abolishing schools of education, or MacIntyre on the non-practice of education

Recently, someone brought to my attention this article on abolishing schools of education. The Center for College Affordability and Productivity argues that we should doubt the value of schools of education: holders of degrees in education do not seem to be any more effective at teaching than non-education majors, because the schools sometimes try to block education reforms, etc.

I don’t really doubt any of these observations, and maybe it does follow from them that schools and students of “education” per se should at least be defunded of public monies. But it remains to be considered whether it makes good philosophical sense to separate out education and treat it as a field unto itself. I had actually forgotten all about the article referenced above until I read something for School & Society class that goes exactly to this point. Here’s Alasdair MacIntyre, from an interview with Joseph Dunne:

What I have said implies that teaching itself is not a practice, but a set of skills and habits put to the service of a variety of practices. The teacher should think of her or himself as a mathematician, a reader of poetry, an historian or whatever, engaged in communicating craft and knowledge to apprentices. It follows that you cannot train teachers well, until they have been educated into whatever discipline it is that they are to transmit. Of course this requires a conception of mathematicians, literary scholars, historians and others that does not make it a requirement of being such that one should do or have done original work in one’s discipline. But such a conception is needed anyway. Specialist researchers make notable contributions to their disciplines, but they are only one section of the community that engages in and with any particular discipline. Specialists need to make themselves intelligible to and to engage in dialogue with all the members of the community of their discipline.

Understanding why MacIntyre is committed to this position would require a full discussion of his most important works. But the position is sensible, even considered alone. There is some sense in which teaching math is more like doing math than it is like teaching literature, and teaching literature is more like writing than it is like teaching math, and so on. Notice that MacIntyre doesn’t raise the bar too high – he doesn’t require that teachers of subject X be actual researchers in subject X; they need not produce original work. He merely claims that teaching is not its own standalone practice; rather it belongs in its various forms to other practices.

If MacIntyre is correct, then we have an additional reason to abolish schools of education. Lumping all the various kinds of teaching together gives the impression that teaching is a practice unto itself when actually it is more important for future teachers to be immersed in particular disciplines. And, that education is not properly understood as its own practice may even go some ways towards explaining the practical failures described in the CCAP article.


  • Don’t the same considerations push against having schools at all? Why put all those teachers together in the same place if their practices have so little in common?

  • I’m not sure? Grouping the various teachers into a school together could be the result of some consideration other than that they should work together in their common pursuit as members of the education practice (e.g., convenience). Sometimes people criticize schools for over-compartmentalizing the various subjects. But, if schools are in fact well compartmentalized, then this is maybe a benefit, on MacIntyre’s view.

  • I concur. I don’t believe it is necessary for teachers to be established researchers in the field they teach. It seems obvious, however, that a student of chemistry will learn more from someone with higher education in chemistry than from someone who knows “how to teach”. While legitimate research into methods and models of education is essential to long-term success in our schools, this lends itself much more to the production of PhD’s in education theory than it does to producing bachelor-level teaching degrees. While abolishing schools of education may be too drastic a step, a restructuring of the schools to play a supporting role in the development of subject-specific degrees seems appropriate. A person with a degree in physics with a focused minor on science education would be much more valuable to a secondary school than someone with a full degree in education.

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