An unreasonable distinction: learning to teach versus learning about education
After a few months at Wash. U., I was happy to have established that education might be a major worth pursuing during my time in college. I soon found out, however, that this seemingly liberating decision only led to a more complicated fork in the road. Wash. U.’s education program separates its students out into two categories that aren’t necessarily distinct. This categorization is both unnecessary and detrimental to the education program.
Back in December, I stopped by the Community Service Office to hand in my application for Each One Teach One. The student to whom I handed my forms struck up a conversation with me regarding my indicated interest in studying education. “Teacher education or education studies?” he asked me.
The division between teacher education and education studies is unnecessarily complex. The choice between the two majors forces students to asks themselves: “Do I want to spend my time learning about various factors that go into the complex systems of education, or do I want to spend my time honing in on the specific skill of teaching?” My first reaction to this distinction was that it seemed unreasonable, as the two topics should go hand in hand.
The first option, education studies, largely involves the psychological, anthropological, philosophical and political components of education and the systems that put it into place. According to Wash. U.’s online description, students majoring in education studies “apply the perspectives and methods of a number of disciplines to questions about educational institutions, educational processes, and the social and cultural factors that affect them.” Although this seems like a course load that would lead to the development of incredibly knowledgeable and skilled teachers, students in this major do not graduate with a teaching degree. It is more common for them to pursue careers in journalism, psychology, policy, social work and law.
The second option, teacher education, involves intensive hands-on teaching experience in local schools as well as a second major in the subject that the individual hopes to eventually teach. Students majoring in teacher education graduate with a teaching degree and are therefore able to enter the workforce without having to attend graduate school.
The distinction between the two majors makes sense in that a combined education studies and teacher education major might be too much to cover in four years. Nevertheless, the way in which this is set up leaves room for progress in the field of education to get lost in translation. A student majoring in education studies may go on to become an optimistic politician who is motivated to make a change, but how will he/she know what policies will be truly beneficial without much hands-on experience working in a school? A student majoring in teacher education may go on to become a great teacher and an expert on the subject material, but how will he/she contribute to a shift in education as a whole without learning about the psychology, philosophy and policy that go into the entire process? There is the option of majoring in education studies and pursuing a graduate degree for teacher certification, but all the money spent on personal education is not likely to be easily paid off by entering the field of education, making it a difficult course of action.
I cannot imagine reaching my full potential as a teacher without having taken courses on both sides of the dividing line. There should be a way to become a well-rounded certified teacher after four years of study. If a combined program were to be put into place, perhaps the well-intentioned attempts at making change that depart from political offices would be more likely to reach their intended destinations in the classrooms themselves.