by Frederick S. Haydon
Approximately two-thirds of this article appeared under a slightly different title in the Johns Hopkins Magazine of November 1977 and is used here by permission of the editor of that magazine. The professor on the cover was stolen from the Naval Aviation News. He was drawn by CDR N. F. O’Conner,
“McCarron could tell that the new coach had kept his head about him through the university, through the interminable garbage of education college….” – The Telling by John Weston, David McKay Co., 1966.
WHEN I retired from the Army in 1959, I applied for a teaching post at a distinguished private preparatory school in Massachusetts. I was turned down.
I had, as a teaching assistant, taught history at Johns Hopkins University from 1938 to 1941 and had served as associate professor of history at the University of Maine from 1946 to 1948. I had taught at a number of service schools during World War II, and for two years I had served as deputy chief of training in the office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, Mediterranean Theater of Operations. With these credentials, which I supplied to school officials, I had expected favorable consideration of my application to teach at one of the New England preparatory schools to which I had applied. But in every case my application was rejected.
“Colonel, you are not qualified to teach at this school,” I was told. “You have no college credits in Education.”
In a personal interview with the headmaster of the Massachusetts school, I protested that this bar to my teaching high school students was unreasonable. I had taught Army officers and senior non coms, civilian specialists, officers of the British and French armies, college students, and my own children. I held a PhD in history from Johns Hopkins as well as an LLB from the University of Baltimore School of Law.
Forgive this dreary recital of credentials, but it is central to my point. For, all my teaching experience and academic credentials notwithstanding, I was, under Massachusetts law, unqualified to teach even little children. I lacked the all-essential credits in “Education.” The school officials to whom I applied were courteous, sympathetic, even regretful at having to reject me summarily. They cited the law.
At the time I had a neighbor, the wife of a close friend, who had a similar dismaying experience. She was a graduate of Wellesley and Barnard and a fine teacher, but in order to retain her probationary position at a superbly rated girls’ school, she had been compelled to take night courses at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, at no inconsiderable trouble and expense. She advised me to “swim with the tide” and do the same.
Armed with my credentials and her letter of introduction to the Dean of the School of Education, I was at once admitted to this august institution where, in time, I might earn a “’Master of Arts in Teaching.” The school authorities made it plain I was on probation, as they preferred students whose previous degrees were also in the arcane subject of Education. I had doubts about the venture, but I hoped these courses might offer worthwhile subject matter, so swallowing my doubts and duly enrolling, I selected three courses and showed up for the first class. My hopes were shattered like a pumpkin dropped from a cart on a cement road.
The lecturer, who sported the degree of Doctor of Education but no degree in history, essayed to tell us all how to teach history. From his commentary – which made no distinction between ancient, medieval, modern European, and American history, and treated history at the graduate level as little more than a commercial trade – I could see that save for a schoolboy smattering, this professor knew no history. After he had made several hideous blunders of a kind any Hopkins freshman would have scorned. I raised my hand and courteously asked him to explain. His purpose was not to teach history, he responded, but to teach how to teach history. How could one teach history if one held the subject itself in low esteem, I asked. For this, of course, I was deservedly squelched and told to keep my mouth shut.
The gentleman then proceeded to cover a large blackboard with chalk listings of a number of headlines, taken at random from a late 19th-century newspaper, which ranged from cookery to clothing, from scandal to church announcements, and included a few items of historical interest. His idea was to teach us how to distinguish significant historical material from the chaff of blatant advertising, local and national sensational “’news”; also he purported to be teaching us how to teach history with newspapers as “teaching aids.” The man had only a doctorate in “Education” and clearly had little or no knowledge of the techniques of selecting and using historical sources. Yet he tried to tell us – some of us having advanced degrees in history – how to study, write, and teach history. His performance at the podium was actually pitiful.
I suffered through the rest of the period, my intelligence and training being insulted, but I withdrew from the course and wrote to the Dean of the Graduate School of Education the reasons why I dropped this course. I never had any answer or acknowledgment.
The next shock came when the entire graduate school body of students in the School of Education was required to attend a series of lectures given by the Dean, to whom I have referred above. The subject of his discourses was supposed to be a discussion of the techniques of teaching. He spoke questionable English, used common slang in so-called formal lectures, and his theme had little or nothing to do with the techniques of teaching. The gentleman had a DEd from Columbia Teacher’s College, which I believe is the original source of all the so-called “Education” courses required of persons who seek to teach in public schools. This Dean proceeded to talk about the need for people of high standing in the public school administration; he read to us a large number of newspaper clippings from the Boston newspapers relating to a political campaign in which he, our “professor,” had been roundly defeated for a place on the school board. He severely excoriated his rivals who had defeated him for public office, and then announced to us that he intended to run again and asked for student volunteers to go out and campaign for him; and more or less intimated that those efforts for him politically would be highly considered in the final grades meted out to graduate students. Needless to say, very few rose to this insidious bait, and I never attended another lecture by this Dean. (As a historical note, I must record that this Dean was soundly trounced in the subsequent political election.)
The above incidents were barely the start of my disillusionment with the Harvard Educationist establishment and all its works. I found that the professors in both the other “Education” courses I began that term were of a similar breed. I dropped both courses. In the opening lecture of one of them, “Psychology of Teaching Young Students,” the “professor” issued such profound educational information as that a baby learns to nurse at its mother’s breast, that it defecates and urinates, and that by the time he or she reaches 12 or 14 years of age, learns to masturbate. Just what all this had to do with the techniques of teaching young students, the “professor” failed to relate. (I use the quotation marks so that, after exposure at Hopkins to the brilliant lectures of Tenny Frank and Kent Roberts Greenfield, and at Harvard of Samuel Eliot Morison, I do not inadvertently degrade that noble word’s meaning.)
I confess I am puzzled and distressed by the situation described above. I was appalled by what I found. I was required to take courses and write lengthy papers on subjects that in my opinion were ridiculous. I would not have imposed such nonsense on my youngest students in the Boys Latin School of Maryland, let alone mature students some of whom had the privilege of having doctor’s degrees from great universities.
The above commentary is not intended to be an unfair excoriation of a part of the great and distinguished Harvard University. I had taken courses there in history in the graduate school under some distinguished lecturers. But the gulf between the “Educationists” and the professors and instructors of legitimate departments and subjects was so great as to seem like the Grand Canyon.
While I was there, there was a saying among the Harvard undergraduates: “There is no street wider than Lawrence Avenue, Cambridge.” This allusion was to the fact that the Harvard Graduate School of Education was located across this avenue, separated from the College of Arts and Sciences. It meant simply that the distance between the capital E Educationists and the legitimate departments of Harvard College and Harvard University was so great that the street separating the physical buildings must naturally be so wide as to make permanent the gulf that existed between the “Education” students and the students in the legitimate colleges.
The experiences at Harvard simply confirmed the disdain for Educationists I had acquired in previous years. At the University of Maine, for example, where I served as associate professor of history between 1946 and 1948, it was my misfortune to sit on a board to examine a candidate for the degree of MA(Ed). His master’s essay purported to be a scholarly history of an elementary school in a rural town near Bangor. The essay was gotten up with copious footnotes citing the school’s ledgers, account books, and administrative correspondence. But it had little substance or historical interest. There was almost no coverage of curricular matters, texts used, or subjects taught. Instead it went into voluminous detail on such matters as how many thousand board feet of lumber were used in constructing the school building and the size and structural details of the pupils’ outside latrine, complete with the exact number of holes and their dimensions down to the inch.
To make a long story short, the student limped through the oral examination in a manner which further showed how shallow had been his training. On the board with me were a professor of psychology, an associate professor of mathematics (he had chuckled when the dimensions of the holes were given), and three professors of Education – of whom only the latter three voted to award him this advanced degree. (The psychology professor then changed his vote because, as I later learned, the degree meant the candidate could get a teaching job at a local public school.)
The true nature of the then barely budding Educationist cult, revelatory of its peculiar power and influence, was impressed upon me in my next post. I had resigned from the University of Maine in order to become a Historian in the office of the Chief of Military History. During this tour of duty, I collaborated on a volume about troop training and service schools, which was to be a part of a comprehensive 96-volume history of the Army’s role in World War II. This was an engrossing task, and my fellow historians and I were annoyed to learn we were also to help a representative of the American Council of Education. The Council, we were informed, was the chief instrument of advice, supervision, and policy in advising the federal government in matters of national education. Its representative was to write a report on whether Army training methods could be adapted to civilian public schools.
The ACE representative arrived in our office one morning, and we were somewhat dismayed. He held a Master of Education degree and spoke the jargon of the Educationist cult. He was ignorant of all matters military and did not know a squad from an army corps. He knew nothing of the most rudimentary principles of military training. He was completely lost and bewildered by the archives of the Adjutant General’s office, archives in which he was supposed to work. He failed even to grasp the cardinal fact that wartime training of adults, who know that their training may mean the difference between surviving and being killed, is vastly different from teaching high school students in civilian, peace-time schools. In short, he was no more qualified to undertake the task assigned than a grammar school boy. But because the ACE was a powerful, semi-political force, orders had come down that we were to receive, assist, and cooperate with him. After proving a positive nuisance and wasting our time for months, he submitted a final report so full of errors, misinterpretations, and almost-ridiculous conclusions that, despite pressure from above, the chief historian would not approve it for publication. Whatever became of it none of us knew.
Yet one recommendation it contained may occupy a place of sorts in the history of the English language as well as that of Education. “Professional Education,” it said – the capital E did appear in the text – “should develop a positive, esoteric language, distinctive to Educators, to dignify and give a formal, common language to the profession of Educators.” The report went on: “The Law Profession has its ‘legal language’; the Medical and Surgical Professions have their ‘medical language’; the Army has its own distinctive terminology and, to a certain extent, its language. Why,” the report queried, “should not we professional Educators have our similar distinctive language?”
I recall one more encounter with the cult of Educationists: Before being ordered to the Korean front in 1952, I was sent to take a refresher course at the Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. One of the senior instructors there was a civilian who sported a Doctor of Education Degree from Columbia Teacher’s College, the fountain and source of Educationism. The man was simply impossible. His platform manner, language, and smug arrogance were replicas of what I would later encounter at Harvard. He had the habit of walking back and forth across the platform, as though he were walking a quarter-deck at sea, waving a long pointer which he would aim at the officers when he posed questions.
Unfortunately, I was seated in the front row and came in for more than my share of pointer poking. On one occasion, the learned doctor directed his pointer at me like fencer delivering a ripost en quarte and asked me what was the single greatest asset of a teacher.
“A thoroughly competent knowledge of his subject,” I answered respectfully.
“You are dead wrong, Colonel,” the man retorted smugly. “The greatest and most necessary asset a teacher has is his voice.”
He persisted in this opinion even after a discussion. I suppose the gentleman would say that Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink would have been an excellent teacher of gunnery because she had such a superb contralto voice.
There was once in the Johns Hopkins University, back in the 1930’s, a Department of Education. It was directed by a gracious and sincere lady professor who had been high in the system of Baltimore Public Schools; she had many degrees in “Education.” I liked and admired her as a person, for she was both gracious and kind to me when I was an undergraduate in the Evening College. But she and her department represented professionally something I could not recognize nor be a part of.
When I finally was admitted to the History Department as a graduate student and candidate for a PhD, a gentleman from the University of Maryland applied for admission to the History Department and was not accepted; he then applied to the Department of Education and was accepted. In less than three years, he blossomed out as a Doctor of Education and was admitted as an assistant professor in the Department of Education. In our Department, a minimum of four years of graduate residence plus two sets of orals and one final written examination were required in addition to a full doctoral dissertation before we were admitted to the coveted degree. Yet this chap had his doctorate in less than three years and was appointed to the faculty. The Department of Education was later abolished in the Johns Hopkins University.
Just what draws otherwise competent scholars to this “Education” racket, I do not know. Except for the jargon and subject matter of this alleged profession most of the chaps who were in the business were decent, educated fellows. Yet they had absorbed the curious, jargonesque language that stamps them, for real scholars, as beyond the pale. Why did these chaps get involved in all this nonsense? How did they swallow the bait of such separate fishing grounds – when the legitimate fields were there to be plowed, cultivated, and reaped? I would never attack the honest convictions of any scholar or faculty member engaged in honest, sincere study and preceptorship; those individuals who honestly believe in this “Education” racket should receive respect and sympathy if they are genuinely striving to increase the advancement of learning. But let them look to the validity of their subject matter, to the integrity of their so-called subject matter – capital E Education – and to the questionable standards that govern their degrees which are all “Ed” – a symbol that is at once suspect among those scholars who served their many years to earn their degrees in philosophy, science, history, literature, and so forth.
The laws that require these pseudo-degrees in capital E Education, a subject that emphasizes theory (unproven and suspect) over content, frequently drive legitimate and competent people away from education; further, such laws permit the stranglehold that professional “Educationists” have upon those who might otherwise devote their knowledge and dedication to teaching our youth.
As it stands, the president of Yale University, despite his numerous degrees, eminent scholarship, and teaching and administrative experience, would not be allowed to teach in a public high school in the state of Connecticut because he had no degree in “Education” or the requisite credits in that magic subject as required by the statutes of that state.
These laws were probably enacted in good faith to prevent the appointment of incompetent teachers in our public schools. But in the present state of society we have, I hope and trust, gone beyond the need of such safeguards. As my grandfather used to say gently to his cook, “You mean well, but the tea is cold.” In modern terminology, we may say that the watchdog is now biting its master.
Hand set in Deepdene; cover is in Stymie Medium. Initial is unknown. Cover stock is index; text is Hamilton Ledger, substance 28. Ink is Van Son 40904. Edited and published by Jake Warner and 540 copies were printed by him on a 10×15 C & P at the Boxwood Press, Greenbelt, Maryland 20770.