When I was an undergraduate, I once changed majors because a professor criticized me in front of the class for smiling too much. I didn’t know a whole lot about education back then, but I knew enough to be confident that humiliating students was NOT good educational practice.
Imagine my amusement when I recently read a conservative blog post that showed the photo I use in my campaign for Texas State Board of Education with the caption “ferociously smiley ‘expert’”. At fifty-something, I’m proud to be called ferocious, as well as smiley; in fact I think it’s kind of cute. But I wonder, why is the word ‘expert’ in quotes? Is it that expertise is something to be made fun of? Or is it that a Ph.D. doesn’t really indicate expertise?
Perhaps the blogger believes that expertise is not really valuable. Recent comments and behaviors of members of the State Board make that a good possibility. When rewriting the science curriculum created by science teachers and approved by science experts, Don McLeroy, former chair, stated that someone had to “stand up to the experts.” The Board’s continued micro-managing of curriculum standards in various subjects for almost 4.7 million children in Texas certainly dismisses the expertise of the teachers and subject-matter experts who created those standards.
If expertise is not important, why do we insist that a surgeon perform our heart-bypass operation? I just got off a plane from Austin to Albuquerque, and I guess it would have saved money to have the baggage crew flying that plane rather than an experienced pilot. As Jon Stewart so eloquently wondered on the Daily Show, does standing up to Dr. McLeroy, a dentist, require rubbing my teeth with chocolate rather than brushing?
What is intended to happen at the State Board of Education is a three-step process for creating the curriculum that will be taught to 4.7 million students during their public school career. The first step is that groups of teachers are tasked with writing the curriculum in a way that moves students from kindergarten to 12th grade in each subject. Then, subject-matter experts review that curriculum to ensure that students graduating from high school will be ready for higher education and the 21st century workforce. The third step is that the Board approves the recommendations for the curriculum.
Think of all the information that students have to learn in 13 years. We are lucky in Texas to have groups of teachers willing to spend their time researching, discussing, and thinking through the best way to help a child move from knowing almost nothing about so many subjects, to being knowledgeable enough to enter higher education or be a valuable employee in the 21st century. Then subject-matter experts add their input to ensure that the final goal is appropriate. The role of the Board, in this situation, must properly be to review the curriculum, send questions back to the educators and subject-matter experts, and then approve the curriculum with revisions. In Texas, the third step has instead become a rewrite of the curriculum by Board members, followed by approval by those same Board members. If one assumes that the Board knows more about what students should learn than the educators and subject-matter experts, one could easily make fun of such “experts.”
So is education the only field in which it’s detrimental to be an expert? If lawyers wrote the curriculum would the Board be more respectful of what it contained? I know a lot of teachers, and work with a lot of teachers who work in different states. They spend four-plus years studying the subject area they want to teach, along with the intricate process of how children learn, how to help them learn, and ways to create an appropriate means of measuring whether or not the students have learned. I wouldn’t want them to fly my 747, give me a root canal, or represent me in court based on their expertise in education. But having them create the framework for getting my grandchildren from simple addition to complex geometry? Now that makes me smile!
Something else that makes me smile is the wonderful experiences I’ve had campaigning in my district. By the thousands, people have reached out to me to tell me they support my efforts to make education the SBOE's first priority, and get rid of the partisan politics. I also smile because of the dedicated teachers, parents, and administrators who I’ve seen work together to make our children’s education as effective as they can. Please join me in helping the teachers regain their stature as experts in the curriculum process by donating to my campaign. Help me raise $1,500 before the June 30 cut-off date for my next finance report, and I will keep my ferocious smile working to make sure teachers and experts are a part of the process.