A Teapot in the Tempest
by Christopher J. Lucas - 1972
Article discusses the necessity for upgrading the quality of teacher preparation. (Source: ERIC)
There can no longer be any doubt that teacher education in this country is headed for hard times. Public disaffection is rife, accompanied, it must be added, by a visible erosion of popular support for institutionalized schooling in general. Even complaints from within the educationist establishment are becoming commonplace. The great chorus of criticism launched by Conant1 almost a decade ago has continued unabated, and more recent voices such as those of Goodman2 and Silberman3 are commanding a hearing well beyond the groves of academe. Virtually unnoticed in the larger controversy over teacher preparation, however, is a teapot tempest raging among those charged with organizing and teaching "foundations" courses within colleges and departments of education. Conceivably progress toward resolving the fundamental issues of educational foundations courses may point the way out of the quagmire in which all teacher-educators now find themselves.
Demands for Reform
Specific allegations and complaints directed against teacher education are too painfully familiar to bear lengthy rehearsal. Critics are prone to point out the relative mediocrity of students preparing for teaching careers, as contrasted with the stronger academic ability of their counterparts in the arts or sciences. It is alleged that education professors themselves are inferior in terms of scholarly expertise and teaching skill; that pseudo-scientific folklore too often masquerades under the guise of "educational research"; and that existing education courses—required at the expense of a liberal arts education and a necessary specialization in a teaching field—are monotonous, repetitious, shallow, and lacking in solid content.4 The historic schism between academic departments in the university and the department of education which emerged from them and from which it borrows its subject matter is allegedly as pronounced as ever.
None of these claims is new. The difference today is that dissatisfaction is prompting calls for concrete action. A few years ago the California state legislature passed an act encouraging prospective teachers to acquire broad academic competence in the established disciplines rather than to major in education. The University of California at Berkeley recently received a two-year accreditation instead of the usual five to provide the faculty with an opportunity to reassess its commitment to teacher preparation. More portentous still was the decision of Johns Hopkins University to drop teacher training programs because they were not considered to be "in the mainstream of Hopkins' academic interests."5 Similarly, within the past few years, several state legislatures have entertained bills which would remove the licensing of teachers from the control of state educational agencies or teacher colleges and transfer it to lay boards. Such proposals have not yet become law, but the ferment is indicative of the reputation teacher education holds at the present time. The extent of public dissatisfaction with teacher performance can be seen also in the current obsession with "accountability" and the frequency with which it is argued that schooling should be contracted out on a commercial basis.
There is a small but growing body of research literature that tends to support the critics' harshest claims. For example, W. James Popham reported several failures to differentiate between the ability of experienced teachers and inexperienced non-teachers in eliciting attainment of behavioral objectives in their students.6This same lack of differentiation was later reported by Moody and Bausell. Not only did teacher training and experience fail to result in increased student achievement, they also did not result in differential transfer of retention.7 Analogously, J. M. Stephens reported research strongly indicating the lack of differentiating ability of administrative variables relative to instructional manipulation.8 Though dismal conclusions on the efficacy of pre-service training programs are not entirely unassailable, there is some empirical evidence to suggest that the value of teacher education programs, as presently constituted, has been vastly overestimated. This is to say that, for the moment at least, the detractors of teacher education appear to have the stronger argument.
Education as Profession and Discipline
Clearly reforms will have to be both fundamental and comprehensive. Proposals to date have ranged from minor internal reorganization within conventional programs to the super-imposition of an extended graduate study sequence upon a four-year undergraduate substructure. More radical, however, has been the call for the abandonment of teacher education altogether, prompted in part by the conviction that dedication, good intentions, and actual experience are sufficient for good teaching; and that in any event it is impossible to impart pedagogical expertise in any formal, structured fashion. (More basic still is the claim that teachers are outmoded because organized instruction of the usual variety is obsolete, but this is a separate issue.)9 Calls for the abolition of teacher education rest upon the peculiar assumption that one does not learn to teach by thinking about and preparing to teach; rather, one learns solely by doing—a counsel not dissimilar to advising the laboratory scientist to learn to conduct experiments through sheer trial and error.10
The standard rejoinder at this juncture is to point out that the scientist, the physician, or the lawyer—those with whom teachers are most frequently compared —is in possession of a body of theoretical knowledge and a functional technology for its application, whereas the educator is bereft of disciplinary foundations and consequently does not qualify as a professional.11 But if efforts to define education as a profession can be construed as more than a simple struggle for academic legitimacy, and if in turn prospects for education's acceptance as a profession turn upon its status as an academic discipline analogous to psychology, sociology, or political science, the whole issue can be shown to have momentous import for the future of "professional" teacher education. The argument here rests on two counts. First, a profession invariably wins autonomy only when its practitioners are in command of a reasonably coherent body of knowledge, i.e., a discipline. Secondly, this occurs historically when the nascent profession moves from a period dominated by self-taught practitioners or an apprenticeship system to a time when a lengthy preparatory period is deemed essential for successful practice. Formal training becomes important and serves as a conspicuous augury of professionalism precisely because the complexity of the practitioner's functions generates the development of a complex body of theory.12
The growth of teacher education, however, represents something of a logical and historical anomaly in that the establishment and expansion of formal training programs both preceded and outstripped education's theoretical underpinnings. Herein lies a major part of the problem.
If the foregoing analysis is correct, it follows that controversy over the status of education as a discipline is more than the precious semantic quarrel it sometimes appears. Any viable rationale for the perpetuation of formal teacher education may hinge largely upon the success with which education can be organized as an academic field of study, with a measure of scholarly integrity, a degree of disciplinary integration, and a set of distinctive conceptual instruments for furthering inquiry. At any rate, the alleged deficiencies of existing education courses are attributable in generous measure to the amorphous state of educational studies today. Few would deny that pedagogical endeavor desperately needs to be transformed into an undertaking with a theoretical basis for study and analysis, with its processes under systematic scrutiny so that they can be improved. Failing this, the conduct of education will probably continue to reflect little more than a struggle for power among contending factions, forever subservient to passing fashionable persuasions and the bandwagon sloganeering that all too frequently substitutes for careful reflection upon the issues at hand.13 By the same token, teacher education programs will continue to invite—and deserve—contempt for their disorganization, their endless proliferation of watered-down courses, and their chronic lack of intellectual rigor.14
Prospects for Reform
Given the nature of the assumptions upon which most teacher-educators currently operate, prospects for the kind of basic reforms needed are not auspicious. Despite the evidence at hand, most professors of education cling to the belief that pre-service training is the prime determinant of subsequent teacher behavior. It is more likely the case that people teach as they were taught. Because the education student ordinarily is not engaged in actual practice until the student teaching experience, his learning remains verbal and unrelated to practice. When at last he enters a real classroom, he sloughs off his verbal learnings and reverts to those antecedent teaching models to which he has been exposed.15 Nonetheless, conventional pedagogical wisdom insists not only that pre-service instruction is beneficial, but that application of such instruction can be deferred indefinitely when it involves prospective teachers. Ironically, while this pedagogical error governs the whole structure of a teacher's preparatory program, he is advised by his education professors not to commit the same sin in dealing with his own students.
Even the most charitable observer of teacher education programs cannot help noting the fractionation of interest reflected in preparatory courses. It is commonly assumed that separate courses are required for preparing people to teach various subjects in the schools at different levels; and when a new subject is introduced at a lower level, teacher-training departments respond reflexively by adding yet another methods course to their already extensive offerings. Predictably, an overcrowded curriculum necessitates superficial survey courses, none of which accomplishes what it was intended to do. Meanwhile, little attention is paid to the basic logic of the learning process; such considerations are reserved for educational psychologists, whose interests and activities, it turns out, are strictly derivative from other cognate disciplines. The same tendency is evident in the kind of educational research currently conducted. By and large, research specialists confine themselves to studies of the comparative efficacy of competing instructional techniques rather than addressing the basic questions of teaching and learning, whose answers would go much farther in extending the theoretical base upon which a discipline of education might be erected.
The Role of Social Foundations
Pending the integration of educational inquiry as a discipline, and the emergence of an instructional technology which would be its natural outgrowth, the question remains what functions teacher education can legitimately aspire to serve. The answer is not to abandon preparatory programs, which carries the risk of returning an emergent profession to the status of apprenticed trade, but to redefine the purpose of pre-service preparation. Basically this would entail a shift away from trying to foster discrete task performance skills and toward helping prospective educators acquire a broadly based understanding of education considered as an academic field of inquiry. While provision ought to be made for acquainting initiates with curricular resources, instructional techniques, and evaluative procedures (insofar as this learning can be made meaningful prior to working in a classroom), the bulk of effort should be directed toward casting light on educational phenomena from the perspective of a broad range of disciplines. With respect to the former concern, in all probability methodological concerns could be handled more efficiently and economically via self-instructional packages, micro-teaching, observation, and independent study. Responsibility for the latter would most logically devolve upon those who teach courses in the social foundations of education. In short, foundational work ought properly to become at once the heart and the raison d'etre of teacher education.
Unfortunately, foundational scholars have yet to agree on the nature of their contribution to teacher education, the structural contours of their work, the substance of inquiry, or how foundations courses should be organized.16 Indeed, the debate might justifiably be termed a teapot tempest within the larger storm raging in teacher education today. Traditionally, foundations courses have been conspicuous for their fragmented use of material and lack of structure and internal logic.
However, despite criticism, few have accepted Conant's judgment that they should relinquish their role in teacher preparation and turn their concerns over to representatives of the traditional academic disciplines. Their reluctance to do so is prompted in part by a belief that the educational enterprise has dimensions peculiar to itself and features that only scholar specialists are equipped to explore.17 Academicians in other areas have little inclination or training for handling such fundamental issues as the structure and control of schooling, the organization of curricula, and the larger objectives of instruction. More specifically, if other societal institutions can provide objects for academic investigation, surely the school as a political, economic, and sociological phenomenon deserves equally careful scrutiny. Yet specialists in the established disciplines usually seem incapable of transcending the internal logic and problems unique to their respective areas, and hence responsibility for an interdisciplinary approach to educational concerns falls to scholars in the field of foundations.
Obviously any attempt to analyze the problems of education in their widest possible context—historical, philosophical, psychological, sociological, economic, political, and anthropological—is an insuperable task. Hence there has arisen a division of labor through which materials are organized along the lines of the various social science disciplines, producing a series of "interdisciplinary" conjunctions, e.g., history of education, sociology of education, and so forth. These various conjunctions then have been defined as areas of study, and courses grow up around them. In terms of curricular offerings, this has meant separate classes devoted to the historical study of educational theory and practice, the philosophical inspection of pedagogical issues, the sociological analysis of the school, etc. Alternatively, and possibly reflecting recent pressures upon teacher education programs, the various interdisciplinary foundations have been thrust together as a single potpourri and organized within the confines of a single course.
In recent years, however, the awareness has grown that simple eclecticism rarely results in synthesis. It has been the search for new models, a better theoretical framework, that has generated so much controversy of late among foundational academicians, throwing the issue of self-definition into bold relief. Not only does the field apparently lack terminological identity and a sense of shared purpose, no reasonable consensus has yet been achieved with respect to basic objectives, content, and appropriate procedures of investigation and instruction. It is not without reason that the social foundations have been accused of being guided by the principles of recency, popularity, transient "relevance," and the political conditions of the marketplace.18
"Academic" or "Professional"
Without presuming at this point to indicate the specific directions in which foundational inquiry ought to move, it seems clear that the most urgent priority is a decision on whether the role of the foundations of education in the professional training of teachers ought to be considered "academic" or "professional." The distinction, as Laska19 discussed it, points to a difference between an academic field, in which knowledge is sought and imparted without explicit regard for its utilization, and a professional field, in which knowledge is geared to application within a specific occupation. R. Freeman Butts20 has argued that students in foundations courses should acquire "policy-oriented knowledge and a sense of their responsibility for the disciplined use of such knowledge." In opposition, others argue that the sociological structure of educational power and control precludes the possibility that foundations students will find any appreciable opportunity to "apply" their knowledge, and that, at any rate, the production of policy-oriented knowledge is not the main potential contribution of foundations courses. If teacher education generally moves away from vocational application, it would seem that the role of social foundations ought to become increasingly "academic." This is not to imply any rigorous disjunction between thought and action; rather, it is to suggest that the creation and impartation of a broadly-based perspective on educational concerns ought to receive primary attention.
Minimally, it seems plausible to argue that unless scholars in the area move promptly to put their own house in order with respect to such root issues as function and process, they will have lost their last and best opportunity to make a substantial contribution to the reform of teacher education as a whole. More importantly, they will have failed to offer that breadth of vision which John Dewey long ago acknowledged as essential for educational improvement. "Recognition of the variety of sciences that must be focused when solving any educational problem," he observed, "tends to breadth of view and to more serious and prolonged effort at balance of the variety of factors which enter into even the simplest problems of teaching and administration. The uncontrolled succession of waves of one-sided temporarily dominating interests and slogans that have affected educational practice and theory could thus be reduced."21 With equal justice, he might easily have been offering a mandate for the transformation of teacher education in the years ahead.
1 James B. Conant. The Education of American Teachers. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963.
2 Paul Goodman. New Reformation: Notes of a Neolithic Conservative. New York: Random House, 1970.
3 Charles Silberman. Crisis in the Classroom. New York: Random House, 1970.
4 See Joe Park, "Toward Reconstructing Schools and Departments of Education," Educational Theory, Vol. XIII, No. 2, April, 1963, pp. 108-118.
5 For commentary, see John A.R. Wilson, "A Radical Proposal," Kappa Delta Pi Record, Vol. 7, No. 3, February, 1971, pp. 65-69.
6 W. James Popham. Development of a Performance Test of Teaching Proficiency. Washington, D.C.: Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Project No. 5-0566-2-12-2, Contract No. OE-6-10-254, Final Report, 1967.
7 William B. Moody and R. Barker Bausell. The Effect of Teacher Experience on Student Achievement, Transfer, and Retention. Unpublished paper, as reported in R. Barker Bausell, "The Education Graduate Student: Loss of Innocence," New Voices in Education, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1970, pp. 6-7.
8 J.M. Stephens. The Process of Schooling. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. 1967.
9 See W.R. Wees. Nobody Can Teach Anyone Anything. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1971.
10 Marc Belth. The New World of Education: A Philosophical Analysis of Concepts of Teaching. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1970, p. 35.
11 The best introduction to an enormous literature remains Myron Lieberman. Education as a Profession. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1956.
12 See F. Raymond McKenna, "The Invisible Profession," Thomas D. Moore, ed. Proceedings of the Second Annual Meeting of the American Educational Studies Association (February 25-26, 1970), pp. 18-30.
13 Belth, op. cit., pp. 29-39.
14 McKenna, op. cit, p. 30.
15 For a good discussion of this point, consult James E. Russell. Change and Challenge in American Education. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965, pp. 94-95.
16 Consult James A. Laska, "Current Progress in the Foundations of Education," Teachers College Record, Vol. 71, No. 2, December, 1969, pp. 179-186; James J. Shields, Jr., "Foundations of Education: Relevance Redefined," Ibid., pp. 187-198; and Wayne J. Urban, "Social Foundations and the Disciplines," Ibid., pp. 199-205.
17 McKenna, op. tit., p. 28.
18 Daniel Selakovich, "Social Foundations—As Reflected in Selected 'Readings' Books,"Educational Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2, Winter, 1970, pp. 57-59.
19 Laska, op. tit., pp. 180-181.
20 Quoted in Shields, op. tit., p. 194.
21 Quoted in Park, op. tit., p. 110.