You can lead an ass to water, but you can’t make him drink. That is one idea that doesn’t get much attention in the current educational system. Nor does the corollary that those who are really thirsty will go out of their way to quench their thirst. Instead, all the emphasis seems to be on leading or dragging, not on keeping the trough filled and accessible for those who are really thirsty. What makes a good teacher may not be teaching ‘technique’—although of course that is of some importance. Most people I know would say the best teachers they had were good because of their enthusiasm and knowledge, even if one could barely decipher their scrawls on the chalk board. Unfortunately, enthusiasm for the subject is too often minimal in those aspiring to that good secure job as a teacher. (I’ve had students planning to be English teachers tell me they don’t like to read!) And knowledge of the subject matter doesn’t seem to be a priority in many aspiring for that relatively cushy job. (My wife remembers students in her Faculty of Ed class on teaching history objecting to a test that included actual questions about history, instead of just ‘how’ to teach it.) As always, there is no shortage of criticisms and proffered solutions. But perhaps the problem has no solution; for perhaps the sad fact is that some people are simply not very thirsty for knowledge, including, alas, many of those who are being paid to deliver it.
PROPOSED SOLUTION: MAKE IT HARDER TO BECOME A TEACHER
One could make it harder to get that teaching credential by combating grade inflation. But does that really make a difference if the grades themselves reveal nothing about the person’s knowledge or enthusiasm?
PROPOSED SOLUTION: MOVE TO PRIVATE SCHOOL EDUCATION
Generally private schools hire more on the basis of subject expertise than formal ‘teaching credentials’, and they attract more thirsty students who have to compete to get in. But does that disenfranchise students whose parents don’t have the financial resources to opt out of public education—or are even aware of the option?
PROPOSED SOLUTION: EMBRACE HOME SCHOOLING
The teachers, being parents, are often more enthusiastic and committed and expect more independent learning—and the student-teacher ratio is hard to beat. But does that only work if the parents are well-educated enough to guide their kids to successful independent learning—and are not just using social isolation to prevent their kids from learning about things that might threaten their traditional religious beliefs?