David Rodeback's Blog

Local Politics and Culture, National Politics,
Life Among the Mormons, and Other Stuff

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Monday, January 16, 2006
Musings and Readings on the Quality of Teachers

More would be quite wonderful, but most children can probably get by with just several effective, motivating teachers scattered through their school years -- just enough that they learn to learn, and learn to love learning. This brief discussion includes links to some further discussion of teacher quality, which seems to suggest that in the present system a child is lucky to have those several fine teachers at all.

My children are working their way through the public schools in Utah's Alpine School District. They have had some excellent teachers -- intelligent, committed, and effective. They have had . . . others. I suppose it's not necessary for a child's every teacher to be brilliant. If there are several really fine, motivating teachers scattered through a child's elementary and secondary experience, the child has a fair chance of learning how to learn and learning to love learning, both of which are essential to the future. I had several such teachers, amid a sea of their adequate colleagues and some who were considerably less than adequate. This is true of my elementary (public), secondary (public), undergraduate (BYU), and graduate (Cornell) experience.

So far, my children probably have had a better public school education than I had. For us, there is just enough school quality and just enough choice that we don't have to sell our souls to send them to private schools. Years ago, when we decided the educational experience at the local elementary school was a great deal less than our oldest child needed and deserved, we started hauling our children to an elementary school across town, thanks to the district's open enrollment policy. The experience there, for three children so far, has been consistently satisfactory and often excellent. The Emperor's New Math needs a lot of supplementing at home, but otherwise we're more or less okay. I am persuaded that my children are better off in our public schools than a lot of parents' children are in other public schools.

Still, every so often something at our local schools makes our jaws drop or our heads shake or our language get very pointed and critical about public education for a few minutes. I'm not offering a laundry list of such situations today. I'm actually referring you to a George Will column. Nothing it says is really new; a lot of it is what my mother said about her experience in a teaching major back in the 1950s. But Will does a nice job of analyzing in a single page why mediocrity and self-esteem, not excellence and knowledge, seem to be both the dominant themes and the ideals of even our local educational establishment.

You might also want to take a look at Part I and Part II of a similar discussion by Walter Williams from a couple of years ago. (If you do, note: If any of my children decides to be a teacher, I want to send that child to Hillsdale College.)

As I said, this is not new. But if you think about it all and project its predictable consequences into the future, you'll find it unsettling at least. (If you are both willing and capable to exercise level of rational thought, thank that handful of excellent teachers who taught you in spite of the system.)

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