Sunday, October 10, 2010

A few countries really have the best academics go into teaching

“Why aren’t our teachers the best and brightest?” ask Paul Kihn and Matt Miller in the Outlook section of the Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010 Washington Post.

In at least three countries (Finland, South Korea, and Singapore) they are. Only the best students are selected to education, and the number of slots is keyed to the demand. In our country, the gradual decline in teaching quality is somewhat a reverse artifact of discrimination. The link for the story is here.

Also, Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee (and others) have a Manifesto on the same page in the Outlook section: “How to fix our schools.” The problem, they say, is tenure unrelated to performance. In no other profession are people allowed to keep their jobs on seniority alone, without regard to success.

I recall a moment in the spring semester during my senior year of high school (Washington-Lee in Arlington VA) when I solved a trigonometry problem (probably just solving a triangle; I don’t think it involved those notorious identities, with which I once helped a ROTC student when subbing), when “Miss Shreeves” (they called her “Ruby” but this was 1961, and she rabidly rooted for the new Washington Senators) suggested that I would have a knack for teaching. Good students, yes. In graduate school, math professors teach by proving theorems about homomorphisms on the board. Reach teaching involves connecting to kids, who are often immature, unmotivated, disadvantages, or not intact, almost like parenting skills (or “in loco parentis”).

It's not easy to be the best in academics and have the people skills it takes to teach simultaneously. It's easier to be good in academics and invent Facebook.

In an offhand conversation, a college professor today told me that female students were far outperforming male students (that wasn’t true when I went to college), and even kids from good homes are used to having things done for them. They don’t know what adulthood is yet. That was pretty much true in 1961, though. At least some kids go on to do things like develop iPhone or Facebook applications for income even before they get to college. The granularity of maturity has gotten much finer.

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