Thursday, August 31, 2006

Wee bit o' whining

So, not to worry - I am still feeling warm and fuzzy and pretty great about my new position.

However, the reason I am blogging at this moment is because I am not on a Greyhound bus traveling back to Home City. Oh no. And why's that? Because the city bus that was supposed to arrive at campus for 1:45, getting downtown at 2:15, in plenty of time for my 2:45 Greyhound, did not arrive on campus till 2:00. The driver then proceeded to have a smoke for twelve minutes. Then we had a lovely little 10-minute stop by the side of the road, halfway into the journey, while the driver finished his coffee and we waited for a change of drivers. So I missed my bus. I mean, I love it here and all, and it's nice that I'm in this friendly cafe with wireless Internet. But I'm hot and lugging bags, and I'm supposed to be going home! And every bus I have gone on this week has been late. Grr -too much!!

Anyway, also - since I'm whining - why not whine about education students? Actually, this isn't about the students, per se, as much as about the culture of education faculties and programs, when they are considered simply "teacher training". They make me crazy! I thought of this because I was surrounded, on my very late city bus, by tiny little women who look about sixteen, and act like it too - talking all excitedly and giggling about their first days of their education degree this week. What? These people are going to be teaching children in one year?

I developed a bit of an allergy to this whole culture last year, when my office at that university was surrounded by three Education classrooms, where the students sat in little groups of four at low tables, and all I could hear, all day long - even with my door closed - was:

--Education professor: "Good morning, Section 7". Chorus of adults, for chrissake, replying to the teacher in singsong unity: "Good morning, Mrs. X"

--Endless rounds of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and its ilk

--The following, sadly representative exchange between education professor and education student (which I have committed to aggravated memory): Professor: "Let's talk about the book about clay. Julie?" Julie: "It was just about clay, and I liked it." Professor: "Good."

I mean, come on! This is how we prepare people - who are so infantilized by the culture that they don't even seem like adults - to do one of the most important jobs in society? I find it infuriating. And it wasn't even just me being curmudgeonly - I overheard several conversations outside my office, between bitterly disappointed and sometimes angry education students, complaining that they weren't learning anything at all. It was just busywork. I have several friends who are second-career teachers - who have done their teaching degrees in the last few years - who tell me outrageous stories about the dumbed-down environment.

And we wonder about the skills - or lack thereof - of the undergraduate students we teach in BA programs? The inability to think critically, to interrogate things, to sit comfortably with questions instead of pat answers? It really seems to me that it's a vicious cycle...that they aren't learning these skills because the people who are teaching them often haven't been taught that that's their job, as educators.

This isn't to say that there aren't brilliant, critical thinkers in education faculties, and that some of those faculties aren't innovative...I know of a couple like that in Canada, where grad students and faculty are doing really interesting work. But this challenging work doesn't seem to translate at the "teacher training" level, for the most part - and those B.Ed programs largely remain nine-month-long factories, indoctrinating students in provincial policy, and not thinking.

In the part of Canada where I live, at least, this comes down in part to political shifts, which have seen the provincial government embrace a really retrograde approach to curriculum.

So yeah - as sweet as education students almost invariably are, they remind me of something more sinister.


Mireille said...

Haaaa, education degrees!
I never quite understood who created those curriculums. In my natal ‘distinctive’ province, education for primary and highschool levels is a four-year degree and to be admitted you need a cegep diploma (highschool+2years) and a basic knowledge of French. Four years where students learn about maybe pedagogy but mostly bricolage. Ha, yes! And maybe about the subject they’ll teach! Student choose 2-3 complementary subject and they have a minor, minor in those (think about 6 classes maybe in total for the three subjects). Those persons are going to be geography/history/citizenship teacher with NO knowledge whatsoever of the subject they teach. In order to challenge students and to make them think critically, it seems logical that teachers should have a core level of knowledge. If not, they are doomed to stay in the book, hence the vicious circle.
(I should note here too that even with a specialized undergrad, the students must enrol in and do the whole four-year program. This, you can imagine, deters a lot of people to join)
I was happy to see how the R.O.C. system wasn’t the same (at least in Ontario) but I’m starting to doubt it is any better…
I guess it is easier for some people to have teachers who don't ask questions...

Sfrajett said...

Oooh, I like the swing into darkness here at the end of your post. I have always suspected that education is a bullshit degree. Now I see it as part of the vast right-wing conspiracy, so I can put education programs on my chalkboard hit-list when the Revolution comes. Right on.

What Now? said...

Amen, sister! I don't know if this is a universal phenomenon, but it certainly was at my school. My office used to be on the same hall as the education department and classrooms, and it was always remarkable to see college students coloring and making dioramas and getting college credit for it.

And all the other departments were always snarky (but reasonably so, IMO) about the fact that the education department's grade average was something like a 3.7 -- as in, most students got As and a few unlucky ones got Bs and pretty much no one got anything lower. The education department's defensive response was always that they were just better teachers than the rest of us because of their academic expertise, and so their students learned better and more than our students, which is why they got better grades. To which the other faculty would simply respond, "Dioramas?

What was frustrating about this was, as you point out, that these students are going to be *teaching* in the next year or so, and they clearly aren't really learning anything. And they often know that and are really frustrated by their ridiculous classes. Our English students who were in the education program used to be very put out by "wasting time" on their education classes when they could be taking more English classes and actually learning the subject they were going to be teaching.

Hilaire said...

Mireille - Wow, that is ridiculous. I didn't think it could get any worse than it is here, but apparently it can. Wow.

Sfragett - Glad I could help clarify who the enemy is! ;) Seriously, it's sooo depressing here - there have been marked changes in the culture of education at all levels in the past ten years, due to an ideological shuft. It's a perfect case study of the measurable, material effects of neoliberalism.

What Now? - Yes, the grades, the grades! It's terrible. At the university I was at last year, they'd let people into the consecutive B.Ed. program with an average of 70, if they had done this other little program throughout their degree. I'm sorry, but what??? When grades have been over-inflated as they have where I come from, a 70 is really a 60 - and I don't think students with averages of 60 are equipped to be teachers. I really don't.