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Social and Cultural Changes Reflected in Teacher Training

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

Changes seem to have been happening for decades

Teachers trained before the 1950s had a solid foundation in child development. Scarcity had driven education for many years during the wars and depression; there was little variety (or availability) of textbooks and teaching materials. Teachers taught limited content that children were developmentally ready to receive. Individuals and classes performed through oral recitations. Memorization, drill, and practice of specific skills were the normal methods of instruction. The teaching of reading was the visual memorization of vocabulary words. The schools had more structure (silent students, on task, 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 education valued and what education could provide, our culture began the shift from “good physical jobs” in assembly plants to “better intellectual jobs” representing business and corporations. Horizons and potentials had been widened and education (that is, knowledge) was the key to everything. Teaching reading has shifted to phonics, which is how we say and spell words. The educational content has been enriched with information drawn from international trade and travel.

In the 1960s, students rebelled against seemingly everything and “free thought” and common drug use began. Survey, formed by the scientific method, has become a process and a personal goal. Young adults have put aside traditions and affiliations to embrace something new. The dice were thrown in education. Head Start developed to try to offset the effects of poverty; sadly, it is not, even though it became the new “daycare center” for the poor who could not teach their children to prepare. Educators have learned to write lesson plans with words such as enjoy, enjoy, and experience. The teaching of reading again shifted to linguistic experience; this meant that the child’s natural language was the medium for teaching reading because the child directed his learning. Exercise and practice methods disappeared because they were “old and boring”. School integration and bus transport have begun; culture shock in the classroom also occurred when students introduced the issues of poverty to middle-class schools. Norms of behavior have changed because communities have changed.

In the 1970s, there was a search for stability in the schools. The “freedom” movement had shattered traditions. Learning theories developed and the abandonment of child development has begun for good. Researchers began to conduct education. A theory that any content could be taught at any developmental level sounded the death knell for child development and the influence of language on thought and perception. Psychologists had developed behavioral learning theories and educators had learned to write behavioral goals for lesson planning (observable outcomes). Reading instruction blended phonics with a strong emphasis on visual patterns in vocabulary development. Teacher’s manuals, once the repository of answers to content questions, now offer expanded lesson suggestions. Additional instructional materials, designed to help special education students learn, proliferated because funds were available. School materials began to have a multicultural orientation, quietly transforming our predominantly white culture to focus 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 confounded society. The civil rights movement demonstrated that there was no one identity in America, so a new one had to evolve. Politicians have demanded educational reform for a workforce that can compete (dominate) in a growing global economy. People had migrated extensively since the 1950s. Educators found that the ephemeral affected academic achievement. The imposition of educational standards meant that everyone had to learn exactly the same content at each grade level. Curricular standards began to develop, first with curriculum/content, then eventually with specific skills. Publishers, having lost the market for additional materials, sold new textbooks with more photographs and colors to replace those that looked duller. With the development of the housing “turnaround” mentality, families needed income to live on; divorces affected children both emotionally and economically. Medicines have become both 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. The integration of computers at all levels of employment required an emphasis on computer training in schools for all. Mid-level management jobs disappeared in economic changes and left few levels of “decision makers” in companies; the Japanese management style had come to American, which meant that everyone had to have strong critical thinking skills. The low-level skills of previous decades (memorizing, knowing, understanding, summarizing) that accommodated variations in child development have been replaced by a vocabulary of “higher thinking skills” (constructing, applying, examining, analyzing, formulate, synthesize, justify and evaluate) which assumed that everyone had the same linguistic and cognitive abilities. Government spending, once based on inflation, was out of control and began to define the future of politicians. The responsibility for funding began with welfare-to-work efforts that failed because no one noticed 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 law has forced schools to find ways to document success. This change has forced educators, instead of teaching an entire child, to now produce a product. Student skills were to be measured as do production quality control measures on the assembly line. Scores in attendance, behavior, reading, math, and writing on state tests determined the fate of school personnel. The problem was not with the teachers and administrators. Manufacturers require raw materials to consistently conform to a specific standard. Schools have no control over the “raw material” that enrolls, because even with Head Start, Even Start, preschools and daycares, there is variability within people. Not everyone has the same talents and skills, abilities or abilities. Not everyone has the same level of physical, mental and/or emotional development at a given age. Not everyone learns in the same way or at the same pace. These variations have finally demonstrated to politicians that they cannot dictate levels of school performance; it won’t work because people aren’t manufactured goods.

What’s to come?

There are remnants of some elements in some schools and communities. Private schools such as Montessori and Walden schools have small group instruction that moves through physical exploration before moving on to memorization and content mastery. Some private and charter schools combine enrichment activities with traditional curriculum development instruction. Magnet schools require students to meet strict academic and behavioral standards. The publishers’ teacher’s manuals offer many developmentally appropriate activities and considerations for learners with different skill levels, English proficiency and learning styles.

Maybe with politicians finally leaving education, educators can develop a sensible system using everything they’ve learned to do their job. Perhaps the knowledge of child development is not totally lost; perhaps readiness skills can be restored in kindergarten and let the teaching of reading, again, begin in first or even second grade. Perhaps educators will take the time to educate the whole child instead of having to push children to get achievement test results.

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