Wednesday, May 02, 2007

How Important Are Teachers to the Future of Our country?

Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.
- Aristotle

Aristotle's quote directly contradicts the old saying "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." Which is correct?

First of all it's important to understand that the "old saying" is a put-down of teachers by those who refuse to give them much credit or respect. In the days when most of North America had agriculture as its main industry, anyone who held a job where they did not use their hands and their muscle was considered inferior in a social sense. Whether factory workers or farmers, the men with muscle dominated the social scene.

Office workers, teachers and anyone who could not command a high price for their services ranked fairly low on the social scale. There was an assumption by those who earned their living by the sweat of their brow that the "white collar" workers would work at physical labour jobs if they could. If they could not, then they would teach or become office clerks. Since neither of these white collar jobs required much in the way of education (some just got through grade school), might was right in the work force and social networks as well as on the battlefield.

In Aristotle's day, teachers were among the most respected people in the community. The wisdom of the community and the culture were wrapped up within the brains of the teachers. Given the scarcity of books in his day, those with an education were highly regarded and held the highest posts. However, in Aristotle's day slaves did most of the physical labour, not the dominant Greeks.

In our modern world it is recognized that to have highly educated children we must have highly educated teachers in the classrooms. In some countries, compensation for teachers does not reflect the kind of education and preparation teachers require, while in others teachers are well paid.

The amount that teachers are paid correlates directly (roughly) with the level that students rank in international competitons--the higher teachers are paid relative to other occupations, the better the students score. However, it's not the teacher pay that affects the ranking so much as the dedication that governments give to education in general, with teacher pay being only one component. Some countries give excellent education to the children of those who can best afford a good education and barely adequate education to others who must depend on public funding. Others give the best education possible to every child.

Unless a country recognizes that its most educated people who understand their subject and the development processes and stages of children should teach, and be paid according to their importance to their community and their nation, that nation will have trouble coping in the world of the 21st century. Even today we can see the status of many countries rising or falling in comparison with other nations depending on the importance they place on their education systems and the children that will be the future of their culture.

Aristotle was right. The world would be a better place if those who understood would be given the responsibility, the respect and the support they need to teach the future generations.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, striving to encourage people to work together to build a better future for their communities and their countries.
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