Friday, July 18, 2008

No! Not a Master's in Education!

If you're thinking about acquiring a Master's degree in education, please allow me to discourage that thought.  Outside of K-12 public education, it will be completely worthless.  Inside K-12 public education, it will only get you a modest pay raise, and it will be unlikely to make you a better teacher.

I acquired mine back in 1992.  The focus for my degree was on how technology could assist in education.  Back then, I owned a Macintosh LC.  It had a 15 MHz CPU, 2 whole MB (that's MB, not GB) RAM, and a 40 MB (not GB) hard drive.

How relevant do you think that degree would be for today's educational needs?  Yeah.  The only thing that piece of paper shows is that I was able to read a lot of papers about other people's thinking on education, and generate my own thinking in another paper.  I don't know how many people ever read my field project write up, outside my advisor and perhaps the other two educators who were on my field project committee.  I don't think any of them would remember it.

It did have the effect of turning my head around 180 degrees about the uses of technology in education.  I went in thinking I would be studying how to write some outstanding software in education, and I wanted to do that.  I came out the other end certain that couldn't be done, no matter how wonderful the technology.  I have yet to be proven wrong.  Computers and software do not teach.  Distance learning is for a very few people.  Computers and technology are tools in the hands of good educators, they are no substitute for a good educator.

That was a fair bit of funds down the tube to show it couldn't be done.  I don't mind spending money to eliminate possibilities, but this degree did not give me a marketable skill.

Education is like that.  From the undergraduate to the doctorate level, we study the latest fads in education, educational theory, current problems in education, current trends in education.  We can tell you about Bloom's Taxonomy, multiple intelligences, group learning and grading, cycles of learning, direct instruction, the Platonic model, internalizing education, authentic assessment, standardized assessment, diversity, minority education, ESL, theory about teaching reading via phonics, whole word, and whole language, John Dewey,  Montessori, Piaget, Vigotsky, etc. etc.  

My degree was in 1992.  If you've worked on one since then, and recognize almost none of these topics, then I have made my case.  Education as a field of study has no body of knowledge that is its foundation.

You won't have a marketable skill in any field outside of education.  Your Master's degree in education may not even be any good at the local community college, because they are more and more requiring that degree to be in the field that you are teaching.  I'm grandfathered in.  For now.  That may change.

So if you need a Master's degree, get something in a real field, like a foreign language, or literature, or engineering or biology or math.  You'll have more to teach when you return to the classroom, rather than some squishy theories about how we learn and some techniques to control crowds of students.  

Friday, July 11, 2008

Teaching in a moral vacuum

Whoever thought that the education that our kids need can be given in a moral vacuum?  Is it possible to actually teach any subject matter at all without bumping up against a moral issue?

I teach math at the local community college, and perhaps this field comes the closest to being value-neutral.  That still doesn't eliminate the instructors who have a pretty big ax to grind with their students.  I work with bleeding heart liberals who use their time in front of a class to pontificate.  It could also happen with us conservatives.  

But look at the book!  We see endless word problems in math texts in which the females are faster, richer, smarter than the males.  Pick up a used college text at any local used book store and you'll see what I mean.

So even in math, women are better than men.  All racial groups must be present in the book, or some student will feel left out, and that will be bad.

I rest my case.  Education cannot take place in a moral vacuum, because there is no vacuum.  Something has seeped inside that sterile seal, or else there never was one.

So whose moral outlook do YOU want represented to YOUR children?  If you send them to public schools, then you will see that in the textbooks, all women are smarter than men, and that all racial, ethnic, and now also any group of any sexual orientation must now also be properly represented to your children, just in case that any of THEM fall into those categories, and we don't want anyone to feel left out.

Frankly, I do NOT want my tax dollars telling my kids what to believe.  

And if you don't, either, then let's follow this out to the logical conclusion:  We need to end public education, because morality is always in education, and we don't want the government picking what you should believe.

Some other time, I'll offer suggestions on what we ought to do instead.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

You don't need a diploma to go to college

Say, what?  Come again?

A few years ago I got a call from our local high school in September.  It was the attendance office.  "Where's your daughter?"

Since she was attending college in another state, I asked, "Why are you expecting her there?"

"We don't show her as having graduated from high school," said the tired voice.  She clearly had been making truancy calls all morning, already, on the first day of school.

"She didn't," I said, "but she's in college right now, so I guess she won't be in high school any more."

Silence.  Then "How can she be at college if she doesn't have a high school diploma?"

"Well," I answered, "I guess you don't need one to go to college."

Which, my friends, is true.  My daughter, the high school drop out, graduated from college after three years.  Now, to be fair, she racked up some credits at the local community college, concurrent with her junior and senior year in high school, while still taking some classes of choice at the local high school.  But she opted out of high school graduation in the 9th grade when we pulled her out of a required 'transitions' class for 9th graders, designed to ease their path into high school, with such topics as library research and some school and community awareness topics that included knowing where the restrooms and exit doors are, and who did what and ran which club in the school.  Oh, and there was a lesson on where the index of a book was and what it was for. 

Do we really need 3 - 4.5 hours per week to teach this stuff to 9th graders?  Never mind that she was a straight-A student in middle school in the gifted program there as well.

I told them that I wanted her in an academic class.  The principal told me that he was NOT opting ANY freshmen out of the transitions class for any reason.  So I made her a homeschooler for that hour, with the understanding that since this course was required for graduation that she would then not be graduating from high school.  She was fine with that.  We cobbled together her high school education using some classes at the high school, some from the local community college in a program our state makes available to high school juniors and seniors with free tuition, and some homeschooling.

As long as that 'transitions' class was a requirement for graduation, and had to be taken in the 9th grade, I guess she would still be eligible for classes at the local high school forever.  I wonder if that's a theory worth testing.

So, come her senior year of high school, she researched and picked five colleges, and got accepted to three of them.  In August, off she went, to the one that offered her about a 3/5ths scholarship.

I learned later that I was supposed to name a graduation date, so I picked the day she registered to vote.

For a long time, a high school diploma hasn't meant that the student could read or write.  For that reason, most colleges DO NOT CARE if the student has been issued a high school diploma from a state-approved school.  Their criterion is the student's transcript, SAT or ACT scores, and some application materials that they require.  Homeschooled students can write their own transcript.  More on that, perhaps, in another blog.  Homeschooled students DO need to have a graduation date.  So pick one, and be sure to have a party.  When you fill out the FAFSA, answer 'yes' for diploma.  Your homeschool diploma is completely legitimate.  If asked, enter the graduation date you picked.

Know, that when your student gets to college, that there will be placement exams in several subjects.  No matter what courses your student has taken in high school or elsewhere, these exams will determine where your students starts in a sequence of courses such as math or English.  If remedial work must be done, these exams will identify that.

Once again, let me reiterate, that your job as parent is to get your student the BEST education you can.  Local public high schools often have some very strange hoops for kids to jump through, such as silly classes, standardized tests associated with the No Child Left Behind Act, senior projects, etc.  These can be worthwhile, or they can be worthless.  If  your child didn't get a high school diploma because s/he failed to jump through one of these hoops, apply to college anyway. 

You don't need a high school diploma to go to college.  You DO need a graduation date.  Be sure to have a party and take some photos.