Investigate the Education Schools!

A recent test-tampering scandal in Georgia has turned over a rock to reveal some nasty truths about the mindset of those in charge of teaching future teachers.

Last year, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s reporters noticed a large number of erased answers and suspiciously sharp improvements in Criterion Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT). An investigation of student answer sheets strongly indicated cheating on the part of officials—erasing and changing answers to make the results look better. (You can read about the scandal here.) Now 191 public elementary and middle schools in Georgia are being investigated. An Atlanta principal and assistant principal have been banned for two years, and the principal holds a felony conviction for falsifying a state document. Governor Sonny Perdue and State Representative Matt Ramsey want to make test tampering a crime.

But op-ed pieces in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reveal that education professors’ concerns diverge dramatically from those of regular folks when it comes to the importance of learning facts.

First, Mari Ann Roberts, Assistant Professor of Education at Clayton State University, wrote, “Does spitting out the date of the Civil War on cue help a child negotiate a contract, hold a conversation, keep a job or determine right from wrong?” A few days later, Shannon Howrey, Assistant Professor of Education at North Georgia College & State University, expressed similar doubts about the value of such testing that does not measure “analytical” skills.

Blaming the messenger is the tactic of those who have found refuge in colleges of education, like terrorist-turned-Distinguished-Professor-of-Education Bill Ayers at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Marxist revolutionary Peter McLaren of U.C.L.A. Colleges of education provide a haven for the intellectually lazy who want to push a radical political agenda.

But they no longer need to go to New York, California, or Chicago, where Ayers has made his home after coming out of hiding (after earning advanced degrees at Columbia Teachers College). At Georgia Southern in Statesboro, Georgia, education professors specialize in “postcolonial theory,” “peace education,” and “queer theory.” They list areas of interest like “representations of diversity in children’s and young adult literature,” “gender issues in science, mathematics, and technology,” “cooperative learning,” and “identity development of Caribbean students” (as I described in an article last year). Bill Ayers himself aids them. He travels to this rural Georgia campus to address the College of Education and to serve on doctoral committees—the latter a highly unusual activity for a professor from an unrelated school. This turn away from knowledge is aided by such left-wing groups like Fair Test that seek to end all testing.

To add to the damage, Ayers’ many incoherent “education books” are often assigned in education classes. In his bestselling To Teach Ayers asserts that one of the myths about teaching is “Good Teaching Can Be Measured by How Well Students Do on Tests” (capitals in the original). He maintains, “learning is not linear . . . formally and incrementally constructed.” Rather, it is “dynamic and explosive.” (I’m not sure if Ayers intended his readers to be reminded of his bomb-setting past in the Weatherman.) Such statements are taken as a matter of faith.

Ayers provides no evidence to back up claims—a common practice in the writing on education theory. In fact, the publications listed on Ayers’ c.v., which runs over forty pages, are filled with unsubstantiated theories, personal anecdotes, and quotations from leftist poets. Few bother to investigate the credentials of this “Distinguished Professor of Education,” who openly questions the reality of knowledge. But I learned from sloughing through his numerous books and his memoir Fugitive Days that a classroom of pliable children provides the ideal setting for a radical who seeks to transform society into a Marxist paradise. (You can read more about Bill Ayers here and here.

Echoing Ayers, education professor Roberts asks, “Do we want our children to be critical, conscious thinkers or rote memorization machines? Do we want them to recognize the value of knowledge or, instead, to believe that the purpose of learning is to regurgitate what’s been crammed in their heads for the CRCT or the Georgia High School Graduation Test?”

The syllabi of Professor Roberts further reveal her disdain of knowledge. She focuses on “personal achievement,” “discovery,” and “the opportunity to think critically and problem solve.” Her required EDUC 2130 class, Exploring Learning and Teaching, lists objectives that include learning how to accommodate “linguistic diversity,” eliminating “gender bias in classrooms,” and recognizing the difference between a “mastery-focused and a performance-focused classroom.” Her future-teacher students make “culture quilts,” “co-construct exam questions,” present “Photostories,” fill out “reflection forms,” and are expected to say “deep things” for their class participation grade. Testing knowledge of the subject is antithetical to her own teaching philosophy.

At Clayton State University, future middle school teachers spend only 12 credit hours out of a total of 122 in upper-division classes in their primary subject area. (Another 12 have to be in the secondary subject area.) A social studies teacher would be required to take 12 hours (4 classes) in upper-division social science classes. But only three of these classes are from the history department, and even they are geared toward education majors: HIST 3110 (History of Georgia), HIST 4250 (the dubious History of World Religions), HIST 3500 (“Selected Topics”).

In the fall of 2009 the selected topic was “Europe’s Expansion Overseas,” with required textbooks The Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, and the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. These selections suggest the tilt that will be given to studying the history of European expansion. The other required course is SOSC 3110 (Themes in World Geography).

In contrast, 36 hours are in the education department, including Roberts’ own EDUC 4710, which according to her syllabus calls for some “controversial reading” and writing–not summaries of the articles–but writing that evidences “thinking deeply.” Students are required to keep a journal about classroom field observations. There is nothing to suggest a desire to improvement achievement in gaining knowledge in any meaningful sense.

Sadly, Roberts is not an anomaly. The radical philosophy of sixtyish Bill Ayers dominates education schools. His generation has taught Roberts’ generation.

Beginning teachers have been denied essential knowledge in their coursework and are ill-prepared to teach their students the basics. As they earn continuing education credits or graduate credit by attending workshops sponsored by such professional organizations as the National Council for the Social Studies, they get more of the same. By attending their convention held in Atlanta last November, I learned about their subversive strategies, about how they proudly promote “social justice” under the guise of mandated lessons in history and civics. I’ll write about that in a forthcoming article.

If you wonder why so many American students are pitiably weak in basic skills and knowledge but are eager to hector you on all sorts of “social justice” manias, look no further than our education schools.