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Mistaught Teachers

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ED SCHOOL FOLLIES: THE MISEDUCATION OF AMERICA'S TEACHERS. By Rita Kramer, Free Press, 228 pp., $22.95PRESIDENT Bush is promoting a "new generation of American schools," but he has said little about the next generation of teachers. In "Ed School Follies," Rita Kramer focuses attention on the often-neglected system of teacher-training institutions in the United States. "The only way to have better schools is to get better teachers," she states simply in the book's conclusion. After a year of evaluating what goes on in education schools, Kramer concluded that the current system undermines effective teaching rather than promoting it. Of the 1,300 undergraduate and graduate programs in the US, Kramer visited 15 diverse campuses, resulting in what she calls "a voyage of which this book is the log." She sat in on classes, talked to students, faculty, and administrators, and watched student-teachers test their new skills in public-school classrooms. A former journalist, Kramer reports her findings in an engaging manner. Detailed descriptions of exchanges between education professors and their students are punctuated by a biting critique. She devotes one chapter to each of the 15 schools and divides the book into seven parts by regions of the country. In the introduction, Kramer states that she came to the project without an agenda. But her approach suggests otherwise. She repeatedly quotes inarticulate students and spotlights hypocritical professors. Each chapter gives detailed examples to substantiate views that aren't clearly explained until the conclusion. Although Kramer recognizes that she saw only a fraction of the schools turning out new teachers, this doesn't keep her from making generalizations about the entire system. "Nowhere in America today is intellectual life deader than in our schools - unless it is in our schools of education," she writes. As an outsider to education, Kramer challenges the "ed-school establishment" to raise standards and examine accepted premises. She criticizes future teachers who say they want to teach because they love kids. The best teachers place a premium on knowledge and love their discipline so much they can't help but teach it effectively, she argues. The problem among education students today, as Kramer views it, is they "don't know beans about anything." "Few undergraduates, and still fewer students of education, know enough to make a worthwhile contribution to any class discussion," she contends in a typically sweeping criticism. Education schools are graduating teachers with more knowledge "about how to teach than what to teach," according to Kramer. She blames education professors who stress method and theory over subject matter. Kramer finds far too much jargon and deadly dull teaching going on in ed schools. The exceptions invariably prove to be practicing teachers who share war stories and lessons learned by experience. What really seems to bother Kramer though is the shifting agenda of schools. "It is no longer learning that is at the center of the educational enterprise but, increasingly, the promotion of 'equity, she writes. This is a controversial and important issue. Should schools put a premium on knowledge and confine their role to that arena? Or should they provide social services and foster individual self-esteem? Kramer complains that "Self-esteem has replaced understanding as the goal of education." The final chapter proposes solutions, but Kramer's insights and recommendations reach well beyond the boundaries of teaching-training grounds. Blaming the problem in education schools on a broader slippage of educational standards, Kramer calls for a more demanding core curriculum in high schools to help prepare the teachers of the future. She writes: "It is a matter - and nothing less will do it - of raising standards all along the spectrum of schooling from first grade to graduate study."


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