Saturday, March 08, 2008

Who qualifies to be a teacher in California?

A (tamer) version of this post has been cross-posted at BlogHer.

What qualifies me to teach in California? Well, since I teach in higher ed, not much, really: I have a Ph.D., but I could probably teach the courses I have with just a Master's degree.

Oh, and I have to
solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of California; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter.

Loyalty Oaths
I've actually had to sign the oath a couple of times--when I first began working as a teaching assistant many years ago, and long before that, when I had an after-school tutoring job in a K-12 school district. Both times I signed the oath I felt deeply uncomfortable, but I could not be employed if I didn't sign the oath. No TAship = no salary, no tuition remission, and no health insurance--which would have meant, in effect, no grad school for me. It's an asinine system around an oath that I'm guessing few faculty take seriously.

How serious is the State of California about having faculty sign loyalty oaths? California State University East Bay just fired Marianne Kearney-Brown, who taught developmental (remedial) math, for refusing to sign the oath. Quaker Agitator has a nice round-up of the situation, along with an explanation of why a Friend (Quaker--Kearney-Brown is one) would refuse to sign such an oath on religious principle. He also writes,
Would, or will, this university demand that all Catholic instructors remove the crucifixes from around their throats? That all Jewish males on campus remove their yarmulkes? That any Muslim females take off their hijabs? This is discrimination, plain and simple.

This is an example of why we have an ACLU, and why, in this “post-9/11 world,” chock full of phony plastic patriotism and jerky, car magnet-toting jingoists, we still need one.

Here’s a deal for you: California American Civil Liberies Union, take this Friend’s case, and I’ll renew my lapsed membership. Today. Seems to me this is an easy win.

And if you’re so inclined (I am, and I did), you can contact the Office of Public Affairs for this fine, tolerant institution, a so-called university that prides itself (and advertises itself) as being “academically rich”… “multicultural”… “socially responsible”… “open-minded”… “welcoming”… “inclusive” here. Just be polite. That’s how Friends are supposed to act.

Those of you who have hung around The Clutter Museum for awhile know I have a deep respect for Friends--just as there are secular, cultural Jews, I might be considered a secular, cultural Friend--this incident stings me particularly deeply. How the hell can I work for an institution that requires me to sign a loyalty oath, while at the same time claiming to care deeply about education by taking progressive or even radical stances on student-centered learning, the importance of critical thinking, the centrality of civic discourse, and the connective and collective power of new media?

Joanne Jacobs writes that it's time to end loyalty oaths in California--she had to sign one to volunteer in the public schools. Many of her commenters disagree, however. Click through to read their comments.

Loyalty oaths have been popular since at least the 1950s, and it's not unusual for people to refuse to sign them--I recently learned that folksinger Pete Seeger didn't go on television for 17 years, in large part because he refused to swear an oath against communists, and the TV stations wouldn't let him on the air unless he signed. Some call that real patriotism, some call it foolish. Pete Seeger is awesome. (Would it be wrong to name our next child PeteSeeger-Guthrie JohnnyCash Springsteen? I suspect Mr. Trillwing thinks that would be a fine name.)

Homeschoolers were dealt a setback earlier this week when California courts affirmed that parents who homeschool their children must have teaching credentials. Click that San Francisco Chronicle link for details.

Kathleen A. Bergin of First Amendment Law Prof Blog offers a quick summary of the case:
A state appellate court in California ruled in In Re Rachel L that parents without teaching credentials cannot legally homeschool their children. The case involved Mary and Phillip Long who claimed that "sincerely held religious beliefs" required that they homeschool their children whom they said would be exposed to teachings of evolution and homosexuality in public school. Judge Walter Croskey characterized their claim as "conclusional, not fact specific," and "too easily asserted by any parent who wishes to home school his or her child.” The reach of the decision is unclear given the many options for homeschooling in California. The parents have vowed to appeal, and a spokesperson for Governor Schwarzenegger said that he might consider protective legislation if the issue is not resolve favorably through the courts.

Joanne Jacobs has an opinion on this as well:
I suspect the ruling will be overturned on appeal to the California Supreme Court — or by the state Legislature. Homeschooling is now accepted in our culture in a way that it was not five or 10 years ago. If there’s a public interest in making children attend school in an uncloistered setting, it has nothing to do with whether Mom has a teaching credential. There is no public interest in forcing homeschooling families underground."

This is an interesting issue as people at both extremes of the political spectrum (as well as plenty of folks in between) have reasons for homeschooling their children. An interesting coalition could develop of progressive parents and fundamentalist Christian homeschoolers. For a conservative Christian take on the issue, I send you to The Full Quiver Homeschool House, where Jenni urges readers to take action and quotes extensively from an article from the conservative news site World Net Daily. Conservative Christian homeschoolers often have pulled their children from school because they believe their children's education should be rooted in faith instead of secularism, because they don't want their children exposed to particular scientific ideas (such as evolutionary biology), and because they are worried about a public school culture that espouses gay rights--or, in their words, "teaches homosexuality." From a progressive perspective, these parents are worried, in effect, that schools will expose their children to too many ideas. From a conservative Christian homeschooling perspective, the concern is that schools are not exposing children to the right ideas.

Over on the progressive side, we have another group of parents who homeschool because they don't trust the state, but in this case because the parents worry that public schools won't expose their children to sufficient civic discourse--that their kids won't be exposed to a sufficient diversity of ideas. As Theresa Willingham writes at Homeschooling Unitarian Universalists,
Homeschooling is first and foremost a humanistic endeavor, conceived of by early education reformers in the 1960s who were very different from today's charismatic homeschool celebrities, and with no motive other than that of decentralized, uninstitutionalized learning. It is, at its source and as humanism has been called, an ideology of modernity. .. The focus of 1970s education reform leaders was not orthodoxy and obedience, but freedom of thought and learning.

We've all heard the arguments for and against homeschooling, so I won't rehash them all here. (If you haven't, you can read summaries of research supporting homeschooling, as well as critiques of the practice, at Wikipedia.) I will say that I have read plenty of stories of kids who end up functionally and culturally illiterate as a result of homeschooling, but I've also met some bright, well-adjusted college students who were homeschooled. Honestly, in general I'm suspicious of the institution, but I come by that suspicion honestly--I attended public schools in K-12, my parents taught for a collective 75+ years in public high schools, and my aunts and one uncle are public school district administrators.

I'm not convinced that every homeschooling parent needs to have a teaching credential--after all, do these parents really need to fulfill all the requirements for a credential, such as a classroom management seminar? That said, I think it would be a good idea to establish some alternative minimum standards for homeschooling parents and homeschool collectives. What kind of subject matter expertise should these parents have? And what kind of understanding of child development and theories of learning? What kind of preparation should a parent have if he or she is solely or largely responsible for educating a citizen of the United States?

What are your thoughts on homeschooling qualifications and loyalty oaths?


Anonymous said...

trillwing, you seem like you have thought a good bit about homeschooling, and kudos for realizing this is not a Right/Left issue like it is being played in the media. I am also hoping you like a good discussion.

Some things to acknowledge: society believes that the requirements to do something professionally are much higher than to do something for yourself, or for your family. You would never suggest that a parent couldn't balance the family checkbook, that such a thing must only be done by CPA's. Or that parents without a hair stylist certification could not cut their childs hair! You would not, however, believe a parent is qualified to perform brain surgery on their child unless they were qualified as brain surgeons.

So, clearly, there is a spectrum involved in what society thinks can be done by a person by themselves and what must be done by a certified professional. Note that the number of things not allowed is actually pretty low, and mostly pertaining to professions that not only require MANY years of very specialized training but are nearly always done by highly intelligent individuals.

With all due respect to teachers, they are not in this category. Teachers do need five years of education, but only one of that is actually studying teaching. And, as you pointed out, much (in fact most, take a look at some course lists) of that studying is entirely inapplicable to home-schooling. Additionally, teachers are not (on average!) usually the best and brightest of those attending college. They are usually, if I have not been misinformed, in the bottom half of students.

I would have to say that it is entirely reasonable to have no qualifications for a parent to teach their own child. It is in fact orders of magnitude more difficut to teach a class full of 30-40 students that you have never met than it is to teach one child you know intimately. I could see a case to be made for some kind of check/monitoring/testing (though I might also disagree with that case), but I cannot see how teaching one-on-one is so enourmously difficult that it must ONLY be done by "certified" people.

Bardiac said...

Teachers ARE required to have a college degree, though. In CA, they also need another year of college work, no? That's not the case in many other states, though.

Part of me thinks a college degree would be a reasonable requirement. I really wonder how many people even with a college degree are well qualified to teach high school biology, calculus, and a foreign language? HS teachers don't get licensed to teach everything under the sun, and the public does have an interest in students learning things like math (though most high school students don't take calculus, of course).

Anonymous said...

Bardiac, again, teaching in a classroom is at least an order of magnitude more difficult than teaching a single child at home. Even on complicated subjects.

That being said, I do understand that some subjects are too hard for parents to teach themselves. My wife and I are blessed in that she has a Chemical Engineering degree (easily covers Math and Science) and I have a lot of education in history, literature, economics and the arts. Not everyone is as prepared.

But people do know they aren't prepared for all subjects. There are plenty of options for dealing with a lack of subject matter knowledge:
1. Send the kid to (junior) college for classes. Some public schools have to resort to the same solution!
2. Learn the subject along with the child (great for foreign languages).
3. Teach out of a book (how most adults learn anything!)
4. Trade teaching with a homeschool parent that does know the subject matter.
5. Hire a private tutor.
6. Get together with other homeschooled parents and hire a teacher in the area (this is done a lot for things like Chemistry).
7. Work with a local private school for that subject.
8. Find an extended family member or friend who knows the subject matter.
There are even more than I've come up with here. The point is, a motivated parent will find a way for their child to learn such things.

Anonymous said...

Trillwing, do you know what requirements home school families must currently meet? All of the families I know belong to homeschool groups which require them to turn in grades, work samples, etc. They also host "class days" once or twice a week where kids can go for "elective" type experiences such as choir, speech and debate, and P.E. They also have classes available for subjects that parents don't feel comfortable teaching. I think that as long as parents are held accountable for teaching the academic skills required for graduation, there should be no special qualifications required for a parent to teach her child.

Anonymous said...

omg, i did not know about that oath. it is atrocious.

Anonymous said...

all of the homeschooling families I know send their children at least one or two days a week to a co-op where they trade teaching. It amounts to a school that is being run by people who don't have the training to run a school--at any level, not the teachers, not the administrators, and in one case, not the authors of the curriculum. They may or may not even have college degrees. What qualifies them is parenthood.

now, while I don't think ordinary homeschooling parents need full-on teacher's training to teach their own kids, I have serious concerns about these cooperative schools that homeschool families seem to put together so frequently. In those situations, they are managing classes and, like I said, they are even putting together curricula, which seems foolish absent at least some understanding of the cognitive development of children.

I don't know to what extent that's typical--I know some homeschool families only teach their own and they use standard curricula--but I know many families who participate in these activities and it does concern me.

My take, the, is that in the case of homeschooling parent teaching her own kids, I don't think full teacher's training is necessary or useful. I think there should be some alternative minimum requirements, but that's it. Now, homeschoolers who are teaching more than their own children? Yeah, I think there ought to be some requirements and they ought to be pretty similar to what's required of ordinary classroom teachers. These ad hoc schools are really troubling to me.

I'm sorry I sound so negative about this but I have some very good homeschooling friends and while I think they are good parents, I am not impressed with their educational practices. For a start, I'm not particularly impressed with their motives (e.g. keeping their children from learning about the global context in favor of the classics) or their desired outcomes (e.g. children who are somehow patently better than their public or private schooled peers, which means pressing for early entrance to college/entrance to elite institutions). I find the whole thing really distasteful.

That isn't to say all homeschooling families are that way. That's just by way of explanation of my negative feelings about homeschooling.

Anonymous said...

Home schooling is illegal in California. Most home schoolers are Christians and all they know to do is fearmonger. Just look at this as an example!

Anonymous said...

"Most home schoolers are Christians and all they know to do is fearmonger."
Nothing like unsubstantiated invective to really move a discussion along!

Leslie M-B said...

John, I appreciate your thoughtfulness about homeschooling and your experience with it, but I take exception to your claim that teachers are those at the bottom of their college classes. My experience in the classroom is that many of my brightest students are interested in educational careers, and I can count on one hand the number of less-than-super-bright teachers I've had in my K-24 (!) education.

I think learning a foreign language is an interesting example. You may try to learn it along with your child by working through a textbook, but that's not the best way to learn a language (despite the fact that it's still taught that way in many schools). You're better off learning the language from a native speaker or someone with extensive experience in speaking and writing the language. And credentialed foreign language teachers also should understand how the pedagogy of language teaching differs from that of, say, math--and therefore will know what kinds of interventions to make when.

I'm also not convinced that "most adults" learn just about everything from books.

Bardiac, I agree that a college degree is a reasonable requirement. I'm not saying this to dismiss the intelligence of anyone who didn't go to college. After all, my husband doesn't have a college degree and he's incredibly bright--but he wouldn't be qualified to teach academic subjects to our son. Life lessons and some cultural history of the 1960s through today, yes, but neither of us would trust him to educate our son up to a precollegiate level. Nor would I trust myself to do so--I just don't have the understanding of child development that I'd need in order to feel comfortable homeschooling.

Maybe that's what bothers me about *some* of the most conservative Christian homeschooling blogs I've read--there's a sense of self-righteousness and a lack of self-reflection about the process. There's so much focus on content (morals, faith) and not enough on how kids actually learn.

Thank you to everyone for your comments--please keep the conversation going!

Queen of West Procrastination said...

First off, two small comments:
a.) I seriously had no idea that anyone would have to take an oath to teach. That's really odd. (And of course not done here.)
b.) PeteSeeger-Guthrie JohnnyCash Springsteen is a fine name indeed.

Now, for the substance of my comment:

I did not grow up in a homeschooling family, but a few of my friends did, and also my aunt and uncle just started homeschooling their daughter. Now, in two of these cases, at least one of the parent was a teacher (and found that they could offer a better education to their child -- who was benefiting more from one-on-one attention). In another case, the parents had no such training.

Now, I've been informed by my friends who were homeschooled that, as they did it in Saskatchewan, really the parent isn't teaching the child so much as the parent is overseeing independent learning, as the student works his/her way through a curriculum. Homeschooler associations also offer PhysEd courses and also the option to get tutoring for the more difficult subjects. (Mr. QWP's school does tutoring for homeschoolers who are taking high school science, and I think they frequently do something similar for something like languages, which are of course harder to learn on your own.)

My alma mater used to have a lot of hoops for homeschoolers to jump through, in order to get into university, in addition to the SAT. The assumption was that homeschoolers were receiving a lower standard of education. But then they instead found they needed to actively recruit homeschooled students to the university, because they found that the homeschoolers had the top marks in the entire university. The first years were averaging 80s, while a C is average for the rest of the first year university students.

The funny thing is that most of my homeschooled friends are now getting PhDs, and they said that it's a natural fit, because they had to learn to be self-motivated and disciplined, which I sure didn't have to learn in high school.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

(Excuse my haphazard writing. It's the end of a long day. But I really had to contribute to this.)