Russell and Duenes

Public Schools: I’m Not Qualified to Teach My Children

with 4 comments

school busAnother argument often given in favor of sending one’s children to public schools is that the teachers have training in education. The public schools have many dedicated, gifted, bright, equipped and motivated teachers and staff, and the reality is, there are many parents who are not equipped to teach their children advanced subjects such as Algebra II, Chemistry, Physics, Spanish, and World History.

Let’s dispense with the “trained” part from the start. Education programs are boondoggles for universities and “for profit” outfits like the University of Phoenix. I would wager that most of the “training” that goes on there is actually detrimental. To take an egregious example, the New York Times, great champion of government schools that it is, had an op-ed piece from 2006 (The Fog of ‘Math Wars’) where the author was lauding George W. Bush of all people. Things have to get pretty bad over there for that to happen. So what happened? Some bright-minded “educators” decided that something called “constructivist math” would be a good idea. In other words, dispense with the good-old memorization of times tables for something more “fun” and “engaging.” Yet as the piece puts it, some of the townspeople “were gradually waking up to the fact that their kids, educated in a constructivist or ‘inquiry’ program, which emphasized pupils’ ‘constructing their own knowledge’ rather than learning math formulas or computational rules, were unable, by junior high school, to make change at McDonald’s or multiply two-digit numbers.” Further, the teachers “dismissed parents’ complaints about the curriculum” because, well, it was “working.” Turns out, what was really working was parents supplementing with good-old memorization at home.

Are there good things that can be gained from education programs? Sure, as with everything else. But again, the best teachers did not become the best because of “teacher training.” Further, any kind of training that your local teacher can acquire is also available to any parent or private school teacher who cares to learn about teaching methods. Moreover, I taught at a private school and virtually everything I learned that worked came from sources other than “training.” Much of it came from common sense, consideration of the nature of human beings, trial and error, and talking with others. And I don’t think I was half-bad (and my colleague here, R, is virtually no-bad, and he also didn’t come out of an “education program”).

But still you say, “What about chemistry?” Keep in mind that I am not making an argument for homeschooling. I’m making an argument that public schools should be put to the curb. This can be accomplished by supplanting them with privatized education. Give us our tax money back, let schools compete, and my guess is, you’ll have even better teachers. Many people who would be phenomenal teachers do not become teachers. There are many reasons for this, but I think John Taylor Gatto hits on a main one when he says, “school staffs, both line and management, are involved in a guild system; in that ancient form of association [where]  no single member is allowed to outperform any other member, is allowed to advertise or is allowed to introduce new technology or improvise without the advance consent of the guild. Violation of these precepts is severely sanctioned – as Marva Collins, Jaime Escalante and a large number of once-brilliant teachers found out.” He should know. He was three times NYC teacher of the year and once New York State teacher of the State.

Further, homeschooling does not run by some ironclad law that says, “Thou, and thou alone shalt teach thy children all subjects at every grade level.” Most of these run as co-ops and by the time your kid gets to calculus, he can handle it at the local junior college, his worldview largely formed. Further, the well hidden secret, from John Taylor Gatto again, is that “[i]t only takes about 50 contact hours to transmit basic literacy and math skills well enough that kids can be self-teachers from then on. The cry for ‘basic skills’ practice is a smokescreen behind which schools pre-empt the time of children for twelve years and teach them the six lessons I’ve just taught you.” (If you want the “six lessons,” read here). Of course there are parents who are not equipped to teach their children, but I cannot imagine this is true for any parent with even a modicum of college education from anywhere. So we’re talking about a very small group of parents, and even some of them can teach their children perfectly well during the elementary grades, which are so important for forming one’s worldview.

The point is, I am not capping on gifted, competent, motivated teachers in the public schools. I am simply saying that such teachers could do just as well in a privatized system, and in such a system, we’d get even better ones. I am also saying that most kids can learn at an appropriate pace with a lot less “classroom” time than they get in public schools. Let’s be frank, half of “classroom time” is makework time, while the teacher attends to 5 of her 35 students who really need help. I’d estimate that when I was teaching high school, out of a 45 minute class period, only about 15-20 minutes of it was of any pedagogical quality, seeing as I had to take role and get kids settled down from their break, get their minds out of the class they just came from, and deal with their checking out 5-7 minutes before the bell rang. In addition, we are in a position to utilize a lot more tutoring than we do, should it be needed, and churches could really help here, particularly ones with hopping youth groups. Much more could be said, but I’ll leave it at this for now.



Written by Michael Duenes

June 20, 2013 at 7:35 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

4 Responses

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  1. D-

    I have a few thoughts, both pro and con, that I don’t think you mentioned:

    1) As a whole, education majors are not that smart. I come from a family of teachers, so it pains me to say it, but it’s true. Education majors score among the lowest on the SATs, LSATs, Med school entrance exams, etc. Just because someone is smart doesn’t mean they can teach, but everyone who teaches should be smart. You end up having people who suck at math developing math curriculums.

    2) Teachers are not underpaid. They typically work 6 hours a day, with standard holidays, plus 2-3 months off in the summer. Most make as much as engineers or other “highly paid” professionals, if compared on an hourly basis.

    3) In my opinion, one negative to home schooling is the lack of competition. My kids are competitive, and I like the fact that they have to compare themselves against the brightest of 200-300 other kids in their grade, instead of just their relatives or a dozen or so others in a homeschool group. I’ve seen home-schooled kids that are way behind, but their parents are unaware because they have nothing to compare them to.
    I make a sports analogy. Imagine a college freshman trying out for a basketball team, when the only experience he’s had is playing against his sisters. The student talent pool just isn’t there in homeschooling.

    All that to say I think private schools are the best option, and the abolition of public schools would decrease their cost.


    June 21, 2013 at 6:33 am

  2. Bates,
    As a high school teacher with a degree in history, and not education, I won’t take personal offense to your first point because it was not aimed at me. However, I know of some very bright education majors who agree that most education classes were not difficult. Lumping an entire sector of the workforce as “not that smart” frankly seems not that smart.
    Let me address your second point which is simply untrue. Talk to those who are teachers in your family and you will find that teachers do not get paid for the time they are off during the summer. They have the option of “stretch pay,” having their 8-9 month pay stretched out over 12 months, or they can get their full salary and not get paid during the summer months. So being overpaid is not true at all. Second, 6 hours a day is not the typical work day for teachers. Most teachers are mandated to be at school for at least 8 hours per day. And then they prepare and grade. Granted there may be teachers who skip both of these processes, but most don’t. And so many prepare and grade well into the evening.
    I agree with your third point and liked the analogy very much.

    russell and duenes

    June 22, 2013 at 10:58 am

    • I’m not the one “lumping an entire sector of the workforce” as not smart. Education majors score the lowest on standardized tests. That’s simply a fact. Maybe I put it crudely, but the data is empirical and verifiable:

      I think you missed my point about pay. I realize teachers don’t get paid in the summer, but when you figure their pay by the hour, it is not low.

      And I realize many public school teachers spend more than six hours at school (many unions for bid this, however), but other professionals often spend more time working than when they are on the clock, as well.


      July 10, 2013 at 3:31 pm

      • Bates – I’m not sure what percentage of public school teachers are education majors. I wasn’t, and I know many others who weren’t. So I think your stats are skewed if you are simply looking at education majors. That said, I agree that many of the “best and brightest” do not go into teaching, and there are reasons for that. Part of it is the “cult of mediocrity” as you and John Taylor Gatto point out. As the Forbes piece points out, the certification thing is a sham, and talented people know it and avoid it. But his “low pay” myth-busting is not all that convincing. Sure, teachers are not in the poor house, but here is what we mean: In the Bay Area, as I’m sure you know, the BART workers are on strike. A BART train driver, who sits on his can all day and does a routinized, unskilled job, gets paid $80,000 a year with another $50,000 benefits package, and HE’S ON STRIKE for another 18% increase in pay. Teachers like myself, who were getting paid shy of $40,000 a year (and it took a number of years just to get to that salary) in the Bay Area, see this and say, “I’m out!” Fact is, teaching is a lot like being an artist: We all like good art when we see it, but who wants to pay for it? It’s not that valuable, right?


        russell and duenes

        July 11, 2013 at 4:42 pm

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