer when any teacher with strong convictions will be prima facie disqualified from proposing an elective which examines naturalistic explanations of anything because the assumption will be that the teacher must have a religious motive for wanting to teach such a course.

Of course, no one should try to deny the truth of this because, for deeply devout persons, their religion colors and influences everything they do. Their whole life is informed by their devotion to God, so they have religious motives for everything they do. If they wish to teach a course that may touch upon the naturalism vs. non-naturalism controversy, then, it will be rightly argued, there must be at least a partial religious impetus behind their proposal, and therefore they must be refused.

Despite the fact that the premises of this argument are true, the conclusion would be grossly unjust for at least two reasons.

One is that similar restraints will not apply to the teacher who embraces naturalism. That teacher will be allowed to offer whatever course he/she wants because the presumption, as false as any presumption can be, is that naturalism is religiously neutral.

The second is that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of his or her religion. Teachers should be allowed to teach any course for which they are qualified and should be denied that opportunity only if they demonstrate that they can't be trusted not to flout the relevant laws regarding what can and cannot be taught in a public school.

Despite the injustice and unconstitutionality of such proposals, however, we're quite confident that they will be seriously advanced in the not too distant future.

Senator Chutzpah

Senator Kennedy has been beleaguering Judge Samuel Alito over his membership in a Princeton alumni association several decades ago, some members of which expressed racist and sexist opinions in writing. It's not clear that Alito was deeply involved with the group or that he held similar opinions, but the fair-minded Senator is trying his best to establish guilt by association.

Now it turns out according to Matt Drudge that the Senator himself was a member of an all-male club which refused membership to women:

Conservative activists are eager to point out that Sen Ted Kennedy was on shaky ground accusing the Judge Alito of associating with people opposed to the inclusion of women in private institutions, the WASHINGTON TIMES is fronting on Thursday.

The eight-term senator belonged to an all-male social club -- the Owl -- at Harvard University. The Owl refused to admit women until it was forced to do so during the 1980s, according to records kept by the HARVARD CRIMSON, the student newspaper.

A Kennedy spokeswoman said it was an entirely different matter.

"No one can question Senator Kennedy's commitment to equality, justice and civil rights," said Laura Capps. "What he was part of was a social club, not a radical group pushing a radical agenda."

Anyway, she said, even though women were admitted to the university during Mr. Kennedy's tenure, they weren't fully integrated to the campus until much later.

As if this rather tenuous distinction would matter were it Alito who belonged to the Owl rather than Kennedy.

We think that the attempt to discredit someone and disgrace them because of some tangential membership in a moderately questionable organization several decades ago is reprehensible, but that's all the Democrats can do to stop Alito. Besides, political assassination is a favored and important part of their skill set.

Even so, it seems that the only thing that matches Kennedy's hypocrisy is his chutzpah. Here's a man who was expelled from Harvard for cheating, a man who should be humiliated and disgraced by his responsibility for the death of a young woman in 1969, a man who at a D.C. restaurant rolled on the floor with Senator Chris Dodd, a waitress wedged betwixt them in the infamous waitress sandwich, while the Senators' dates were in the restroom. And this man nevertheless sits on a senate panel lecturing Samuel Alito on moral matters. Teddy, despite his own past associations, pillories Alito for having years ago belonged to an association, some of whose members expressed politically unfortunate sentiments not much different than those held by the organization to which Kennedy himself belonged. Why does anyone pay any attention to anything this man says?

For younger readers who may not be aware of the Senator's responsibility for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne you can read about it here. Other episodes in Kennedy's life are recorded here.