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.
I think we might agree than both you and I may initially have thought. Really, my bone to pick was with the vitriol directed at the young woman over Twitter. I think some of the knee jerk reaction was off-base and was in fact pointed at the young woman: “Davis was so impressed by the young DJ’s passion for education…”- as if her being a DJ at some point had anything to do with her “lack of qualification.” I think some of the comments were attached to your blog post on twitter and those were the ones I took issue with, not your blog post in particular. For the record, I do find these kinds of stories alarming but the kind of language that was being used and the sense of “us vs them,” as in this response, does little to build a constructive dialogue. Especially concerning is that so many faculty and staff seemed to miss that this young woman is also a UBC student currently. My grievance lies more in the tone used toward the student than with the particular argument and I believed I had made that clear. I certainly apologize if I seemed more of a “critic of the critics.” I do understand the frustration surrounding this contract. It would also be great to see some suggestions of positive solutions, as you and your colleagues clearly DO possess the qualifications and critical thinking necessary to address some of the concerns in education reform. For instance, the contract has already been granted, the “study” done, so how would you suggest the Ministry and professionals such as yourself might proceed in a way that is beneficial to both sides? Is there a way to engage students like Vyas in meaningful dialogue while still respecting educators’ expertise.
I would also like to add that despite our differing approaches (because I think our philosophy might actually align) I will definitely be following your blog because I do value your insight into these matters.
Oh! I was also going to mention that my assessment of “wow, BC Ed folks royally missing the point” was anything but constructive also so I do apologize for THAT knee jerk reaction.
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