Armchair Educators and School Reform….

I stumbled onto an interesting–albeit belated–strand of thinking the other day started by the Education Wonks when they wrote:

Why is it that so many would-be EduReformers (who are so quick to criticise our public schools) would never consider going into a classroom and actually work with children themselves?

We weren’t the first one to notice….

Some of us who do serve children on a daily basis continue to be amazed at the large number of non-teaching teaching experts that are out there.

Maybe it would do many of ’em some good if these "armchair educators" went down to their local school district, filled out an application, and, if nothing else, did a little substitute classroom teaching.

We think that this person might find such an experience to be enlightening.

Matt Johnston, author of Going to the Mat, replied:

I will tell you why.

I am a taxpayer, I have a constitutional right and a duty to petition the government (that includes school boards, administrator and teachers) for a redress of my greivances. If that makes me an "armchair" edu-reformer then so be it and I will wear the title with pride.

I also can read data pretty well. The data tells me that our schools have not improved in nearly 40 years, that test scores have remained flat and that there are better methods available to be tried. I see evidence of reluctance to try anything new.

As an attorney, if my clients don’t like my services, they are free to find other representation. Public school kids don’t have that choice and so it is up to us parents and "armchair edu-reformers" to take up the cause–ca ause too many politicians, teachers and certainly the teachers unions have proven unfit for the task.

Now, I genuinely like Johnston. His work is reasoned and thoughtful, unlike critics of education that resort only to spitting venom. And in this case, I think he’s got at least one legitimate point: Lack of school choice sentences students in underperforming schools to poor educations with no recourse. There is something inherently wrong in a system where we knowingly overlook the very real fact that some schools are serving children far better than others. Students of poverty deserve more.

We disagree on where the blame for this reality lies. When Johnston argues that teachers have proven unfit for the task, he is pointing fingers in the wrong direction. Teachers working in troubled schools face barriers that are almost insurmountable, attempting to address the social, emotional and academic challenges of children who have been overlooked by a society comfortable with the growing economic gap separating rich families from the poor. What’s more, teachers in troubled schools often go without basic resources, time, parental support and professional development in facilities that are crumbling around them.

That’s where the Ed Wonks argument that "Armchair Educators" should spend some time in schools carries weight. Once reformers realize exactly how little control teachers have over the results of "the system," they will be able to put the proper target in their crosshairs and offer real suggestions for driving change based on an understanding of the reality of our work.


One thought on “Armchair Educators and School Reform….

  1. Renee Moore

    I can only go 50/50 with you on this one, Bill.
    Certainly, those of us who teach in high poverty schools (both the high schools in which I taught were 100% free–not reduced–lunch)and our students have to deal with the despicable lack of resources and support. We also have to deal with the lack of professional control over our work situation. Most teachers have much less influence over how schools get run than many in the general public are led to believe.
    However, to Matt Johnston’s remark, my fellow parents and the taxpayers of my school district or state certainly have every right to comment and advocate about the quality of education I and the rest of the school system supply. But I should only be held accountable to the degree that I am in control. I, for one, will never accept being forced to use methods or materials that are both ineffective and unethical; then being penalized because they don’t work. Too many teachers are finding themselves in exactly that situation because of well-intentioned but ill-informed armchair reformers.

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