In his long-awaited (if you’re an education policy person, which admittedly narrows the field somewhat) education speech, Senator McCain said:
We should also offer more choices to those who wish to become teachers. Many thousands of highly qualified men and women have great knowledge, wisdom, and experience to offer public school students. But a monopoly on teacher certification prevents them from getting that chance. You can be a Nobel Laureate and not qualify to teach in most public schools today. 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. If we’re putting the interests of students first, then those qualifications should be enough.
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.
This is garden variety anti-intellectualism and doesn’t speak well of Senator McCain’s approach to policy or other matters. One could imagine, for example, that having a lot of knowledge about war and a desire to conduct wars but lacking a larger theoretical understanding of geo-politics and the methods of statecraft might lead one to actively support a ruinous foreign war and then continue to support it even after its ruinousness has become obvious for all to see.