The deprofessionalization of teaching

The theme Barry touches on is the deprofessionalization of teaching.

The same thing happened with postal masters. Formerly, working at a post office was a professional position. Workers had to know the overall logistical system of the United states, to be able to read any arbitrary address in the world, and provide the correct routing information for that address.

Zip codes ushered in deprofessionalization. Instead of having educated, intelligent, well-paid post masters, one could simply provide every post office in the country with a table that has every zip code in the country on one column, and a truck that connects to that post office in another. No thought necessary. Just look up the zip on the table, and put it in the right basket. No zip code? There’s a basket for that, too.

The advantage, of course, is that society can get away with paying a lot less for postal workers. Additionally, because there is now a “right” answer for every situation, this can be measured in a scientific manner. The post office can use industrial engineering principles, reducing the variation in outcomes while improving the average accuracy of the process.

The same thing is and will happen to education, I think. “Programmed instruction,” No Child Left Behind, and other techniques allow the deprofessionalization of education. Teachers may be given a workbook to follow, classroom rules to follow, and a “right” answer to every thing. Give every student a rugged $100 netbook loaded with Rosetta Stone-like software, hook it up to Paypal so that students get more with every right answer on a standardized test, and suddenly we really don’t need educated teachers.

Barry’s emphasis on virtue, moral work, practical wisdom, etc, is a call for the mass professionalization of the work place. This is as likely to happen in education as the public’s willingness to support professional-level salaries for teachers.