Crossing into China on my 18th visa, this is the first time that I will not be working with teacher trainers at a Chinese normal university. Eighteen of the 26 universities I work with have “normal university” or “teacher’s college” in their name, although nearly all have become full service universities. America dropped “normal” and “teacher” from university names in our massive expansion of American universities in the 1960’s to accommodate the “baby boom” generation. China has kept the name “normal” despite their universities also becoming full-service during their massive 16-fold university expansion beginning in 1996.
“Why did America call teacher’s colleges ‘normal’?” has been often asked and I am not sure that many American professors today would know the answer. It was derived from the French “E’cole Normale” which meant a school for teachers and had no relationship to our common usage of the word “normal.” But the education of teachers in China is nothing like “normal” American teacher training.
One major difference is that China has traditionally only required three years of college training for elementary school teachers, although some universities in the developed zones are now requiring four years. However, China teaches far more math and science in their elementary and high schools. As a result, in math and science knowledge, their high school graduates already surpass our “elementary ed” college graduates.
And except for Central China Normal University in Wuhan, China trains all of its high school teachers in the content departments. In America, the majority of high school teachers are trained in Education School programs. This is the case at the University of Kansas, Kansas State University and Wichita State University. In many of our former U.S. normal schools, represented by Fort Hays, Pittsburg and Emporia State Universities, the secondary program is also jointly overseen by the content departments. But these programs are still controlled by American accrediting agencies that require substantial and ever-changing “methods” courses. The number of credit hours in U.S. education methods can often exceed the content coursework.
Not so in China. China trains its high school teachers alongside its undergraduate students who are pursuing careers in research, industry, or professional studies. That means that in my field of biology, they receive essentially the same solid biology foundation that students receive who are pursing fish and game, pre-med, pre-dental, or other biology careers. Their professors are practicing biologists who are pursuing research in modern biology, so these teacher candidates learn up-to-date molecular biology and the full range of cutting edge anatomy, physiology, genetics, ecology, etc.
But in America, most states, similar to Kansas, go through expensive and time-wasting revisions of what “standards” we must require of our teacher training programs. Here in China, it is the constant progress of science that sets the standards. No stupid arguments over evolution or sex education or global warming. No millions of dollars spent rewriting the state of science and no professionals’ time wasted on this unending but irrelevant task of resetting “goals and outcomes,” aligning or mapping curriculum. Gravity, the Table of Chemical Elements, and human anatomy are the same worldwide. Yet the Kansas universities run by Ed Schools don’t even require their biology teachers to take anatomy and physiology!
Ed School advocates are eager to point out that some folks who are highly trained in science---perhaps straight from industry---and enter the classroom without methods training are often miserable failures. They would like you to believe that the opposite is just fine---that you can teach with Ed School training when you know absolutely nothing about the content. But any country bumpkin knows, whether in China or the United States, that you can’t teach what you don’t know.
The secondary biology teachers trained over here know a lot more science. And they do get some coursework and practice in teaching methods specific to their content department. It is nothing as expansive as the one-size-fits-all-fields, bloated and tedious busywork that is required in Ed Schools. It consists of some very practical aspects of communication and alternate ways to explain, demonstrate and test.
As a result, China has not wasted the last 40 years promoting cure-all educational fads that change every three years: individualized instruction, diagnostic instruction, open classrooms, back-to-basics, every-teacher-a-reading-teacher, every-teacher-a-special-ed-teacher, Madeline Hunter 7-step lesson plans, cooperative learning, outcomes-based education, or the current worship of all things digital.
China’s content-based teacher training has generated new generations of scientists who fill their universities and next year will surpass the United States in authorship of research in the top worldwide journals “Science” and “Nature.” And science literacy in their young general population exceeds ours.
If they don’t need Education Schools, why would we?