Bill Gates proposes another decade or two detour for public USA education in his Washington Post opinion piece today titled: How teacher development could revolutionize our schools. Good grief Gates, as we are so wont to say these days: You don’t get it.
Aaron Sorkin, in accepting an Oscar last night for his Social Network screenplay, thanked his agents, “who,” said Sorkin, “never blow my cover and reveal that I would happily do this for free”. A deeply inherent operative in human nature is that teaching is a gift, and those individuals so gifted have to be driven away from teaching with very powerful forces to get rid of them. Sadly, Bill Gates is throwing his considerable weight to just such forces.
“Teacher development” is a concept promoted by what is known in education circles as “The Blob,” described here and here. As the latter link says: “Not really a wall — they always talk about change — but rather more like quicksand, or a tar pit where ideas slowly sink out of sight leaving everything just as it had been. ”
Because teachers are born with their gift, we need to wonder what is meant by “teacher development.” We know that whatever this activity is, it supports schools of education, teacher unions, textbook and standards producers, and layers of education administrators. For all of these folks and factions, the news that the United States’ richest man has bought into the idea that teachers need to be developed is promising indeed. Gates has thrown his support to all of these, and more, “experts” who are paid to tell natural teachers how to ply their gifts.
Most natural teachers do not last long in US public school teaching. How to keep those we have, and how to win back the ones who have left in sad disgust (or much stronger disbelief)? The answer: Cut them loose from The Blob and give them access to the tools their students use in other aspects of their lives, but seldom are allowed to use in education.
Imagine a great natural teacher trekking with a couple of dozen science students through an urban, rural, or wilderness habitat. The teacher and each of his students has a personal eTablet. They are studying the life cycle of city rats, field mice, or forest shrews, respective to the habitat where they are. Or imagine a gifted math teacher in a room full kids, ages 7-14, whose interest in and aptitude for math are high. The teacher would be responding with her own knowledge and telling a kid where to go on his eTablet – to the level of each student’s mathematical competence — not forcing upon them all some textbook writer’s idea of what math is right for ten-year-olds.
The great Gates error in his Washington Post piece is that teachers need to be “developed” to function in the system in which The Blob has entrapped our kids. Instead, the system needs to be reconfigured to welcome great teaching and engage students in knowledge networks.
Bill Gates has enough clout to help weaken The Blob so reconfiguring becomes more possible. Sadly, he seems to have abandoned this clout by being absorbed into The Blob — where he joins legion company of well intentioned would be education reformers.