Best Education Policy Is Respecting Teachers

By Allen, John L. | National Catholic Reporter, March 27, 1998 | Go to article overview

Best Education Policy Is Respecting Teachers


Allen, John L., National Catholic Reporter


Most of us have never been inside a nuclear plant or stood at an operating table, but virtually all of us have been in classrooms -- explaining, I suppose, why most people don't fancy themselves experts on nuclear engineering or brain surgery, but everyone thinks they know how to teach.

Any teacher knows how it goes: Parents wonder why you can't grade tests overnight, not realizing that your day may well begin at 5 a.m. and run past 10 p.m. if you coach, advise, or -- God forbid -- hope to see your family outside of June to August; kids express surprise when they run into you at a grocery store or movie theater, as if they hadn't realized you could assume corporeal form off-campus; and rookie teachers arrive full of pedagogy and scholarship, only to realize the job is just as much about dealing with butt humor and boyfriend problems. The nitty-gritty reality of teaching, the stuff that makes it so hard, simply escapes most folks.

The "anyone can do it" theory does ring true, however, to this extent -- almost anyone can walk into a room, tell the kids to shut up, hand out some busy-work and thereby keep the machinery of schooling moving. But to actually teach -- to get kids to transcend themselves, to care about something distant or abstract, to push them to become better than they knew they could be -- requires talent and faith and above all persistence.

It's important to open on that note, because most of the articles in this special issue have a fairly broad policy sweep. Stan Karp makes an eloquent case for a coalition of public and Catholic school advocates around the social justice dimensions of the education issue. James Youniss ruminates on the historical currents bearing Catholic schools along today. Joseph Claude Harris critiques the approach the U.S. bishops have taken in planning for Catholic education and Leonard DeFiore surveys the state of Catholic schooling. Despite their divergent points of view, all are superb introductions to the pressing educational issues facing the church.

Nevertheless, we would go wrong if we assume that these policy issues are the core of the Catholic school enterprise. As critical as vouchers, the public/private debate and the implications of lay governance may be, the miracle of education still happens -- or fails to happen -- classroom by classroom, teacher by teacher. And if we assume that the proper policy decisions will, by themselves, translate into better teaching, we're making the same mistake as those who think fancier equipment would make Milli Vanilli sound better -- if you can't sing, a better mike just lets you warble more loudly.

To put the same point differently, while I believe education in America would benefit if the Catholic community rethought its position on vouchers, doing so wouldn't necessarily change anything about Mrs. …

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