Bored of Education
You may find this hard to believe, but it wasn’t until after I had gone all the way through the British school and college system, and emigrated to the U.S., with a bachelor of arts degree in history, that I became aware of the fact that “education” is a subject which can itself be studied and taught. And I made this discovery only accidentally. I had come to California, after being told that there was a shortage of teachers here, and that, with a University of London BA, I should have no difficulty finding employment. Only upon arriving, did I learn that there was one little snag. Sure enough, there was a big demand for teachers throughout the state – and school districts were competing with each other to attract applicants. (This was the boom era of the 1950s.) But, in order to teach in a California public school, it wasn’t good enough just to have a degree in your subject. Here, you also needed something called a “credential” – a sort of license issued by the State certifying that you were qualified to teach.
On the face of it, this was not a bad idea. I had already had more than one teacher who could have used some supervised training. But getting a credential meant going back to college for months, or possibly years. And most of the required courses were in “education.” You could even get a degree in it! The courses had names like “Core Course in Secondary Education,” and “Psychological and Sociological Foundations of Education.” I enrolled at Los Angeles State College, and sat through whatever was required, meanwhile earning my way by doing a variety of “odd jobs.”
I soon understood what they meant by the old jibe that “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. And those who can’t teach, teach teachers.”
Much of the course content seemed of little value to me. But it was all essential, compared with the gobbledygook which I find is being offered today. Here is just one example, from the current catalog of a local university, describing one course out of nearly 400 being offered by the Education Department. The course title is “Applied Causal Inference” and this is the description:
“Introduces a set of quasi-experimental approaches for estimating causal inferences in educational research. Methods explored include: fixed effects, instrumental variables, difference-in-difference estimators, regression discontinuity, and propensity score matching. Students will apply these techniques using large-scale datasets.”
If you can make any sense of that, you’re a better man, or woman, than I am.
But there were a few things I learned in those courses that were of real practical value. One was always to make sure that your students were comfortable – to check things like the windows and the heating.
And one course, in “Audio Visual Education,” taught us, among other things, how to run a film projector. But most useful of all were the weeks of “practice teaching” I did, under a “Master Teacher,” whose name was Miss Pleasant. By that time, I had transferred to Claremont Graduate School (where I was lucky enough to get a year’s scholarship), from which I somehow emerged not only with that coveted credential, but also with a master’s degree in education!
But it soon turned out that all of this had for me been pretty much a waste of time. After a few weeks in my first actual teaching job, in the English Department at Hollywood High School, it was obvious to me that I was never cut out to be a high school teacher. If I was going to teach at all, it would have to be at a higher level. This eventually led me to seek the college equivalent of a teaching credential, which is called a PhD. (Admittedly, that makes no sense, because PhD. courses are entirely subject oriented, and you are not required to know anything about teaching at all.)
What ultimately saved me from a lifetime of misery in academia was the ironical fact that, virtually straight out of the starting-gate, I got the ideal teaching job – sailing around the world on board a “floating University.” It couldn’t last forever – but nothing could possibly be as good – so I had to invent a new profession, and became an epigrammatist, writing lines like:
“I was educated once, and it took me years to get over it.” And:
“Be kind to teachers. Those who don’t deserve your respect
may at least deserve your pity.”