You wouldn't want to invite Mary Futrell and Reginald Damerell to the same party. She is president of the National Education Association and, as such, spokesperson for the nation's largest organization of public-school teachers. He thinks public-school teachers are an educational disaster -- a disaster cynically foisted upon the nation by the people who run teachers' colleges.
And yet, there are striking similarities in their proposals as to what might be done to improve public education.
The NEA proposals are contained in a six-page pamphlet, "An Excellent Teacher in Every Classroom: Four Practical Steps to Encourage Outstanding Teaching." Damerell's are in the closing chapter of his scathing indictment of colleges of education, "Education's Smoking Gun: How Teachers Colleges Have Destroyed Education in America."
The NEA publication urges the adoption of four concrete steps for improving teaching skills. Prospective teachers should first complete a basic liberal arts curriculum (maintaining at least a 2.5 grade-point average) before being admitted to a teacher-education program.
Once accepted into a teacher-education course, they would be taught the knowledge and technical skills of teaching, not only in theory but also through a program of practice teaching that would begin with the first professional course.
After completing both the liberal-arts and the teacher- training courses, and passing the appropriate tests, candidates would begin a three-year internship, during which they would be guided and evaluated by experienced classroom teachers. And finally, even after full certification as professional teachers, they would be subject to annual evaluation throughout their teaching careers.
The point, says Futrell, would be to ensure that "only the most qualified candidates become teachers."
Damerell, who spent a dozen years on the faculty of a teachers' college (at Amherst), makes little attempt to hide either his intellectual arrogance or his contempt for teachers' colleges, which he would, as a first step, simply abolish.
But like Futrell, he would make liberal-arts education (with a tilt toward English majors) a prerequisite for teaching. Like Futrell, he would place great reliance on frequent testing, including a test in writing.
"Teachers learn to teach by teaching," he writes, "and there is no substitute for it." But instead of the NEA's proposal for increased practice teaching, Damerell would settle for a semester as a teacher's helper, relying instead on the initial screening process to admit only those candidates who could quickly pick up the necessary pedagogic skills.
We might have to pay these super-bright candidates more money, he acknowledges, but "with the money saved by abolishing schools of education, it should be possible to increase starting and subsequent salaries of teachers in the first three or four grades of elementary school by 30 percent."
Futrell might argue that point, and she almost certainly would stop short of Damerell's bitter attack on teachers' colleges as places where Ed.D. degrees are routinely handed out to borderline idiots. But she would agree with his call for tougher standards for entry into the field.
Says Futrell: "Our goal is simple: an excellent teacher in every classroom. Incompetence must never be tolerated. Our nation must insist on the highest standards for teacher preparation and practice."
Damerell puts it more succinctly: "High qualifications attract the highly qualified."