What is the role of politicians and philanthropists in reforming teacher education?

Teacher education has become the object of criticism from several sectors (Cruz, 2009), most influentially from politicians and philanthropists. For example, the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan stated “By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom,” (October 22, 2009). When Bill Gates, one of the richest men, overseeing the world’s largest philanthropic organization, criticized education, the media “reported Gates’ assertions in an unquestioning, almost awestruck tone” (Colvin, 2005, p. 34).

Those who work in the extremes of power and wealth in society can greatly influence public policy and perceptions. Politicians and philanthropists can control and sway through their ability to create policies and criticize actions.

American philanthropy, by local and national foundations, corporations, and wealthy individuals, has played many important roles in K–12 education: creating new schools, underwriting research, funding scholarships, testing hypotheses, generating new curricula, invoking ideals, setting agendas, bolstering training, and building a case for policy changes. Foundation money is so widespread, and so sought after, that few in education are unaffected (Colvin, 2005, p. 36).

Using power and money to try and solve societal problems may be a noble endeavor, but if their knowledge is wrong or their motives self-serving, the results can be disastrous. If high placed and respected individuals say teacher education is “doing a mediocre job” and use their political and financial power to create policies to change it, who are we to argue. Moreover, if we do argue, especially if we are educators, we are accused of bias and self-interest.

As an educator and teacher educator, I admit to both bias and self-interest. Though I have spent my adult life trying to be overcome them, and have striven to be honest, caring and fair, I none-the-less still suffer from privileging my own limited views and interests. Though I have been committed to discovering the truth, serving others and doing the right thing during my 40-year career as a teacher and teacher educator, I could do and be better. As I am coming to an end of my career at a time when teacher education is coming under increasing attack, I feel the need to take a stand for what I think is right.

I believe the critics of teacher education are also biased and self-interested. Many of their reform agendas reflect materialistic worldviews and values that do not promote equity and the best in human nature. Their views dominate modern partisan politics and capitalistic enterprises and pose a threat to the well-being of teacher education. They unashamedly promote their prejudices and interests in reform policies that educators are impelled to accept.

Their policies are often based on limited views of prosperity and progress. In the complex and nuanced world of teacher education, reformers should consult with the parties involved if they wish to build relationships and capacity for sustainable development. They should not assume that the participants are not willing or equipped to make adjustments needed to accommodate to changing conditions and knowledge. A paternalistic approach will limit chances in making real progress. As we are open-minded and learn from our mistakes in the spirit of cooperation, tolerance and concern, we will gain the needed insight and attitudes to make significant improvements.

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About rodclarken

Dr. Rodney H Clarken is recently retired as a head and professor of the School of Education at Northern Michigan University.
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