A rerun, yes, but worth reconsidering in light of some recent posts:
The Farce of Education as a field of study
“My Ph.D. thesis, which was the only thesis that was shown to be true, showed that students who study tend to learn more.”
Quote from an Education expert who came to tell us how to teach better. It isn’t simply that this was considered a Ph.D. level thesis that worries me, it’s all the wrong theses that still nevertheless led to successfully awarding a Ph.D. in Education.
With all the new suckers pouring into the system, one might think that all the new data from incoming students would lead to breakthroughs, real improvements in how course content is delivered, leading to better and easier learning by the students. A field that might do something like this is called Education, a field that has exploded in influence the last twenty years; its practitioners are Educationists, and their numbers have likewise grown.
The study of how humans learned used to be part of psychology, the domain of psychologists, and is a legitimate mode of inquiry in a legitimate, if often qualitative, field. Education, on the other hand, is more about how to transmit knowledge, or at least it is taught that way. It might be more fair to say Education is more about getting high retention/passing rates, since that’s the entirety of how the field is presented to other faculty.
Not once in years of being lectured by Educationists have I been told “teach how to graph a line this way, students understand it better,” or “use this method to draw a parabola, it more intuitively relates to the functional definition” or even something as pathetically simple as “here’s a mnemonic for the rational root theorem.” Not once has an Educationist ever told me anything that would help students learn and understand the material in my courses, nor have I seen an Educationist offer up anything directly useful to another course. Instead, it’s always “give more extra credit assignments that don’t relate to the course, it will get more students passing,” or similar advice that couldn’t possibly require years of study to give.
Luckily, being at an institution of higher learning, I can go to someone else in my department (i.e., someone that actually knows the subject), and get help in finding additional ways to explain concepts. But Educations seems to have nothing to offer students of any particular discipline.
Student: “Why do I have to learn this crap? I’m only going to be teaching 8 year olds once I get my Education degree.”
Me: “Because the parents of those 8 year olds want the teacher to know more than an 8 year old.”
--I get an Education major that complains to this effect every semester, and my response never gets old. Most all Education majors believe they’ll only teach small children.
At the undergraduate level, Education majors live in a world of their own, with most all subjects converted to a special format just for this special major. There’s a special Math for Education Majors course, with- few mathematical concepts. As mathematics is a basic skill useful in many fields, perhaps it merits a general course just for education majors. Similarly, many topics in psychology might well be justified as having special courses just for Education majors, and they are offered as such.
Why are there special Chemistry for Education Majors and special Physics for Education Majors courses? Shouldn’t people planning to teach subjects like chemistry and physics have an actual knowledge of the subject, given to them by people that know the subject? Even music, apparently, is too technical a subject to be handled by specialists in the field, so campuses offer special Music for Education Majors courses as well. In times past, a teacher of a subject was required to actually know the subject, but now a degree in Education is the starting and ending requirement, and knowledge of a real topic no longer is considered necessary. Having directly observed the material in these courses, they really are just highly watered down versions of “real” courses.
“1. If a 12 foot ladder is broken into 3 equal parts, how long is each part?
2. If you go the store and buy a 6-pack for $4.59 and a loaf of bread for $2.20, what is your total bill? Ignore sales tax.”
---final exam questions for a “Math for Education Majors” course I proctored, calculators allowed. The other questions were likewise simplistic, with no requirement to solve them in any particular way (for example, like an 8 year old would solve it). Only the “extra credit” question was arguably at the high school level: “Write as an algebraic expression: A number plus three times the same number is twelve.” No, they didn’t have to solve it.
The Special Olympics is a fun idea; it’s composed of special events for members of our society that, realistically, aren’t able to compete in the “real” Olympics. There’s nothing wrong with this, but nobody seriously thinks competitors, even winners in the Special Olympics are world-class athletes with much to say to others wishing to learn physical skills.
Education as a field is basically the Special Olympics of higher education, and most everyone in the industry (outside of Education) knows it; as I showed in an earlier article, Educationists would rather deceive people about their specialization, because their credibility is so low (outside of Administration, and I’ll explain why in a future essay). Nonetheless, this special major with special classes is supposed to be taken seriously.
“Needed: Math tutor.”
“Needed: Chemistry tutor.”
“Needed: Physics tutor.”
“Needed: Writing tutor.”
--various sites and places allow for postings of students needing tutors. I often frequent them, as I occasionally tutor for math. Not once, not one time, has there been a student looking for an Education tutor. As near as I can tell, the field covers no material so difficult that any student would need a tutor to understand and become proficient with it.
Graduate level Education degrees fare little better. Students entering graduate programs in education commonly score among the lowest on the GRE (Graduate Record Examination, a test comparable to the SAT, but for college graduates; public administration is the only field of study with incoming students often scoring lower than education majors). It’s worth noting that the majority of education programs don’t even require applicants to take the GRE—scores would probably be lower if so. Education majors even score less on the qualitative (English comprehension) part of the GRE than non-native English speakers, and often score abysmally in the other sections1.
Now, ordinarily it wouldn’t be any concern of mine what goes on in other fields, but Education has a ridiculously powerful influence over what goes on in educational institutions, and that’s where I work, so it matters to me. Administrators are easily enraptured by even the most marginal of Educationist topics, as long as the Educationist promises to deliver what administrators want: retention. It seems every year another new method of teaching at my school is introduced by an Educationist for dubious reasons.
“You should put more writing in your math courses, it will improve retention.”
--typical advice and justification from an Educationist training me how to teach.
Always, Educationist advice is justified by the increasing the retention (all that matters to administration). Never is education part of the reason; the field really should be called Retention rather than Education. Nevertheless, faculty constantly receive indoctrination lectures in Educationism (administration tells us to be grateful for all the “professional development” they give us), and sometimes we try to take their advice:
“Half a dozen students turned in the same paper, word for word, in my course. One student changed the font, but otherwise, the same paper. There’s even a line in the paper where I think a cat walked across the keyboard, so the text reads ‘the elDLKSNLKNLKNSGectron…”, and no student chose to even edit that out.”
--Physics professor explaining to me how adding writing to his course helped with learning. Any wonder at all how students got used to the idea that if they all turned in the same paper everything would be ok? This type of thing doesn’t happen out of the blue. Catching cheaters cuts into retention, so it’s discouraged by admin.
Luckily, not everyone is under the influence of this field of study, and allow me to present an example where ignoring Educationists yields many beneficiaries:
Our written languages are phonetic; the letters on the page represent sounds. Thus, the deaf are at a strong disadvantage when it comes to learning how to read, and only with advanced training by an Educationist can they achieve even high-school level reading skills (with third grade reading level being acceptable even at high school graduation), and it’s basically impossible to for them to learn more than one written language. Any Educationist will happily tell you this, and this is what is still taught in special Education for the Deaf courses.
Viataal (formerly called The Institute of the Deaf), in Sint-Michielsgestel, The Netherlands, begs to differ. Their deaf children learn to read three languages (Dutch, English, and German), reading at grade level in their native tongue by graduation, and graduating students typically read English at a 9th grade level. Surely such achievements are only possible using the best possible Educationists using the most advanced theories? No, not at all. While the school does have its own theories about how to teach the deaf, they simply do not hire people with education degrees, not even specialists in teaching for the hearing impaired…there are none at the school. Instead, hiring is based on the subject needed. When the school needs a physics teacher, they hire a physicist and train the new teacher on how to teach the deaf2. To that high achieving school, it just makes more sense to have the subject taught by someone that actually knows the subject, and spend a little time training that person how to teach the deaf, rather than spend years training someone in educational gobbledygook, and then have that poor soul try to teach a topic he knows nothing about.
“2 + 12 = 16”
“16 = 16”
“Are these the right answers?”
“Yes. One side equals the other side.”
--Excerpt from Winning at Math, Fourth Edition, page 171, an Educationist book on math. Yes, four editions.
While perhaps the school for the deaf is some isolated example that only applies in The Netherlands, consider how disastrous various new types of Educationist-spawned reading programs have been for teaching. Homeschoolers use “Hooked on Phonics” and raise children that read, while public schools try “Whole Word” and “Ebonics” methods to churn out children unprepared for the real world, much less college. Similarly, “New Math” has been of little use to helping public school age students. And yet, with this sort of track record, college administrators rapturously accept any idea coming from this field, especially one that improves the all-important retention of college students (and those sweet checks!).
Should a field with a flawless track record of failure have much influence in the teaching of our young adults in higher education? Should they be teaching our children?
Think about it.
1) http://www.ets.org/s/gre/pdf/gre_guide.pdf, page 29.