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Teaching teachers.

However flawed David Steiner's study of the syllabi and texts used in three clusters of teacher education courses (foundational studies, reading, and methods of teaching), we agree with his basic argument that future teachers need more exposure to the three millennia of writings about schooling and education ("Skewed Perspective: What We Know about Teacher Preparation at Elite Education Schools," Features, Winter 2005).

Unfortunately, given the current realities of mandated courses and prescribed curricula, this is impossible to achieve. For more than 30 years the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) has pleaded for more "life space" for teacher education in the college curriculum, including five-year and fifth-year teacher education programs. Confined to the undergraduate curriculum, teacher education has surrendered space--once occupied by foundational studies--to courses in the technical aspects of teaching and learning and to more clinical practice.

Steiner faults courses in teacher education for what he perceives as ideological bias--specifically, for their contemporary and Western orientation. Given the minimalist curriculum assigned by the state, however, the wonder is that the syllabi have as much as they do. Faculty members do have choices to make, but the conversations at the AACTE are about "dispositional knowledge" and how to engage prospective teachers in the debates about liberalism and education.

Steiner insists that he wants teachers who are liberally educated, but his rush to judgment may produce the opposite effect: the state's imposing an even more prescribed curriculum. Steiner is playing to the "new right monopoly" in education and setting the conditions that could lead to mandates for a sterile, neutral, and value-free preparation of teachers. Nothing could be more damaging to the (classical) liberalism that Steiner and AACTE are seeking.


President and CEO


In "Skewed Perspective," David Steiner makes a valid claim about the ideology of American education schools, but he misreads its significance.

As the syllabi for teacher education courses suggest, there is indeed an ideological consensus around pedagogical progressivism in education schools, but it has had little serious impact on teaching and learning in American schools. It was that other branch of education progressivism, the administrative progressives, who shaped the form and function of American schools in the 20th century. Following the credo of social efficiency rather than inquiry learning, they created the modern education bureaucracy and a radically differentiated curriculum, complete with vocational rationale, dumbed-down courses, and a focus on life adjustment more than academic learning.

Research from inside and outside the ed school consistently shows that teacher education is an extraordinarily weak intervention in the process of socializing teachers, whose main influences are a long apprenticeship of observation as K-12 students before entering teacher education and the powerful culture of the school in which they begin to teach.

As for education professors, our primary accomplishment as acolytes of pedagogical progressivism has been to change the rhetoric of educators, who have all come to talk like constructivists. But beyond this talk--and a few formalistic changes, like placing desks in clusters instead of rows--there is little sign that the traditional teacher-centered mode of instruction has changed significantly in the past one hundred years.

Yes, education schools are ideologically convergent in ways that are intellectually unhealthy. But instead of beating the dead horse of education school ideology, researchers might better spend their time trying to figure out which forms of teacher preparation best enhance student learning.


Professor, School of Education

Stanford University

David Steiner replies:

Regarding David Imig: The point of my research was not that foundations courses are missing, but that their content is generally shallow and ideologically slanted. Teacher preparation programs unquestionably face time pressure, but Imig makes the unwarranted inference that more course work would produce better-balanced reading lists. This contradicts common sense: surely, to do more of what is being done poorly is not a winning proposition. The case for devoting more time to teacher preparation can only be made if we are ready to correct the deficiencies in teacher preparation that my study reveals. As for Imig's opening rhetorical gesture, my research analyzes 165 syllabi--45 in foundations--from a representative sample of elite schools. Imig does not claim, or even suggest, that a larger sample would bring different results. Rather, in his eagerness to belittle my findings, he shows a defensiveness that raises concerns about the capacity of teacher education to reform itself.


Professor Labaree doesn't dispute my methodology or my findings, but questions their significance on the grounds that teacher preparation is inconsequential. This would seem to argue for abandoning teacher preparation; yet Labaree calls for further research, implying that if we knew how to prepare teachers, then teacher preparation would have an impact. However, in claiming that meaningful preparation is yet to be found, he not only sidesteps my argument that teachers should be taught to think through intellectual and moral issues related to pedagogy, but also a long history of reflection on the aims, methods, and content of education. Moreover, if teacher preparation is to remain in business in the hope that it becomes consequential, then it surely matters that this preparation ceases to be ideologically biased.
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Title Annotation:correspondence
Publication:Education Next
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Mar 22, 2005
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