Legion. An amalgamated journal.

Those who can’t, teach

The Crimson editorializes today in favor of The Equity Project, a new initiative focused around paying teachers investment-banker grade salaries to teach in a disadvantaged New York neighborhood. Whether such extravagant recompense would finally encourage the demise of stirrup pants amongst lunchroom monitors across the country remains unclear, but it’s an appealing thought nonetheless. In the educational calculus of Harvard grandees, this sort of cash-drenched kickstart seems to make sense:

Clearly, something in the current system is not working, and the problem may not be with the total amount of resources so much as the way in which they are allocated.

Fair enough. I’m certainly not going to quibble with the argument that the current education system isn’t working—that much should be clear to anyone who’s been to a school board meeting in any corner of the union lately. Certainly teachers labor diligently at a task which is near the top of the difficulty ladder and at the very apex of the significance ladder, and for the most part they do it at salaries bordering on penury. The fact that many teachers are forced to work second jobs to provide a postsecondary education for their own children is an economic obscenity, and, quite frankly, a national disgrace.

But in order to laud programs like the Equity Project, or any other which problematizes education primarily as a failure of teacher quality, you’ve got to make the argument that the teachers we have right now suck. That’s not some logical bridge I’ve made up myself. Witness the Equity Project:

The Equity Project (TEP) Charter School believes that teacher quality is the most important factor in achieving educational equity for low income students.

or their fans at the Crimson:

In contrast to the appallingly low pay offered at most schools across the country, The Equity Project’s substantial salaries will attract better candidates to the teaching profession, allowing it to acquire the prestige it deserves.

This is a fundamentally flawed assessment of the structural corrosion in the educational system today. Educational failure has less to do with widespread underqualifcation of teachers and more to do with an increasingly stratified parallel between cultural achievement and academic achievement. Increasingly, school is losing its equalizing function and becoming a reifier of existing class values. When inner-city kids perceive (more or less accurately) the educational establishment as asynchronous with their values, and, more importantly, lacking any real mechanism for personal improvement, they disengage from it. A teacher force full of mythical John Keatings is unlikely to change that.

Worse, conferring all educational blame onto the teachers’ accounts is patently degrading to the teachers we already have. “Our inner-city children would be intelligent and well-behaved,” suggests this reasoning, “if only you idealistic nancies weren’t the ones teaching them. If only the real achievers in society—that is, the ones who today are banking or consulting—could be teaching them, everything would be ponies and candy necklaces.”

Granted, the salary structure of public education needs some retooling, mostly to fill the slots of teachers who are rapidly retiring. But I went to a large public school where the teachers made average salaries, and, lo and behold, the teachers were genuine, decent, and committed people. I can hardly imagine that my schooling would have somehow been better had they been replaced wholesale by an army of Ivy League climbers attracted by six-figure salaries.

Garrett Dash Nelson

October 14th, 2008 at 8:08 pm

One response so far

  • [ # ] Re: Those who can’t, teachOct 15, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    […] (below) is quite right to accuse the “Equity Project” and its Crimson promoters of a sneering […]