Jonathan Zimmerman: Education Programs Lack Intellect

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Jonathan Zimmerman teaches history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory.”]

A few days ago, I ran into a student whom I hadn’t seen since the first day of class. With a slightly embarrassed smile, he told me that he had dropped my course. “Too much work,” he grinned. “I thought education classes were supposed to be guts.”

Alas, he’s right. A “gut” is an easy course, and ed school courses are guts, for the most part. That’s also the part we omit from our debate on teacher preparation, which focuses largely on the “skills” that future instructors need – and pays little attention to their intellectual development....

But nobody in this debate made any mention of the great elephant in the room: Ed school courses are too easy. No matter what we call these classes – or what teaching skills they transmit – they don’t challenge students’ intellects as much as other courses do.

And now we have the data to prove it. According to “Academically Adrift,” a new book by my New York University colleague Richard Arum and the University of Virginia’s Josipa Roksa, just 45 percent of students in education and social work reported taking a course in the previous semester requiring more than 20 pages of writing, while 61 percent took a class with more than 40 pages of reading per week. By comparison, 68 percent of social science and humanities students took a class with 20 pages of writing, and 88 percent had a class with 40 pages of weekly reading....

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