Walking into a classroom my first year of teaching, I experienced less a transition shock and more a disgraceful-lack-of-preparation shock. It turns out the university lectures on self-care and transgender literacies didn’t quite prepare me for a student calling another student’s mother an indecorous word. Nor did a few sample lesson plans equip me with the grueling task of filling 50 minutes of class time with meaningful activities for several classes a day, 180 weekdays in a row.
My teacher prep gave paltry time to classroom management, curricular construction, or grading, compared to discussions about the horrors of neoliberal policies or inscrutable readings whose sole purpose seemed to be to cite esoteric French critical theorists.
The practical training I did receive wasn’t much better than the ideological posturing. Since John Dewey became something of a patron saint in education in the early 20th century, schools of education have taught his theories as doctrines. The classroom management advice teachers receive prioritizes student-constructed rules and a conversation over a consequence. When mentioned, education professors treat explicit instruction and rote practice with derision. Tests and facts are oppressive. Student choice should dictate everything from science curriculum to reading lists.
Ed Programs Teach Lowbrow, Activist Lit
Reviews of teacher preparation programs offered at major universities do exist, and they validate my critical portrayal not as a caricature but as an unfortunate reality. For example, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty reviewed 14 programs in my own state of Wisconsin.
The programs neglect serious readings. Professors never assigned, for example, practical manuals of instruction or texts on the relationship between cognitive science and learning. Instead, teachers read popular books like Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities and watch Hollywood movies like “Freedom Writers.” These programs define education as “social justice.” They instruct teachers to discuss gender with 3-year-old kids and host book clubs about Anti-Racist Baby.
Another notable review comes from the James G. Martin Center. The researcher solicited curricula from three of the most prestigious teacher prep programs in the country and tallied the most common authors.
Conservative or traditionalist authors such as E.D. Hirsch get nary a mention. The programs shamefully lack any engagement with classical education. The core of literature and practice that dictated education for centuries apparently doesn’t deserve a mention. Instead, the most popular authors are John Dewey and Paulo Freire, a Brazilian Marxist who cited the Maoist Cultural Revolution and the Russian Revolution as ideals of his thought in action.
Escaping Leftist Orthodoxy
As a critic of both teacher prep programs and the theories within, one of the most common questions I get asked is, “Well, what else should I read?” I’m staunchly opposed to both progressive and critical pedagogy, which together place student desires and political leftism above academics and rigorous instruction.
Unfortunately, many teachers know no alternatives, though thankfully, they exist. For example, I partnered with WILL and its Restoring American Education project to compile many of those resources into a list. This list is a product of a years-long intellectual journey for which the average teacher has no time.
The process started on Twitter, now called X, after I found contemporary columnists and authors like Robert Pondiscio or Doug Lemov, who broke the mold. I clicked through their links, seeing which authors they cited and referenced, reading selections, and repeating from the top.
Leftist orthodoxy does not capture the tradition of education that extends back thousands of years or even contemporary research. Like Europeans on the new continent, I discovered that there is a wide world of educational thought besides authors like Dewey and Freire.
But the responsibility for expanding the Overton Window of educational thought does not need to fall solely in the laps of curious or enterprising teachers. Replacing even one or two radicals on education schools’ reading lists with a traditionalist like Hirsch or including a sensible course that overviews the basics of cognitive science would inject a dose of sanity into these institutions.
The Left’s Control of Ed Policy
What’s more, at the policy level, left-wing ideology has captured accrediting institutions and state standards for teacher preparation. The nation’s largest accrediting body, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, makes mention of safe spaces and DEI in its standards but no mention of basics like classroom management. Or consider Illinois’ recently passed “Culturally Responsive Teaching and Leading Standards,” which openly encourages teachers to foster student activism in their classes.
Alternative resources such as WILL’s could act as a model for sensible, practical alternatives to such ideologically tinged policy documents. Of course, no list is comprehensive. But if any teacher picked up even one book outside of the left-wing canon, they could begin building a solid foundation for their own intellectual journey in escaping educational Marxism. They could come to understand the need for an improved educational system that trains teachers in classroom instruction, modern research, and classical education, rather than narrow left-wing dogmas.