A recent Huffington Post article describes the agreement and disagreement between Arne Duncan (Secretary of Education) and Dennis Van Roekel (President of National Teachers Association) over the preparation and evaluation of teachers respectively. Sadly what is not being discussed—as can be inferred from the article—is the very process of learning.
The process of learning, particularly in primary and secondary education, is a collaborative process involving student and teacher. Teachers facilitate learning more than they produce learning. The paraphrased Buddhist proverb when the student is ready the teacher will appear succinctly expresses this fact. Hence placing all responsibility (and blame) on the teacher for what is learned reflects a grave lack of understanding. Such misunderstanding places supreme importance on teacher accountability for results—exactly what we are getting from Arne Duncan and other similar thinking reformers.
Of course improving the education and preparation of teachers is an important component, but so too is the preparation of students. Although human beings are born with a curious and inquiring mind—a need to learn—this latter issue lies squarely in the lap of students, parents and community—it is an individual/cultural/societal issue. What can we do to feed and develop the inherent need to learn? A focus on teacher accountability for results will do little.
To get education right requires that we cease using the same level of thinking that created the problem we now face and begin to think anew. A place to begin is to critically think about and explore the question, why educate?
The very things that would help—systems thinking, statistical thinking, theory of human development and learning theory—apparently are not part of the knowledge base of the reformers. Instead, reformers continue to apply the same level of thinking–reductionism and competitive context setting—that supports poor quality. A focus on parts will unlikely result in an improved whole (system), since performance of the system emerges from the system as a whole, from the parts in relationship.
In short those in authority must re-think and thus re-design the system, and not merely manipulate the parts in pursuit of better results. Throwing money at a problem, absent of understanding, no matter the amount is never a sound approach.
Perhaps someone should teach Arne about the process of learning, though it is not clear that he is ready.