Education schools need to drop the edu-babble | Print Version
by Rodney A. Clifton*
Le Québécois Libre, October 15, 2013, No 315

Anyone who wishes to become a teacher in Canada must hold a valid teaching certificate. In order to qualify, prospective teachers must complete a Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) degree from an accredited faculty of education.

Since education schools hold a monopoly over teacher education, their impact on the education of students in public schools is significant. However, education schools have come under withering criticism from their own graduates and are generally held in very low repute by professors in other university faculties.

Journalist Rita Kramer’s 1991 book, Ed School Follies: The Miseducation of America’s Teachers, documents her experiences visiting the campuses of 15 education schools. Kramer was dismayed at the anti-intellectual attitude she found among most education students and their professors. Education classes were often infantile places where prospective teachers sang children’s songs, repeated stock phrases, and shared their feelings.

To see whether this is still true today, a graduate education student provided me with a detailed set of notes about a standard education foundations course recently completed in a faculty of education at a Canadian university. If anything, these notes paint an even bleaker picture than what Kramer found more than twenty years ago.

On the first day of this course, the professor made it clear that she was going to be a "facilitator of learning" rather than a teacher of specific content. The lack of tests or exams confirmed that students would not need to know any specific facts or theories. During the course, the professor regularly allowed discussions to deviate from the topic, and she said this led to a deeper learning experience for everyone. Unfortunately, the many digressions were all very shallow.

During one of her lectures, the professor displayed a slide that featured a quote from a former education student. "I know now that I don’t want to be the provider of knowledge but rather the facilitator of experience." This reflects the standard view of education schools that a teacher should be "a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage."

Incredibly, the naval gazing never relented as students regularly used edu-babble to talk about the need to develop their authentic selves and the authentic selves of students. They discussed the "multi-sensory" nature of culture and devoted significant time to analyzing what nature means to them. Even the distinction between "being subjective" and "subjectivity" was deemed worthy of class time. Any topic that involved significant introspection always received top priority. No relevant philosophical, historical, or sociological literature was referenced even though there has obviously been significant scholarly work conducted on all the topics.

Caucasian students in the course regularly made reference to their unfortunate "white privilege." One student, for example, expressed her discomfort at being a member of a social justice group as a white female since she did not have the same experience with exclusion as some of the other group members. Many references were made to the negative influence of Western, colonial values in the readings and the discussions. Of course, this was assumed rather than systematically examined.

During one outdoor session, students participated in a "shapeshifting" activity. Each person was told to walk toward an object they felt "pulled" to and imitate it for 5 minutes. They were then asked to come back to the group and act out the object they saw. Spending several minutes pretending to be a tree or a piece of grass might be appropriate for elementary school students or perhaps students in a course on drama, but it is definitely not graduate level course work in a professional program, at least in the minds of serious students.

Many of the statements made during the course were nonsensical. Some of the vacuous phrases expressed included:
  • "Everyone's authenticity is different,"
  • "There is a difference between being subjective and subjectivity,"
  • "I am trying to foster an ambiguous sense of self rather than a defined sense of self," and
  • "We cannot remove ourselves from how we perceive ourselves."

Ironically, the professor and students seemed to think many of these statements were actually quite profound. No one—not even the professor—seemed to be embarrassed by such trite expressions.

Courses such as this one are rampant in education schools. In order to regain a modicum of credibility, universities need to be serious in reviewing the courses and programs offered in their education schools. They must ensure that these courses meet the academic standards of the universities. Courses filled with meaningless edu-babble and simplistic assignments need to be dropped and replaced with courses that will challenge students to improve their understanding of teaching and learning.

Until education schools are forced to get serious about cracking down on the edu-babble and offer academically rigorous and respectable courses and programs, they will continue to be held in low esteem by serious and competent teachers, other university departments, and unfortunately by the general public.