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Social and Cultural Changes Reflected in Teacher Training
Teacher education programs have changed dramatically over the past century. Not all changes have been for the better. What teachers learned has gone from child development and curriculum to theories of learning to standards to computer literacy to keeping documentation current. Little by little, what has been lost is the focus on the child, the whole child.
The changes seem to have been happening for decades
Teachers trained before the 1950s had strong foundations in child development. Scarcity had driven education for many years during wars and depression; there was little variety (or availability) of textbooks and educational materials. Teachers taught limited content that children were ready to receive. Individuals and classes conducted through oral recitations. Memorization, drill and practice of specific skills were the normal methods of instruction. Reading instruction was visual memorization of vocabulary words. Schools had more structure (silent students, workers, hands raised to be called, etc.). Discipline, evident inside and outside the classroom, reflected community influences on acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
The 1950s were marked by scientific progress and great commercialism. After World War II and the development of television, our world exploded into everyone’s consciousness. The GI Bill sent thousands of men to college, a goal most could only dream of before. Because they valued education and what education could bring, our culture began the shift from “good physical jobs” in assembly line plants to “better intellectual jobs” representing businesses and corporations. Horizons and potentialities had expanded and education (that is, knowledge) was the key to everything. Reading instruction moved to phonics, which gives reasons for how we say and write words. Instructional content was expanded with information gained from international trade and travel.
In the 1960s college students rebelled against seemingly everything and “free thinking” and drug use began. Research, formed by the scientific method, became a personal process and goal. Young adults throw aside traditions and affiliations to embrace anything new. The die was cast within education. Head Start developed to try to offset the effects of poverty; unfortunately, it didn’t even though it became the new “nursery” for the poor who couldn’t teach their children grooming skills. Educators learned how to write lesson plans with words like appreciate, enjoy, and experience. Reading instruction moved back to language experience; this meant that the child’s natural language was the way to teach reading because the child directed his learning. Drill and practice methods disappeared because they were “old and boring”. School integration and busing began; Culture clash in the classroom also occurred as students brought the issues of poverty to middle-class schools. Standards of behavior changed because communities changed.
In the 70s, stability was sought in schools. The “freedom” movement had exploded traditions. Theories of learning developed and the move away from child development began in earnest. Researchers began to push education. A theory, that any content could be taught at any developmental level, sounded the death knell of child development and the influence of language on thinking and perception. Psychologists had developed behavioral learning theories and educators learned to write behavioral goals for lesson planning (observable outcomes). Reading instruction combined phonics with a heavy emphasis on visual patterns within vocabulary development. Teacher manuals, once the repository of answers to content questions, now have expanded lesson suggestions. Supplemental instructional materials, designed to help special education students learn, proliferated because funding was available. Curriculum materials began to take a multicultural focus, quietly transforming our culture from predominantly white to focusing on different ethnicities. Publishers marketed aesthetic books that reflected social changes. The economics of education began to dictate policy as politicians wanted education reform (more results for spending).
In the 1980s the pendulum swung as individual rights confound society. The civil rights movement showed that there was no identity in America, so a new one had to evolve. Politicians demanded educational reform for job performance capable of competing (dominating) in a growing global economy. People had migrated a lot since the 1950s. Educators discovered that transience affected academic performance. Imposing standards for education meant that everyone had to learn exactly the same content at every grade level. Curriculum standards began to develop, first with curriculum/content and then finally with specific skills. Publishers, having lost the market for supplemental materials, sold new textbooks with more photographs and color to replace duller-looking ones. With the development of the housing “flip” mentality, families needed income to live; divorces affected children both emotionally and financially. Drugs became 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-skilled manufacturing jobs with union wages disappeared, and high school dropouts could no longer compete for available jobs. The incorporation of computers at all levels of work required an emphasis on computer literacy training in schools for all. Middle management jobs 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 (memorizing, knowing, understanding, summarizing) that accounted for variations in child development were replaced by vocabulary of “higher thinking skills” (constructing, applying, examining, analyzing, 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 realized the skills gap between the unemployed or unemployable and the employed.
In the 2000s, the responsibility demanded by politicians 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 were to be measured just as production quality control measures are on the assembly line. Scores in attendance, behavior, reading, math and writing on state tests determined the fate of school staff. The problem was not with the teachers and administrators. Manufacturers constantly demand that raw materials meet a specific standard. Schools have no control over the “primary subject” they enroll, because even with Head Start, Even Start, preschools, and daycares, there is variability within individuals. Not everyone has the same talents and abilities, aptitudes or abilities. Not everyone has the same level of physical, mental and/or emotional development at a given age. Not everyone learns the same or at the same pace. These variations ultimately proved to 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 vestiges of some elements in some schools and communities. Private schools such as Montessori and Walden schools have small group instruction through physical exploration before moving on to memorization and content mastery. Some private and charter schools combine enrichment activities with traditional developmental curriculum instruction. Magnet schools require students to maintain strict academic and behavioral standards. The editors’ teacher’s manuals have many developmentally appropriate activities and considerations for students of varying skill levels, English proficiency, and learning styles.
Perhaps with politicians finally abandoning education, educators can develop a reasonable system using all they have learned to do their jobs. Perhaps knowledge of child development has not been lost entirely; perhaps we can restore readiness skills in kindergarten and let reading instruction, again, begin in first or even second grade. Perhaps educators will take the time to educate the whole child instead of having to push the need for performance assessment test results on children.
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