Last week, the NYT published an interesting article, “Do teachers need education degrees?”, an opinion piece with several people weighing in on the relationship between education degrees and success as teachers. The whole thing is of interest to anyone who thinks about the relationship between secondary ed and higher ed. But I must admit that this defense of ed schools left me a bit stumped:

At a time when, for example, more than half of all secondary students taking history courses are taught by teachers who neither majored nor minored in history, any effort for getting more people steeped in the liberal arts into teaching, as Teach for America does, should be applauded. But the assumption that merely knowing a subject makes one a good teacher is foolhardy. Knowledge of subject matter is unquestionably necessary for good teaching, but it is insufficient for being a good teacher. Ed schools can make a difference.

This is one of those beginnings that I would question in the writing of a student, especially since the rest of this argument is pretty solid, calling for a better match between training in teaching methods and the subjet matter (more history, in this example, plus better training in how to teach history). I taught high school for a year before going on to graduate school, and emphatically second the necessity of learning how to control students or navigate the lesson-planning bureaucracy, neither of which came as naturally to me as interpreting Donne had.

And as much as I understand and even applaud the disciplinary pride that animates the above writer, it also strikes me as the kind of obfuscation that always comes out of people who fancy themselves educational reformers. In my experience, as the statistics above corroborate, the problem isn’t that teachers lack ed training–it’s that they lack training in the subject matter they’re teaching. More ed training isn’t going to solve that problem. If more than half of all high-school students are being taught history by people who have NO training in history…well, it doesn’t take a genius, or even someone with a college degree, to figure out the answer!

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