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Education's smoking gun: how teacher colleges have destroyed education in America.

Education's Smoking Gun: How Teacher Colleges Have Destroyed Education in America

Education's Smoking Gun: How Teacher Colleges Have Destroyed Education in America. Reginald G. Damerell, Freundlich Books, $17.95. If you judge the man by his prose, Reginald Damerell is a crank. He raves and denounces so frequently and insistently that it is hard to believe he's on an even keel. Unfortunately, this manic streak intrudes so much as to blight the book. It's a shame because so much of the substance of his criticisms rings painfully true.

The subject is the theory and teaching of teaching, and Damerell minces few words: Education degrees "are empty credentials . . . The education field is devoid of intellectual content, has no body of knowledge of its own, and acts as if bodies of knowledge do not exist in other university departments.' This denunciation is spoken with some authority; Damerell spent twelve years in the belly of the beast as an associate professor of education at the University of Massachusetts. Damerell's specialty was in educational media, and his account of what passes for scholarship in that field is disturbing to say the least. One student, Mary, is nearly illiterate and can't even operate simple audiovisual equipment; she receives a master's by studiously littering her transcript with independent studies, "practicums,' and weekend courses. Comedian Bill Cosby, no less, manages to obtain a Ph.D. in a similarly dubious manner. The title of his dissertation, The Integration of the Visual Media Via "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,' in the Elementary School Curriculum as a Teaching Aid and Vehicle to Increased Learning, suggests something about the rigor of that academic program. Cosby's thesis defense, incidentally, consisted largely of a showing of several episodes of the cartoon show.

Damerell is especially critical of his own "field,' which he doesn't consider a discipline at all. One of his best chapters recounts the rise of "visual literacy' as a subject of academic inquiry which has, in its short life, spawned such publications as A Primer of Visual Literacy and occasioned elaborate conferences in various plush hotels. As Damerell points out, the phrase itself is meaningless and was coined by a marketing executive at Kodak, a firm whose interest in audiovisual studies is not exactly scholarly.

Damerell, though, has too much bile for his own good, and his hyperbole undercuts his own case. He also digresses wildly: nearly a third of the book is devoted to discussions of the internal politics of the New York City school system, the "right' way to teach reading to children, and the harm done to black students through lax standards. Thomas Sowell, whom Damerell cites frequently, may have some good insights into the sociology of the black community, but their relevance to a study of education schools is tenuous at best.

Damerell could have used a good editor to steer him away from sermonizing and back toward his own experience. Had he kept his course, he might have made more credible the case he set out to make. As it stands, Education's Smoking Gun will be all too easily dismissed.
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Author:Keisling, Philip
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Nov 1, 1985
Words:515
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