Rare truth

Every now and then I peek at the Federalist to see if they’re still hopelessly lost. In general they meet my expectations. Today I noticed a positive exception to the rule, on an unusual subject.

The shitty quality of teacher training is NOT a subject that normally gets into the media or websites. Even websites focusing on education skip this ETERNAL problem. It got into the media, and into the Federalist, through an odd incident. Arnn, the president of Hillsdale, was giving an interview to a local TV station, and told the obvious truth. Teacher unions grabbed the interview and tinfoiled it.  (The same teacher unions who closed the schools for two years.)

The Federalist goes into proper detail and hits the full ETERNAL truth:

These are well-reinforced, longstanding empirical findings bolstered by many forms of evidence. As I wrote in a research summary 10 years ago, “Teachers tend to have below-average SAT, ACT, LSAT, and GRE scores, and statistics show their college coursework is among the least challenging available. Education majors must take more remedial college coursework than their counterparts in humanities and social sciences. … Traditional teacher preparation programs emphasize education and social theories, which research has demonstrated are ineffective teaching methods.”

For example, teacher certification programs have long been proven to have zero connection to teacher quality or raising student achievement. Also, as I note in the summary, the students who enter college intending to major in education typically score below-average on college entrance exams, and this has been true since the 1950s.


My father worked in teacher training from the ’50s through the ’70s, and had no illusions about the nature and quality of the results.

When I took some Ed courses in 1979 the same thing was true. The courses gave me theories, not useful advice. Nothing in the courses was remotely relevant when I actually started teaching.

Arnn and the Federalist focus on the wrong parts of the solution.

1. The academic talents of future teachers are NOT the problem. Teaching requires some knowledge of the subject matter, but learning does not come FROM the teacher’s knowledge. Learning comes FROM direct interactions with reality. The teacher’s role should be managerial, not instructional.  The teacher supervises and inspires and evaluates the interactions with reality, while well-designed workbooks and well-provisioned labs take care of the subject matter. The best teachers are extroverts with strong social strategy talents. I’m the opposite, so I burned out quickly despite strong academic talents.

2. As usual, Hillsdale and Federalist believe students should be memorizing Euclidean proofs and Ciceronian orations. We need ZERO memorization. What we need is endless practice in gardening and cooking and home repair and fraud detection and sneaky Machiavellian strategies.

But at least Federalist got the diagnosis right, and that’s rare and valuable.