Rethinking Training for Teachers, Doctors, and Even Organizers

teachNew Orleans       The old saw that went something like, “those that can, do; and those that can’t, teach,” is getting a beating about the face and arms now, as serious thinkers – and practitioners – in multiple fields are thoroughly beating down both the “nature versus nurture” mythology of the argument, as well as heavily funded disciplines that aren’t producing.

A bunch of healthcare professionals, economists, and others looked recently at the taxpayer funded $15 billion dollar annual investment in intensive clinical training for wannabe doctors’ finishing school, and flatly questioned its effectiveness. Accountability and oversight of medical training is at the heart of the issue.

Teaching seems to be a more and more schizophrenic profession by the day. One minute they are all saints and salvation, and the next they are the problem and the plague. Elizabeth Green’s Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works is actually a fascinating book not just about teachers, but about any profession, craft, or trade, including sports and organizing, where the arguable but unexamined bias is too often whether it’s mainly about people being “naturals” or born to the work or whether these are trainable, learned skills that can produced excellent practitioners. Green makes the case, and does a good job doing so, in a fairly undogmatic manner given the cultural and political wars around teaching these days, that it can’t be about the so-called “natural” teachers, but has to be about breaking the pieces down, better student engagement, and good, solid training that makes great teachers and therefore, importantly, produces real learning. She also proves her case in country after country, including the irony of Japanese teachers being systematically trained on American teaching principles and research that the US was ignoring, and then essentially, using what they had learned from us to kick our butts in the classroom over the last couple of decades.

This argument is also age old in organizing. Whether one just looks for the perfect pearls out there who are born to the work or thinks more deeply about how to breakdown the nuts and bolts to develop great organizers through training and practice is right beneath the surface of countless, classic arguments in both community and labor organizing. For decades I have come down on the latter side of the argument, which I think is compelling, especially if we are ever going to get to scale, particularly to meet the global need for mass organization.

The one thing we don’t have to worry about in organizing is whether or not someone, anyone in fact, is going to drop a billion dollars on the task. And, for those of us still working, too often we are so enmeshed in the daily business of moving one foot after the other that we can’t step back and do the research, evaluation, and redesign that’s needed.

Advocates for taking a harder look at doctors, the modern priests for many, and teachers, who secularists think hold the key to our future, may force those of us in the long and honorable tradition of organizing to finally get our arms around these fundamental issues as well.

Ps. Thanks for all of the birthday wishes. Wonderful to be able to keep drawing breath and walking the plant with all of you in my community!

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