The NEA’s Penchant for Bad Analogy
Another RI Blogger has caught an interesting bit of the education debate:
Ok, I can understand why the assistant executive director of the teachers’ union would be upset, for one [Teaching for America teachers] are not dues-paying NEA members. If additional teachers are needed, of course he will want more full time, dues-paying teachers employed. Second, many of the numbers and results that these TFA teachers are showing are making his members look bad. TFA injects energy into the schoools that even they admit isn’t sustainable by the same people long term. Yet we keep the teachers in the classrooms for 20 years or more.
One other aside that is wrong with Crowley’s analogy is teaching is an art and being a surgeon is a science. Do we require painters to get an education so they can be professional painters? Do we require singers and other musicians? No. Those are arts that you either can do or can’t do. Either you can teach, or you can’t. An education can get you better at it, but skills in the arts is something that you have.
He’s reviewing an article about the innovative teacher-recruitment organization by David Scharfenberg in the Providence Phoenix, and the comment is from National Education Association Rhode Island Assistant Executive Director Patrick Crowley, who predictably is sour on the notion of expediting the teacher-certification of college graduates from other fields:
To contend that a college graduate with no formal training is qualified to teach, he suggests, is to contend that teaching is something less than a profession; a task worthy of amateurs. It is an attitude, he says, that would seem absurd in other fields.
“I know how to use a knife and I went to college,” he says. “That doesn’t mean I can be a surgeon.”
I’d suggest that Crowley’s analogy is actually flawed in a way that doesn’t require any such distinctions between art and science. Indeed, the art-science duality is an overstated factor in general, since most professions contain elements of both. Even a painter does well to understand the science of art — the theory and history behind the craft. The art of a profession comes in finding a way that one’s own proclivities can be leveraged for maximum benefit of the end goal — whether that is creating compelling canvases or conveying intellectual concepts to children.
To return to the surgeon-teacher comparison, one could argue that teacher education programs are akin to curricula that give would-be surgeons in-depth review of the use of scalpels and patient-relations as their main focus, while a hypothetical Surgeons For America takes biology majors and allows them expedited lessons in the practice of working with an actual human body. Put differently, the question is whether it’s better for a surgeon to know how to manipulate the organs or to know what the organs actually do and where they actually are.
Both routes will work, but in certain subjects, at least, it’s not unreasonable to expect a content expert to be able to master the practice of teaching more effectively than an education-theory expert could master the content. After all, even those educated in the science of teaching have to learn the practice over time.