David McCullough, Pennsylvanian and historian, wrote a few years ago:
“People who come out of college with a degree in education and not a degree in a subject are severely handicapped in their capacity to teach effectively,” Mr. McCullough argues. “Because they’re often assigned to teach subjects about which they know little or nothing.” The great teachers love what they’re teaching, he says, and “you can’t love something you don’t know anymore than you can love someone you don’t know.”
Where are we now? Teachers majoring in “education” (theory), then graduating and becoming the head of a fifth grade classroom—all with no particular depth in any of the subjects to be taught. That’s a problem, isn’t it?
I don’t think passion can be taught. I think it flows out of us naturally; it’s like energy. A teacher either has zeal, or a teacher doesn’t have zeal. She either knows her stuff, or she doesn’t. And a third grader will know. It’s instinctively obvious to any child when an adult is in her element, in charge, not to be messed with, to be paid attention to, to hang on every word, to respect.
But that’s where we are today. We’re all being taught to be generalists in a world that’s rewarding specialists. Anyone can know a little about a lot. Few can really walk you through much with depth, and with ease.
Teacher 1: “The Battle of Stalingrad was the bloodiest on the eastern front. X happened, then Y happened. Some say this about it, others say that.”
But what was life like for the German soldier, huddling at night amidst mortar and chaos and an anonymous death?
Teacher 2: “Let me tell you how this soldier’s death in Russia broke his family in Munich, and about the life of his son growing up fatherless in the fringes of the Iron Curtain after being raised to believe Hitler was a savior.”
We don’t get “Teacher 2” when we let our schools be dictated to by Middle States and other accrediting agencies.They require schools to hire only certified teachers. And a certification program isn’t typically something a real historian, or a real businessman, or a real science lover either gains real knowledge from or has time for.
So we get Teacher 1, and a world where many teachers deserve provide as much information (or less) than what’s found on Wikipedia, etc. In the society we’ve built, too many teaching positions should be automated.
But the conversation really shouldn’t be about online learning or automation. It should be about asking whether our teachers are in love with what they’re teaching.