Why Did I Go To Stanford If I Disagreed With STEP’s Philosophy?

(Note: I just noticed that I failed to register an old domain of mine, so I’m copying my old pieces about my Stanford woes over here. This essay (a series, really) was first written in the summer of 2009, I think.)

This question always makes me laugh. Yeah, that’s it! I should just go to a different ed school!

Which school would that be, exactly?

Check out David Labaree’s book, The Trouble With Ed Schools, paying particular attention to Chapter 7, The Ed School’s Romance With Progressivism

[Education professors] do have a vision. Most of us are convinced that we know what is wrong with education and how to fix it, and we are eager to make our case to all of the parties who shape the schools: teachers, administrators, parents, policymakers, lawmakers, curriculum developers, textbook writers, test designers, and the media. The vision of education we propose has been around for the last hundred years; it’s usually called “progressive education.”

From the late nineteenth century to the present, two strikingly different visions of teaching and learning have been competing for primacy in American schools. They have gone by a variety of names, some familiar and some more obscure….The most common labels, however, which capture most of the sense of these various category systems, are teacher-centered vs. child-centered (or student-centered), traditional vs. progressive, and, in what is the most popular terminology in education schools, traditional vs. constructivist teaching. For reasons of simplicity, common usage, and historical resonance, I refer to these visions by the names traditional and progressive.

For American education schools during the twentieth century and continuing into the present, the progressive vision has become canonical, serving as the definition of good teaching. In these institutions, the purpose of teacher education programs (for prospective practitioners) and teacher professional-development programs (for existing practitioners) is framed as an effort to dissuade teachers from adopting the traditional appropach and to enlist them firmly within the progressive cause. There are people in ed schools, like Chall, who choose not to employ the rhetoric of progressivism and even speak against it, but they are a small minority and they know their position is heterodox.

This is not a point about which there is any serious disagreement….*

David Labaree had Eamonn Callan’s job as dean of student affairs at the school of before he went on sabbatical. I emailed him once or twice asking for help, because I’d read his book. He declined. I don’t carry a grudge.

Labaree’s excellent book does not blame ed schools for educational failures; rather, he astutely points out that ed schools have little influence over educational policy because they are held in such low esteem. I agree with him, but would also observe that researchers are not allowed to explore other methods because they’d never get into a doctoral program without buying into progressive ideology.

But I digress. The operative issue here is that David Labaree is a Stanford professor, and he’s pointing out as a given that ed schools are dominated by progressivism.

So where was I going to go?

I wasn’t choosing between Stanford and a school more tailored to my own educational philosophy. I was choosing between $50K or $20K in loans for a dunk in the progressive Koolaid tank. The Koolaid tank itself was a given.

I knew what I was getting into. I had explored all the alternatives to ed school–alternative credential, emergency credential, no credential at all, moving to another state to get a credential more quickly then move back. All of them required nearly as much time as ed school, fortuitous contacts, or a hell of a lot of luck.

Even after I decided on the traditional route, it took me a while to apply to ed school. I assumed I would go to San Jose State, until I discovered that CSU campuses require 45 hours of public school work before the program started. That annoyed me so much I dropped the entire notion for several months and then, on the next to the last day of 2007, I realized that my son’s school, UC Santa Cruz, had to have a credential program. Hey, Berkeley probably does, too. And from there it was a teeny step to well, as long as I’m frantically putting together applications with a week to deadline, why not give Stanford a shot?

I didn’t compare their programs. I knew they’d all be identical on the big issues, and as a tutor/teacher who lives an active life in online discussion forums, I was totally up to speed on ed school cant. The only issue I considered was cost.

Berkeley made it easy by rejecting me. (They’d had me once already for my Master’s in Information Systems. It wouldn’t surprise me if Cal’s ed school contacted the School of Information and said “Hey, what about her?” and SIM said “Are you suicidal?”) So the highly-ranked inexpensive school was out, leaving UC Santa Cruz, an excellent but not top-tier school on the other side of the hill, and Stanford, which has the first or second rated school in the country.

I gave serious thought to UC Santa Cruz. I liked the staff, who didn’t call me and imply that my decision to work through the year cast doubt on my fitness for candidacy. For half the Stanford price tag, I could rent a second apartment in Santa Cruz to crash in if I didn’t feel like making the drive home.

But Stanford. I’m the only college graduate in my immediate family (my little sister will be second, my son the third). My undergrad degree was from San Jose State. My first Master’s was from Berkeley. With Stanford, I’d have diplomas from all the Bay Area Division I schools, which had to be good for a set of steak knives or something. Plus. Stanford. Koolaid or not. Price tag aside. If I had to go back to school at my age one more time, wouldn’t it just feel better to be going to one of the best schools in the country?

Again, note that all my dithering was about the cost. I knew about ed schools. I knew I disagreed with the ideology. I knew it would be a frustrating year. The only question was how much I was going to pay for the experience.

The last straw in favor of Stanford tipped when (I am not making this up) I got a ticket the day after my first meeting with Rachel, right after breakfast with my son at Zacharys, a classic Santa Cruz joint. I was just about to make my call to David Rasch, the ombudsman, when I got pulled over by a cop for going 30 in a 25 zone.

Wham. Like Dory in Finding Nemo, the memories all flooded in. Two years at Berkeley had resulted in a Master’s, yes, but also four additional speeding tickets and easily 50 parking tickets which, of course, I always forget to pay, so went something like $200 a pop. My insurance had only just returned to something approaching reasonable after all those speeding tickets.  If I went to UC Santa Cruz, I’d be driving over the mountains every day. I’d always be late. There’d always be a cop looking for an easy ticket. UCSC’s parking is even worse than Cal’s. My loans might only be $20K, but I could count on close to $5K more in ticket and insurance costs alone. To say nothing of the aggravation.

Stanford wasn’t only elite. It was close by. In a suburb. With a suburb’s attitude towards parking. And speeding. Then, just minutes after the ticket, David Rasch tells me not to worry about retaliation; if I want to go to Stanford, I should go.

So don’t ask why I went to STEP when I disagreed with its philosophy. Ask, rather, why anyone should have to drink so much Koolaid just to be a teacher.

And while you’re at it, ask how come speeding tickets without accidents still hike up your rates.

*I stopped quoting there because Google books limited my page views and I loaned out my copy to someone at STEP. I can’t remember who. Fellow STEPpies, if you have it, could you look up page 133 and send me the text? Or tell me that you returned it already and I’m blaming you when it’s really my disastrous disorganization? And everyone else: look! I am a nice person who loans out books to colleagues.