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Teaching is a profession. Like doctors and lawyers, teachers have specialized training and are licensed by the state in which they teach. Unlike doctors, lawyers, and architects, teachers are constantly told by non-experts how they should do their job. No one would tell a surgeon how to operate, or a lawyer how to defend a client but parents, politicians and taxpayers in recent years believe that they know what should be taught and how it should be taught.
This was not always the case. During the last 15 to 20 years a belief has developed that anyone with content knowledge can teach. During a teacher shortage in Philadelphia I had the unfortunate experience of watching college graduates attempt to teach while pursuing certification in evening and summer school. Content knowledge does not provide you with the knowledge of child development, classroom control or instructional strategies. The result was chaos for many of the students they taught and stress for those of us who had to teach classes near them. Most of these alternative hires did not remain in the profession for very long. This is why we need to allow teachers to do what they do best – teach.
Let me give you several examples of what teachers are being required to do because of vocal groups who feel that they know better than the professionals what should happen in the classroom.
Recently there has been a push to hold teachers accountable for the scores their students achieve on standardized tests. This concept is being pursued by those who have no concept of child development. Students in primary grades are being tested using assessments that require them to fill in bubbles on a computer form to answer questions. Depending on the population at any school, these first and second graders my not have fully grasped the concepts they were taught but they are being asked to read a question on one page and bubble in the answer they chose on another page. Do we know for sure that this will result in a valid assessment?
In many areas of the country, science teachers are under attack for teaching about the scientific method, evolution, and climate change. In some cases textbooks are being re-written because of the objections of science “deniers” who want creationism taught either alongside evolution or instead of it. Those who are pushing for these changes have no background in science. With STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) jobs being the highest paying how can these jobs be filled by students who have been taught a less than scientific curriculum?
Even history is no longer an agreed upon subject. The Texas Board of Education has a great deal of influence over what content publishers include in textbooks. If you are wondering how Texas obtained this much power over textbook content the answer is fairly simple – money. In order to bend publishers to their will the state provides free textbooks to every student in the state. This amounts to a purchase of 4.8 million textbooks per year. In order to have their books purchased, publishers must meet the requirements set down by the Texas Board of Education. Their most recent request includes the concept that Moses played a part in the writing of the Constitution and that the growth of all international terrorism is Islamic fundamentalism. In case you need verification that this is really happening here is a link to a Newsweek article discussing this. If you don’t live in Texas you should still be concerned because those textbooks could easily find their way into classrooms in your state.
Advanced Placement courses in history are now being affected by the rewriting of history textbooks. The College Board sets the curriculum for advanced placement courses. If the curriculum is not followed AP credit cannot be given. The 2015 curriculum in history requires the teaching of civil disobedience such as the Civil Rights movement. First in Texas and now in Jefferson County, CO the school board is stating that they do not want civil disobedience taught. CO students affected by this have been walking out of class and protesting this decision. The College Board has come out in support of the student protests and has made it clear that if their curriculum is not followed AP credit will not be awarded.
As a math teacher I have been present at many meetings where parents objected to a particular math program because they didn’t understand how their child was being taught, or because their child’s math tutor didn’t understand the method being used. Most frequently those who object to a new program don’t understand why their child can’t just learn the way they did.
In conclusion, we must let teachers teach so that we can produce citizens who can compete in the global market. We must allow teachers to teach their subjects based on best practices and scientifically proven facts. If we don’t we will no longer be the country that produces the innovations that can help future generations survive.