In what is perhaps the most bizarre government sponsored “research” project ever in the history of British Columbia, the Ministry of Education has given two contracts to a 19 year old high grad to research teacher education in Finland and disseminate her findings to university deans in British Columbia, with the intent of transforming the professional preparation of teachers. Read the original news report here.
The reporter wrote the story in the genre of “young person with passion providing a unique perspective to spark change” without irony, without critical perspective on the workings of government, or any consideration of what it means to conduct social research.
But many in the chattering class who take education issues seriously, myself included, responded with criticism of the Rick Davis, a BC Superintendent of Achievement, who gave government contracts to support the teen’s “research” in Finland.
What I find particularly interesting is the mini-backlash in the Twittersphere against folks who are critical of giving under the table contracts to unqualified teenagers to travel to Europe to conduct “research” on the professional preparation of teachers.
The critics of the critics make an argument that goes something like this, “Everybody knows something about education, schooling, (and thus teacher education) so why are you trying to silence this young woman?” (Which, by the way, no one is trying to do, the criticism has been directed at government, not the young “researcher” in question.)
Yes, people have perspectives on their experiences, but as heartfelt (or extensive) as they may be they are not inherently informative for research, policy, or practice. I celebrate and encourage a complicated conversation on social issues. Broad public dialogue on social issues is a key measure of the health of a democracy. But all perspectives are not equal.
Participation in a public dialogue is important. Engage in the conversation. Share your ideas. The twist in this particular circumstance is that government has endorsed and financially backed a person with no distinctive qualifications (save having been a student in school) not to engage in a conversation, but to influence public policy on professional preparation of teachers.
Would the critics of the critics support having random patients sent to Europe to research the professional preparation of physicians? A random selection of drivers who cross the Port Mann Bridge everyday sent to Europe to research professional preparation of engineers?
No doubt that the years spent in a classroom give people a particular perspective on what teaching, education, and schooling are about. And I don’t deny the personally meaningful understandings that result from those long days and years. But, a student perspective is only a partial perspective on the complexity of what it means to teach. And, I would add that even the practice of classroom teaching itself is only a partial perspective on what is needed for effective professional preparation of teachers.
Despite what some characterize as a “Mickey Mouse” discipline, teacher education is not merely 50 Nifty Ways to teach algebra, The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or Pride and Prejudice.
Professional teachers are not merely competent in disciplinary knowledge, but understand the epistemological structures of their disciplines and the contested nature of what is or isn’t taught in school. Professional teachers don’t merely have a caring attitude toward their students they understand human development and the ways in which social and economic inequalities impact on the daily experiences of their students.
As in any professional practice, novice teachers begin their careers with an understanding of what it means to teach, and teach well, that is heavily influenced by their own experiences as students (as well as the popular “image” of what it means to be a good teacher). It takes time in the classroom, often years, before the full complexity of the job is understood even by those who are in the classroom every single day …
And, British Columbia Ministry of Education contracts with a high school grad to “research” teacher education in an effort to “spark change”?
Rick Davis and the Ministry are either woefully ignorant of what it means to teach and what it means to prepare teachers or they just don’t care. And this has nothing to do with the teenage victim of their ignorance or indifference.