This article is getting a lot of cheap responses.
Headline: “Federal School Education Minister Peter Garrett says teachers do not have to be smart”
Which leads, of course, to everyone mocking him for saying it’s okay for teachers to be stupid. But here’s what the article says:
[Garrett] said he didn’t think the teaching profession needed to be more selective.
“It is not necessarily a fact that someone who is academically smart makes a better teacher than someone who isn’t,” Mr Garrett told reporters in Canberra.
“I don’t think education should necessarily be the province of the particularly smart or gifted.”
Mr Garrett said he knew teachers who weren’t the most academically gifted but nevertheless went on to be great because they had passion and enthusiasm for the kids they taught.
I’ve written at length about this for America, at least. There is no evidence that smarter teachers make better teachers and our teachers are smart enough. And yes, many people with less than exceptional content knowledge make very good teachers, and plenty of brilliant people make terrible teachers.
So really, there’s nothing even slightly objectionable about Garrett’s points. Not that this stopped anyone from mocking.
I started this blog in some small part because I got irritated at all the idiots that I finally could capture in a name: the middlebrow* education “expert”. You find these preferences often in otherwise political pundits: Matt Yglesias, Megan McArdle, Noah Millman, Walter Russell Mead. In fact, almost any time a political pundit expresses even the briefest of thoughts on education, it’s straight from that part of the opinion spectrum. Most of the billionaire reformers are middlebrow. And of course, middlebrow education experts are legion in blog comment sections.
The middlebrows are educated, generally intelligent people who succeeded in the private sector—or married people who succeeded in the private sector. They hold a number of conventional opinions about education, even though they aren’t directly involved in teaching or educational policy.
One middlebrow profile is the quasi-reformer view: teachers aren’t very bright, unions are evil and a primary reason students are failing, standards aren’t high enough, merit pay will draw better people into teaching, everyone can succeed, we just have to catch the kids early enough.
The other middlebrow profile is the quasi-traditional view: teachers aren’t very bright, merit pay will draw better people into teaching, unions are evil and a primary reason students are failing, standards aren’t high enough,kids aren’t being taught the basics, bring back tracking, unmotivated students should be kicked out, weak-willed school administrators aren’t willing to let kids bear the responsibility of their actions, .
The overlap is intentional; all the middlebrows are consistent about blaming teachers. But these aren’t people with a coherent view; they’ve taken the cheap way out.
They think about education the way I like Hall and Oates, the Eagles, or John Mayer. When I listen to music I want something I can sing along with the radio when I’m driving. Nothing more. I don’t want to think, don’t want to work. There’s nothing wrong with any of these musicians—they’re popular for a reason. I can go on at great length about the excellence of Don Henley. But I like them in large part because they’re easy to like and tuneful. I’m not going to do the work to listen to more challenging music.
Likewise, the middlebrows in education want to opine on a subject that’s very much in the news and, unlike global warming or economic policy, they think this is an area in which their opinions carry a lot of weight. There’s nothing terribly off about their opinions; they are safe and easy. But just as a serious musician hates the proliferation of pop, so too do I get tired of the proliferation of conventional wisdoms by people who haven’t really taken the time to think or research their opinions on education.
Say what you will of reformers like Rick Hess or Fordham, or of progresssives like Larry Cuban or Diane Ravitch, they have coherent views supported by research and struggle intellectually with the grey areas.
Anyway, the middlebrows had fun with this story, even though the Aussie was, for the most part, right.
*I knew the term before now; I just finally figured out that it applied to this issue.
August 7th, 2012 at 12:56 pm
Something is missing in the sentence ‘I’ve decided that the middlebrow education “expert”.’
August 7th, 2012 at 2:40 pm
Thanks. This computer decides to highlight and delete when I don’t notice. But going back led me to rewrite a bit of it to make it clearer, too.
August 10th, 2012 at 2:29 am
Yes, in case anyone was wondering, this is the same Peter Garrett who was the lead singer of the legendary Aussie band Midnight Oil (of “How Do We Sleep While Our Beds Are Burning” fame)
August 10th, 2012 at 3:13 am
Wow, that’s funny. But Midnight Oil could not be called a middlebrow band.
August 21st, 2012 at 4:01 am
Ahhh, yes, Peter Garrett, the minister burning beds (a reference to his former career as the front man for Midnight Oil and his role in the stupid household insulation scheme where houses were burnt down because the Labor government preferred to throw around lots of money quickly rather than create a scheme with adequate controls.)
None the less, it seems to me that the kind of person who is a good teacher is the sort of person who has some grasp of the material and can quickly understand the difficulties students are having and can present it in different ways … however, at the end of the day, students are responsible for putting in some effort as well.
August 21st, 2012 at 4:13 am
There’s not much to support that in the literature, though. In fact, that belief is the essence of middlebrow.
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May 23rd, 2016 at 2:18 pm
I think smart teachers are beneficial for gifted children. Think this is why so many (smart) middlebrows are for it. But the middlebrows are not smart (or thoughtful) enough to consider that what helps them may not be so much needed for everyone.