In The Chronicle of Higher Education this week, Richard Vedder wonders, "Should We Abolish Colleges of Education?" I encourage you to read the whole piece (it's very short). Among other recommendations Vedder has is this, that "State governments should consider defunding students in colleges of education, requiring future teachers to major in an academic subject, etc."
Advice easily transferrable to the colleges and universities of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in North America. The rationale for teacher education, that is, for paedagogical education, is insufficient. How does it help to underprepare future teachers in academic subjects (mathematics, geography, literature, etc.?) in order to overprepare them for the moment when they first open their mouth in front of a class of first graders? Anecdotally, each and every year I have grown as a teacher--by experience. This is largely due to the fact that I entered the profession without a preconception about what a "good teacher" looked like, about what he or she did. And I quickly found out that teaching is like politics: the politician identifies what he or she wants, and gets there by any means possible. That's what teaching is like. It's a constant, tacit renegotiation on the part of the teacher with the students. The goal is always the same, but it's never met in the same way. It certainly fits nothing like a text-book version. But the point is this: nothing prepares you for life on Capitol Hill like, well, life on Capitol Hill. In the same way, nothing prepares you for teaching like teaching.
But nothing un-prepares you for teaching like having nothing to teach. An interesting study recently showed that students taught by novices (TAs) did, generally, as well as those taught by veterans (profs)--in the class in question. But the subsequent progress of the same group of students was tracked. Those taught by the profs went on to do better in courses later in the sequence than those taught by TAs. What does this mean? It means that content matters, and that a teacher's mastery of the content up and down the curriculum matters. What is salient in Calc I? What do students really need to be able to do and know in intermediate Greek to make it in advanced Greek? What bases must be built in in "Survey of American History" for subsequent courses in the Great Depression and the Civil War, etc.?
At the grade school level: what does a kid really need to know, really need to be able to do, to perform well later on in Geometry and Trig? The answer of the survey I mentioned above is that it requires, on the part of the teachers, depth of knowledge in academic subjects.
This, indeed, was and remains the Wittenberg way. Certainly the Reformers, both educational and theological, cared about pedagogy. But it was, for them, a guild craft, something gained in the shop (the school classroom), not in the classroom (the university classroom). The latter was for content.
What might Melanchthon's or Winsheim's or Dietrich's or...Luther's recommendation be today for the Evangelical Lutheran Church's parochial school teacher preparation? Perhaps we could tweak Vedder just a bit and say, "Synods and synodical colleges and parishes should consider defunding students in colleges of education, requiring future teachers to major in an academic subject, etc."
[Pictured above: Das Melanchthonhaus Wittenberg, where Melanchthon, in addition to his rigorous teaching schedule at the University and prolific publication activity, ran a school. Content mattered.]