Despite the fact the retirement is much like sitting on the sidelines, some article or column I read where I feel the need to make a comment often piques my interest in educational concerns. An op-ed piece in the New York Times (July 26, 1999) is such a case; its purpose was to call for the abolishment of university education departments because the author. Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, claims that the future teachers being trained there are lacking in knowledge of subject areas. Botstein begins by citing the loss of rewards that attract quality teachers: "meager pay...large classrooms.. .mandatory dull tests over which teachers have little control." In many cases, he continues, but especially in cities, "there aren't enough teaching materials, textbooks, or basic lab instruments."
Dr. Botsteins' solution to increase the prestige of teaching (and thus the attraction for graduates) is to eliminate education departments in universities since their products (his theory) are unprepared for the subject matter they teach. His proposal covers both high school and elementary school as "all teachers need dept of learning." Dr. Botstein suggests replacing the undergraduate education program with a bachelor's degree in core subjects with education techniques learned during an on-the-job apprenticeship program that would be closely supervised.
In my opinion, there's more than a bit of pie-in-the-sky thinking here. Close supervision is a wonderful idea, but doesn't happen in reality. My niece, a first-yearteacher in a Boston suburb has been left almost completely on her own with few books, large classes, and no department chair to support her. I've become (from 300 miles away) her surrogate mentor. And how does supervision counter the problems Botstein identifies as keeping students from becoming effective teachers now--the low pay, the large class size, the lack of basic equipment?
Is Dr. Botstein's solution a viable one? Are teachers without specific teacher training superior to the 65% of new teachers he claims do not have a major or minor in the subject matter they are teaching? First of all, most education departments in the "good old days" when I was trained required core subjects and a major or minor in the related field. So even with a degree in education, we had a thorough grounding in a subject area. Can it be so different today? Secondly, I cannot imagine entering the classroom without the comprehensive education courses I had--classroom management, statistics (where I was taught to fairly evaluate using appropriate tests (something students never failed to appreciate) and student/teacher symposia. Nor, for that matter, could I imagine teaching without the background of the core lit-erature courses--American lit-erature, English and world lit-erature among others--that my alma mater Hofstra University offered the English major/education minor. And there were other core courses for students who planned to teach K-6.
In the few short years since I've been gone from the classroom have I gotten "out of the loop?" It's hard to think so. According to Botstein, the kind of degree that I describe wouldn't apply to the needs of classrooms now. But instead, education departments should work closely with core de-partments to insure the kind of graduate Dr. Botstein de-scribes--well grounded in the subject matter, but with knowledge about how children learn and how teachers can facilitate their learning. He seemed to imply what I typically think of as liberal studies elitism; that is, that core subject classes = important and rigorous learning but education classes = lightweight and nonessential learning. I, for one, never found that to be the case.
Copyright 1999, The Women in Literature and Life Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English (ISSN #1065-9080). Permission is given to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for resale.
Reference Citation: Bloodgood, Pat. (1999). "Content vs. Pedagogy or Content and Pedagogy?." WILLA, Volume 8, p. 19, 20.