08/16/2011 10:50 am ET | Updated Oct 16, 2011

Scapegoating Schools of Education

  1. When did George Washington cross the Delaware?

  • Why did George Washington cross the Delaware?
  • Can you guess which of these questions my teacher education students know the answer to? Come on and try it. Give up? Most of them don't know the answer to either of these questions. Why, you might ask, and how is this possible? I used to ask these questions (actually I banged my head against a wall most of the time) but I stopped a long time ago (banging my head). I now spend precious time in my social studies methods course (how to teach social studies to children) teaching future teachers the answer to these and many more questions dealing with the discipline of history. And it's not just the discipline of history -- civics, world history, economics, sociology, etc. Future teachers come to my methods course social scientifically illiterate.

    So when they leave my social studies methods class and Arthur Levine blames me and other teacher educators for failing to prepare future teachers I wish he would do a little more research. How can I possibly help my future teachers understand and perform the pedagogical complexities needed to teach the social sciences powerfully when they come to me so unprepared?

    This may seem like a rebuttal to Dr. Levine's premise about schools of education being mostly average to poor in helping future teachers be prepared to teach in public schools. Well it is! However, I also know a little bit about the topic at hand (How and where do teacher education students learn the content they will be required to teach?). My pursuit of tenure actually produced some knowledge that is applicable outside of the journals where I published some of my scholarship.

    During my years researching future teachers in social studies methods courses I found that most of them lacked both surface knowledge and deep knowledge concerning the social sciences (If you're looking for nighttime reading material go to Google scholar and search me). Guess what that means? Simple. I can't possibly help them learn to teach the content of the social sciences with any real proficiency. Instead I spend my time trying to do the impossible -- teach all the content knowledge of the social sciences to my future teachers. This is the knowledge that they did not get "across campus." It's not that they didn't take 15 credits or more in the social sciences. Most teacher education programs require future teachers to take at least 2/3 of their coursework outside of schools and departments of education (This is where they are supposed to learn the stuff they are going to have to teach).

    In other words, future teachers come to me from other courses (not taught in schools of education) lacking any real knowledge. Maybe more disturbing is that my future teachers come to me with at least a B average (most with a 3.5 and above) in their content courses. Remember these were the courses not taught by faculty in schools and departments of education. Why does Dr. Levine leave this fact out of his critique of teacher education programs?

    Yes it is time to rethink teacher education. However, I recommend we start where future teachers take the bulk of their coursework -- in schools of arts and sciences and in schools of liberal arts. My fellow teacher educators and I can't spend an entire semester trying to reteach all the content from the disciplines and also help future teachers understand how this knowledge translates into material to be introduced to children in pedagogically powerful ways.

    And to answer the questions about George Washington.

    1. Who cares unless you happen to be on Jeopardy.

  • Depends on the historian and the evidence used to develop the narrative.