Policy Without Knowledge

An interesting point from Kevin Carey about John McCain’s education speech:

I’m generally sympathetic to policies aimed at opening up the teaching profession, because it seems clear that success in the classroom is a function of multiple factors (experience, subject matter knowledge, pedagogical skills, training, work ethic, verbal ability, general smartness, innate talent for teaching) some of which are given undue weight under the current system and some of which are basically ignored. The world’s greatest teacher would have all of these qualities in spades, but of course such people are few and far between and it’s apparent from the track record of initiatives like Teach for America and some of the better alt-cert programs that people can be reasonably successful with less of some things (experience, training) if they have enough of the others.

That said, I hate this sentence: “They don’t have all the proper credits in educational “theory” or “methodology” — all they have is learning and the desire and ability to share it.” Putting words like theory and methodology between contemptuous quotes (shouldn’t we invent a new punctuation mark to distinguish those from regular quotes?) is ridiculous. Teaching is an extremely complicated endeavor. A teacher’s ability to share knowledge (which is in itself an extremely reductive conception of what teaching actually means) is naturally going to be improved by a solid understanding of theory and methods. Of course some ed schools teach those things badly or over-emphasize them, but that’s no reason to dismiss them out of hand.

As Kevin says, this sort of ugly anti-intellectualism doesn’t give you a ton of confidence about McCain’s approach to formulating policy. Running against eggheads has been a longstanding conservative trope, but one gets the sense that in recent years it’s more and more come to play a corrosive role in preventing conservative politicians from engaging in any kind of serious thought.