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David Kirkpatrick

The Education 'Profession'

by David W. Kirkpatrick,
Senior Education Fellow, US Freedom Foundation

Public school educators like to consider themselves to be professionals, rather than the publicly employed hired hands that they actually are. Compare them with some of the generally recognized professions.

Lawyers adapt to new court decisions or new laws very quickly, as do accountants to IRS rulings, and doctors to new medical discoveries or procedures. Not so with educators.

The lag between the development of a valid new idea may not only be very lengthy it may be permanent. Research findings of decades or generations ago are ignored to this day. Not only that, educators, who claim to "teach critical thinking and problem solving," are commonly unaware of most research, and frequently ignore, belittle and disrespect it. As a result, much of what is done in schooling, public or independent, is not only not based on sound research but may go directly contrary to such findings.

Where, for example, is the research that says students learn best in age-based classes or in rooms where the teacher talks 75-80 percent of the time (that is three to four times as much as all of the students combined); or that huge schools with thousands of students are better than small schools, or that huge schools are effective learning environments at all, etc., et.., etc.?

It doesn't exist!

About the only time research is raised is to block change. When a significant change is suggested that the establishment opposes, suddenly there is a professed interest in what research has to say about it. That this is a smokescreen is commonly demonstrated by what happens next.

In simplified terms when the question of research findings are raised two possibilities exist. One is that there is such research but it is ignored or denied. The second option is that there isn't relevant research which, in most true professions might lead to the conducting of some projects to determine what might be true. In schooling circles this doesn't happen either. Thus, raising research as a question is not part of a search for the truth but is an attempt to stifle innovation or seriously consider something that might challenge the status quo.

Leading the opposition to any proposed meaningful change is usually the teacher unions. While they certainly are not alone in this tendency they tend to have the most funding and human resources to do so.

Perhaps the union position was stated most succinctly some years ago by Bernard H. McKenna of the National Education Association. At that time he was specifically speaking about competency based teacher education (CBTE), which would have applied competency measures to teachers as well as students, but his words could have general application as a union position to any real change:

"(T)he organized profession (which is to say, the union) does object to mandating implementation which is based on little or no research...When CBTE has been carefully researched, developed, tested and tried, found valid and reliable, and capable of being implemented constructively and justly, the organized profession will stand ready to support it."

Sure it will. Name one example.

If his statement is a serious one, why does the "organized profession" object to pilot projects with vouchers, charter schools, privatization, and reform after reform. At the same time they claim they will support change if research proves it correct, they oppose conducting the actual research.

What makes this laughable, assuming for the moment that it is funny, is that if it was a seriously held position, the NEA would have to oppose virtually everything schooling presently does because almost none of it "has been carefully researched, developed, tested ad tried, found valid and reliable" and is"capable of being implemented constructively and justly." The hypocrisy here is so great that McKenna should have been ashamed to have made the remark.

Much of what is current practice doesn't need research to demonstrate its ineffectiveness, inefficiency, or other lack of common sense. Where is the sense in paying certified teachers to proctor homerooms cafeterias or study halls, help young children get their coats on and off, and other such mundane duties?

But if common sense were the standard, the present school system would not exist.

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"No school at all is better than a bad school. Nothing else in the child's environment is capable of such systematic destruction." p. 213, George Dennison, The Lives of Children, NY: Random House, 1969
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