January 30, 2012
Feedback - Education Faculties Should Disappear
Thanks for passing on the information on source material re teaching effectiveness through Steve Lafleur on Nov. 18. I’m still reading on that topic along with some others.
I’d like to make some comments pertaining to your current article on the value of Faculties of Education.
I agree entirely that the enterprise of education would benefit from the winding down of Faculties of Education, but I would present a slightly different emphasis. Bad methodology is indeed relevant (I taught my own children to read at age three using Dr. Seuss and they were reading newspapers by the time they started school.) but my emphasis is more on teacher’s knowledge of content. I note that the references that you provided showed that this was not a major contributor to teaching effectiveness, but I suspect that with regard the narrower area of the sciences at the high school level it is. Some observations.
Several years ago when I was a member of the Science Council of Canada’s Committee on Science Education, I discovered that some Canadian physics teachers found Newton’s Laws of Motion too abstract for their personal comprehension and invented their own replacement laws of motion, which were fundamentally Aristotelian physics.
While co-supervising a PhD student in physics education I discovered that objective research in the Faculty of Education could mean making subjective observations on class-room dynamics and then objectively counting the incidences of various observations.
When I was chair of the Graduate Class Review Committee at the U of R I found that a series of four new math classes requested by the Faculty of Education for their graduate level covered the same material as did one math class at the second year level in the Department of Mathematics. I was not able to prevent their approval.
The Canadian Association of Physicists had set up a Canada-wide physics scholarship program based on the results of a physics examination. Saskatchewan and Manitoba consistently under-achieved on the exam. Some of us in Regina set up a program to assist students who wished to prepare for the exam. We set weekly physics problems, marked submitted responses and published the correct solutions. The list of participants was dominated not by physics students but by physics teachers.
I taught first-year university physics for roughly 30 years. From that and from some of the forgoing it became clear that high school physics teachers viewed their task as one of “shoveling” a list of physics equations into students until they were full. Comprehension of the concepts behind the symbols in the equations and the implication of the equation itself received too little attention. The consequence was that students learned to approach the solution of physics problems by searching for equations with symbol related to the words in the problem, rather than by recognizing the physical concepts in the problem and the laws and theories that connected them. In effect, first-year physics primarily involved unlearning the sloppy mental habits that had been imparted in high school.
During the years that I sat as the Faculty of Science representative to the Faculty of Education’s faculty meetings I came to realize that Faculties of Education had come into existence because teachers had noticed that professions like law, medicine, engineering and business admin etc. commanded both more respect and more income and that they had four years or more of university level educational/training, and that teachers such as my mother and mother-in-law had only one or two years equivalent. Teachers decided to move to four-year programs but they didn’t have enough material to fill four years of education/training or their own professional jargon that helps identify members of a profession, so they filled up a four-year curriculum with newly invented “edu-babble” that seems to channel people into Faculties of Education who probably don’t belong there.
I hope that you might find the foregoing supportive of your efforts to improve the enterprise of education.
Professor Emeritus, Physics, Univeristy of Regina
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