Tuesday, January 21, 2014

More from the 'bottom of the barrel'

While teachers in America often come from the bottom of the academic barrel and are disproportionately teaching students from disadvantaged backgrounds, Duncan said, teachers in South Korea are selected from the top of the class and are rewarded for working with low-income students. -- U.S. News
In fairness to Duncan, he didn't actually use the words "bottom of the barrel". He said that a significant proportion of new teachers come from "the from the bottom third of their college class." Same difference as far as I can tell.

Duncan shares his outlook on teaching with those at the Council on Foreign Relations or at the World Bank, who view public education primarily in the context of global economic and military competition. For Duncan, the role of schools is to provide the "human capital" for American corporations and the military industrial complex. He lays it all out in his 2011 remarks to the World Bank ("Improving Human Capital in a Competitive World—Education Reform in the United States”).
In many respects, our vision of reform has a great deal in common with the World Bank’s forthcoming Education Strategy for 2020. We share your commitment to results—to accelerating the acquisition of skills and knowledge. We share your commitment to cradle-to-career reform for students. 
I love your credo “Invest early. Invest smartly. Invest for all.” 
In class last night, many of my grad students expressed their disappointment, dismay, anger over Duncan's latest debasement of the teaching profession. One compared it to the old adage, "those who can't do, teach."

I'm not sure about the origins of that one. It supposedly comes from George Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman.
Bob: I'm so discouraged. My writing teacher told me my novel is hopeless. Jane: Don't listen to her, Bob. Remember: those who can, do; those who can't, teach.
Many of us can remember the pain inflicted by a discouraging teacher, parent or friend who told us to give up on a dream (mine was playing in the major leagues). But what could be more discouraging to students with dreams of becoming a teacher one day, than the remarks by the Sec. of Education?

I asked my students, who I would match up intellectually with Duncan or any of his fellow Harvard grads, isn't teaching "doing"?

The students read a N.Y Times Op-Ed piece on John Dewey's vision of learning, "Learning as Freedom" by Michael Roth, who asks,
Who wants to attend school to learn to be “human capital”? Who aspires for their children to become economic or military resources? Dewey had a different vision.
Perhaps we need to restate Shaw's adage this way:
Those who can't teach become sideline critics, corporat reformers, or D.O.E. bureaucrats.


  1. Many of those going to college have limited resources. Their families have just enough to not get any financial aid, but are struggling to pay their bills. It ends up where the student works a night job while going to school. They are tired, they have less time to work on assignments, less time to study, little or no money to pay for a tutor to help them on their weakest area. Yet these kids make it through, not because of any financial gain in teaching, but because they WANT to teach. They often end up teaching in low income schools because of student loan forgiveness, and also many of them came from areas nearby and have family there. After they have been there a few years, they can not go elsewhere to teach without losing a lot of their pay by starting at or near the bottom of the pay scale again. So they end up as a career teacher in the low income, high needs school.
    Comparing US teachers to teachers in other countries is a false comparison. Teaching in other countries is treated as a respected, highly skilled and highly compensated profession. Here, the teachers are disrespected from the top on down. Duncan is a good example of that in this article. The Secretary of Education implying "US teachers are from the bottom of the barrel". Those were not the exact words, but we all get his message loud and clear.

  2. Those who can, teach. Those who can't write laws about teaching.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.