I passed through Greenville. S.C. the other day, en route back to my home town of Augusta, Ga. after a day of car shopping for my son in college. Stopping at a local restaurant, I picked up the current edition of the Greenville News. Since I have an interest in education reform, a guest editorial caught my eye and I saved it. It is written by a University of South Carolina Dean of Education — a teacher of the teachers of the teachers.
Although this was several weeks ago, I am brought back to his article because of a report released recently describing the poor state of teacher education in the U.S. The report, issued by the non-partisan "Education Schools Project," alleges that most education schools are engaged in a "pursuit of irrelevance," with curricula in disarray and faculty disconnected from classrooms and colleagues.
According to the report, the vast majority of the nation's teachers are being prepared in programs that have low admission and graduation standards and cling to an outdated vision of teacher education, according to "Educating School Teachers," the report released Sept. 18.
So what does this have to do with the Education Dean’s guest editorial?
The dean was reporting back from a recent trip to China. His essay took the opportunity to do a bit of comparison and contrast between the U.S. system of education and the educational practices of that giant Asian nation of 1.3 billion citizens.
What is most revealing is both what he does list as the strengths of the U.S system and also what he does not list as our strengths.
Ironically, in his enumeration of our strengths, I’m afraid he reveals much of what is wrong with American education, at least as it is promoted by the “educational establishment” in this country: colleges of education, state and federal bureaucracies of education, and education interest groups.
The dean underscored “the positives that have defined how we educate our children, like creativity, innovative thought and critical thinking.” A little later he argued that the Chinese could learn a lot from us about incorporating such things as problem-based learning, creativity, critical thinking and theory-to-practice into an education system.”
He highlights “critical thinking” but he doesn’t define what he means—and when it comes to the current fad of “critical thinking,” the devil is in the definition. Does he mean that “critical thinking” is persuasive and reasonable thought, informed by an understanding of the religion, history and government of other cultures, and structured through the skills learned from grammar, rhetoric and informal logic? That’s what “critical thinking” once meant.
Henry T. Edmondson III is Professor of Public Administration and Political Science at the Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Georgia.
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