Social and cultural changes reflected in teacher training

Social and cultural changes reflected in teacher training

Teacher education programs have changed dramatically over the last century. Not all the changes have been for the better. What teachers learned has moved from child development and curriculum to learning theories, to standards, to computer literacy, and keeping documentation up to date. Little by little, what has been lost is the focus on the child, the child as a whole.

Changes seem to have been going on for decades

Teachers trained before the 1950s had a strong foundation in child development. Scarcity had driven education for many years during the wars and the Depression; there was little variety (or availability) of textbooks and educational materials. Teachers taught limited content that children were developmentally ready to receive. Individuals and classes carried out through oral recitations. Memorization, exercise, and practice of specific skills were the normal methods of instruction. The reading instruction was visual memorization of vocabulary words. Schools had more structure (silent students, on task, hands raised to be called, etc.). Discipline, evident inside and outside of the classroom, reflected the influences of communities on acceptable and unacceptable behaviors.

The 1950s were marked by scientific progress and great commercialism. After World War II and the development of television, our world exploded in everyone’s consciousness. The GI Bill sent thousands of men to college, a goal most could only have dreamed of before. Because they valuable education and what education could bring, our culture initiated the shift from “good physical jobs” in manufacturing plants to “better intellectual jobs” representing companies and corporations. Horizons and potential had been expanded and education (ie, knowledge) was the key to everything. The reading instruction changed to phonics, which explains how we say and spell words. The instructional content was augmented with information gleaned from international trade and travel.

In the 1960s, college students revolted against seemingly everything and began “free thinking” and widespread drug use. Consultation, trained by the scientific method, became a personal process and goal. Young adults put aside traditions and affiliations to embrace something new. The die was cast in education. Head Start was developed to try to offset the effects of poverty; Unfortunately, it didn’t even though it became the new “daycare” for the poor who couldn’t teach their kids prep skills. Educators learned to write lesson plans with words like appreciate, enjoy, and experiment. The teaching of reading shifted back to the experience of language; this meant that the child’s natural language was the way to teach reading because the child directed its learning. The methods of exercises and practices disappeared because they were “old and boring”. School integration and school transportation began; There was also a culture shock in the classroom as students brought the problems of poverty to middle-class schools. Behavior standards changed because communities changed.

In the 1970s there was a search for stability in schools. The “freedom” movement had exploded the traditions. learning theories developed and the departure from child development began in earnest. The researchers began to push for education. One theory, that any content could be taught at any level of development, sounded the death knell for child development and the influence of language on thought and perception. Psychologists had developed behavioral learning theories and educators learned to write behavioral objectives for lesson planning (observable outcomes). Reading instruction blended phonics with a heavy emphasis on visual patterns within vocabulary development. Once the repository for answers to content questions, Teacher Manuals now have expanded lesson suggestions. Supplementary instructional materials, designed to help special education students learn, proliferated because funding was available. Curriculum materials began to have a multicultural focus, quietly transforming our culture from predominantly white to focus on different ethnicities. Publishers marketed aesthetic books that reflected social changes. The economics of education began to dictate policy as politicians wanted educational reform (more results for spending).

In the 1980s the pendulum swung as individual rights confounded society. The civil rights movement demonstrated that there was no one identity in America, so a new one had to emerge. Politicians called for educational reform to achieve job performance capable of competing (dominating) in a growing global economy. People had migrated a lot since the 1950s. Educators found that the transition affected academic performance. The imposition of standards for education meant that everyone had to learn the exact same content at each grade level. Curriculum standards began to develop, first with the curriculum/content and then eventually with specific skills. Publishers, having lost the market for supplementary materials, sold new textbooks with more photographs and color to replace drab looking ones. With the development of the “flip” housing mentality, families needed income to live; divorces affected children both emotionally and financially. Drugs became available and a source of income for some families.

In the 1990s, jobs began to move overseas, so there was pressure to produce a highly competitive workforce. Low-skill manufacturing jobs with union wages disappeared, and high school dropouts could no longer compete for available jobs. Incorporating computers at all levels of work required emphasizing computer literacy training in schools for all. Mid-level management positions disappeared in the economic changes, leaving few levels of “decision makers” in corporations; the Japanese management style had caught up with the American, which meant that everyone had to have strong critical thinking skills. The low-level skills of earlier decades (memorize, know, comprehend, summarize) that accounted for variations in child development were replaced by a vocabulary of “higher thinking skills” (construct, apply, examine, analyze, formulate, synthesize, justify and evaluate) which assumed that everyone had the same language and cognitive abilities. Government spending, once based on inflationary times, was out of control and began to define the future of politicians. Accountability for funding began with Welfare to Work efforts that failed because no one had noticed the skills gap between the unemployed or unemployable and the employed.

In the 2000s, the accountability politicians demanded shifted from social services to education. The No Child Left Behind Act forced schools to find ways to document success. This change forced educators, instead of teaching a whole child, to now produce a product. The students’ skills had to be measured in the same way that quality control measures are made for production on the assembly line. Attendance, behavior, reading, math and writing scores on state tests determined the fate of school staff. The problem was not with the teachers and administrators. Manufacturers require raw materials to consistently meet a specific standard. Schools have no control over the “raw material” that enrolls, because, even with Head Start, Even Start, preschools, and day care centers, there is variability within people. Not everyone has the same talents and skills, aptitudes or abilities. Not all people have the same level of physical, mental and/or emotional development at a given age. Not everyone learns the same way or at the same pace. These variations finally showed politicians that they cannot demand levels of school performance; it won’t work because people are not manufactured goods.

What is to come?

There are traces of some elements in some schools and communities. Private schools like Montessori and Walden schools have small group instruction through physical examination before moving to memorization and content mastery. Some private and charter schools richly combine activities with traditional developmental curriculum instruction. Magnet schools require students to maintain strict academic and behavioral standards. The Publishers Teacher Manuals have many developmentally appropriate activities and considerations for students with different skill levels, English proficiency, and learning styles.

Perhaps with the politicians finally getting out of education, educators can develop a reasonable system using everything they’ve learned to do their jobs. Perhaps the knowledge of child development has not been completely lost; perhaps readiness skills can be restored in kindergarten and allow reading instruction to begin again in first or even second grade. Perhaps educators will take the time to educate the whole child instead of having to dwell on the need for children’s performance assessment test results.

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