In this model you place a higher degree of responsibility and importance on individual teachers than is currently the case. I find this prospect a bit frightening. While I do not argue for the "teacher-proof" instruction that some sought to achieve with computers, I do think that if we imbue teachers with such a degree of freedom, our standards for admission to the profession will need to be raised considerably. Incredibly, a recent Harris poll places teachers in the most esteemed of professions in the U.S., along with doctors, scientists, engineers, and members of the clergy (Reuters, April 28th). Yet, from my own personal experience, I find there to be on the whole, a vast difference between the caliber of students seeking to be teachers and those seeking to be say, medical doctors. To some extent this is to be expected given the enormous demand for teachers. We have to fill the jobs available. But at the same time we must focus on improving the quality of applicants to be teachers. I would be reluctant to wholly embrace your vision until that happened. -S.H.
I think I anticipated a stronger reaction to my original text than any of you offered. I am struck, however, that you both use words such as "fear" and "frightening" to respond to the idea that teachers should have more responsibility in educating students and deliberating curriculum. I am not sure that my suggestions are any more (and, of course, I think less) frightening than the present state of schooling. Even without autonomy, some teachers are presently offering "an excellent educational opportunity"or "little or no educational opportunity." What I hope is that more of them will be offering "an excellent educational opportunity." The solution, I think, does not lie in more controls or checks on teachers, but in preparing teachers to make wise choices in their teaching. I take it as given that teachers interpret curriculum and programs according to their understandings of their contexts. What I would like to see is teacher education that takes this inevitable interpretation into account, that helps them to formulate with others educational purposes that will inform their work. To borrow (and perhaps misuse) Laura's wheel metaphor, I think that within standards-based reform, teachers are already given a wheel but their task becomes one of how they will put it to use it in ways that will be meaningful for their students.
Steve, I am not sure how to respond to your thinking about standards for entry into the profession. I am not sure what standards would be of most value--academic, ethical, social, or other? It strikes me that teachers already have enormous responsibilities in schools (with present standards) and that whatever talents they do have are not cultivated to the extent they could be. What if they were? I know this is an unsatisfactory answer, but I'm also not sure that your question is germane only to my call for a more participatory teaching profession, or if it is a question we might ask ourselves regardless of reform efforts.