Education Week - August 28, 2013 - (Page 32)

32 EDUCATION WEEK AUGUST 28, 2013 n n COMMENTARY n THE CURE FOR COMMON-CORE SYNDROME 26 n THE BEST EDUCATION DIET? REAL FOOD, PREPARED WELL 26 n WHAT REALLY MATTERS IN EDUCATION: COMPASSION 27 n LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 28 Nip Rogers Think Education Is Like Medicine? Think Again By James H. Nehring T here are three bad ideas popular among education writers in the United States right now. First is the idea that American public education should learn from the medical profession. Second is the idea that better skills are the route to higher income. And third is the instructional core, an idea that teaching consists of three elements—teacher, student, and content. For each of these ideas, there is a better way that will set us on a more constructive path. Take the idea that American education should learn from the medical profession. This is appealing because over the last hundred years, doctors—bolstered with rigorous medical education, high professional standards, scientific research, and a growing arsenal of powerful drugs—have shown amazing results in healing sick people. It seems logical that if we brought all the same elements to bear on teaching, we could produce similarly impressive results. Indeed, the extensive training of physicians is a useful model, but there’s a problem. Education is not like medicine. In medicine, a doctor treats one patient at a time for a physical or psychological malady. Educators, on the other hand, see large numbers of students all at once, for an extended period of time. Doctors work mainly in the realm of the biological and chemical. Educators work mainly in the realm of behavior and attitudes. If we want to compare education to medicine, we should look instead at the field of public health. Teaching children and adolescents is akin to what a community health professional faces in trying to get people to brush their teeth, eat less junk food, and exercise more. While this comparison is more apt, it is less appealing since the United States has epidemic rates of preventable diseases stemming from our poor habits regarding diet and exercise. Public health in America is a disaster, no doubt for a host of complex reasons that go well beyond anything public health professionals have or have not done. Much like education. But the comparison that we continue to make is with medicine per se, which causes problems. For example, unlike medicine, effective teaching cannot be discerned strictly on the basis of scientific studies. The “ In public health and in public education, context matters a lot.” more we insist that it can—and we insist a great deal—the more we deny teachers the crucial element of judgment. It would be wonderful if effective teaching could be defined by research-based standards of practice written in a manual. But that, to use our public-health analogy, would be like writing a manual for the best way to run an anti-obesity campaign for any town large or small, rich or poor. In public health and in public education, context matters a lot. The second bad idea is a belief that better skills will lead to higher income. This idea is appealing because it promises to reward students and schools that shift from a traditional focus on recall and procedural learning to creative thinking and collaboration. The problem is that it is based on an incomplete analysis of labor markets. The analysis goes like this: Fifty years ago, there were lots of well-paying, low-skill jobs in the automobile, mining, and steel industries. Now those jobs are gone and high-paying jobs in the new knowledge economy require a highly skilled workforce. Here’s the part of the analysis that’s left out: Fifty years ago, a robust labor movement ensured that lowskill jobs in the automobile, mining, and steel industries provided decent wages, benefits, and working conditions. The low-skill jobs that have replaced them in the service sector (retail clerks, food-service workers) are not unionized, and many corporations are savaging attempts at labor organization. For that reason, wages, benefits, and working conditions are deplorable. The path to higher income for many is not better skills; it’s a union card. Our focus on better skills for better earning potential is a bad idea because it’s making for a lot of angry teenagers graduating from high school and young people in their early 20s graduating from college who find the jobs they were promised just aren’t there. But this doesn’t mean we should abandon the idea of teaching for higher-order skills; it just means we need to shift our rationale. We need skills for crucial civic tasks, like organizing peers to stand up to a powerful employer, or lobbying legislators for laws that serve the public good. We need these skills also for the personal fulfillment that comes from an ability to more deeply engage with the world. Citizenship and personal fulfillment are typically the tag-on reasons for school improvement after tough-sounding imperatives like “economic competitiveness.” But, in the modern world, that formulation is exactly backwards—citizenship and fulfillment should come first. The third bad idea is the frequently invoked “instructional core,” which says teaching consists essentially of PAGE 28 > JAMES H. NEHRING is an associate professor in the graduate school of education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. He is currently at work on a Fulbright-supported study of school excellence at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland. ▲

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - August 28, 2013

Education Week - August 28, 2013
Waiver States Under Scrutiny
Common Core: A Puzzle to Public
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Fla. Virtual School Faces Hard Times
Stacked Deck Seen in Growth of PBIS
This Week
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Most Students Aren’t Ready for College, ACT Data Show
For Rural Teachers, Mentoring Support Is Just a Click Away
Philadelphia Gears to Open Schools After Aid Reprieve
Blogs of the Week
INDUSTRY & INNOVATION: New Sites Designed to Help Choose Best Ed-Tech Tools
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Museums, Researchers Shifting To Online Science Ed. Outreach
Common Core Grinds Along Amid Michigan Debate
‘Course Choice’ Venture Gets Started in Louisiana
Policy Brief
PAULA STACEY: The Best Education Diet? Real Food, Prepared Well
LINDA DIAMOND: The Cure for Common-Core Syndrome
CAROL LACH: What Really Matters In Education: Compassion
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
JAMES H. NEHRING: Think Education Is Like Medicine? Think Again

Education Week - August 28, 2013