James, Jesus’ brother, makes the following statement about teachers: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1, NIV). Of course James is speaking about people who choose to become teachers of God’s Divine Truth, even though they have not been appointed by God to follow that calling; nevertheless, the message still is applicable. That message is that teachers should be held accountable for the good or bad influences they have had on their students. Therefore, if the United States of America ever hopes to improve her educational systems throughout this nation, in addition to expecting her teachers to multitask as mentors, counselors, nurses, substitute parents, and so forth, today’s American public and private school teachers should be expected to know their disciplines, to be passionately committed to their teaching profession, to know how to teach their disciplines to every kind of learner, to promote the idea of students learning multiple languages, and to be committed to teaching pluralism.
As a former teacher of American secondary and post-secondary students, I do know how important multitasking is for today’s American educators; however, I also have worked in Asia and witnessed how Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean educators also are expected to be teachers, classroom managers, counselors, nurses, mentors, and so forth. Yet, for the most part, Asian teachers still succeed in motivating and educating their students without complaining about being overworked, underpaid or unappreciated. Moreover, in most situations, these Asian teachers succeed in motivating and educating their students without relying on teaching assistants, without having any “prep” periods, and without using modern-day conveniences like a personal computer and a color printer.
Two of the biggest differences in Asian and American teachers that I have witnessed are that: (1) Asian teachers tend to be the best and the brightest in their fields; and (2) Asian teachers tend to be in education because teaching is their passion. Personally, I did not find the cream of the crop hiring criterion or the teaching-passion allure to be primary considerations of most American school districts or collegiate communities. Therefore, two of my reasons why America just has a few good teachers teaching in today’s public and private elementary and secondary schools, or colleges and universities, are because far too many of this nation’s educators graduate with only a “C” grade point average, and far too many of American educators only are in the teaching profession to collect a paycheck.
That is not to say that I didn’t meet any less than brilliant Asians who also were in teaching just because it was a job that offered them a fairly decent paycheck. The point here is that the difference in how some of the Asian and American educational systems have dealt with these kinds of teachers was that many Asian ineffectual, apathetic teachers soon were forced by their “establishments” to learn their disciplines and change their lackadaisical approaches to teaching, or find themselves without a job! Consequently, the Asian teachers who were neither brilliant nor committed to their profession were required to either put their whole heart into bringing themselves and their students up to the appropriate learning standards (which for the teachers could include going back to school themselves) or avoid letting the door hit them where the good Lord split them. The bottom line in the Asian countries I visited was that the bigger picture was all that ever mattered to these countries’ political leaders. That bigger picture was these political leaders’ demand for all of their country’s teachers to produce students who were able to surpass European, Canadian, and American students in mathematics, science, and the other liberal arts studies, which include languages, art, literature, philosophy, theology, and history.
Indisputably, there are far too many of today’s literate Asians who have far too many of today’s literate Americans beat, not only in the categories of mathematics and science, but also in languages. I mainly learned this language fact firsthand, when I lived and worked in China, Japan, and South Korea.
I went to these Asian countries without knowing how to communicate a word in either the Beijing Standard Mandarin (Putonghua) or the common Standard Cantonese Chinese languages. I also could not read the Chinese Kǎishū, Zhuànshū, Cǎoshū, or Lìshū scripts. Likewise, I neither knew how to communicate a word in the Japanese Nihongo language, nor could I read their Kanji, Hiragana or Katakana traditional scripts. However, I could handle the more modern Japanese Rōmaji texts. Lastly, I neither knew how to communicate in the South Korean Pyojuneo (or Pyojunmal) language, nor could I read the Korean Hangul script. Nevertheless, I effectively communicated with these Asians and successfully performed my teaching and ministry duties, because my Asian students could speak and read English!
Indeed, the majority of literate Asians not only can speak two or three languages but also can read these other languages, because, beginning at the elementary school level, Asian students are taught their own language plus the languages of their intellectual and economic competitors. For example, Chinese elementary students learn Standard Mandarin, plus British or American English, and/or Japanese and Korean languages. Furthermore, China’s political leaders consistently are stressing the need for their educators to recognize how important it is for their students to be able to relate their studies to global perspectives.
This global perspective issue brings up a third challenge that American educators face, which is that many teachers refuse to put into their lesson plans state-required Standards of Learning (SOL) relating to global perspectives. Moreover, many American teachers also refuse to put into their lesson plans each state’s required SOL pertaining to domestic ethnic groups’ culture(s) and religion(s). Nevertheless, in order for American teachers to be the “best and the brightest,” they not only need to be universities’ cream of the crop graduates, but also these teachers need to have studied and learned how to develop a curriculum framework through which an educational commitment to pluralism can be and will be achieved.
Now pluralism is the condition of a society that has distinct ethnic, religious, and/or cultural groups that are coexisting genially as fellow citizens within one nation. Pluralism, thus, is not just acknowledging or celebrating the diversity that exists in an educational institution. American educators need to realize that a commitment to real pluralism is when educators search for “common ground” while they are preparing their students to be able to function harmoniously as America’s future heterogeneous citizens.
Three areas where that “common ground” has not been achieved 100 percent are in the teaching of different styles of learning, the teaching of multiple languages, and the teaching of all religions. Although in the last twenty years or so, much attention has been given to promoting effective ways to teach students who process information differently; however, too many students still continue to struggle academically because of their different learning styles. Consequently, these students continue to slip through the cracks until they reach their middle teenage years and finally have their visual, auditory, and/or kinesthetic learning styles assessed correctly.
Furthermore, even though there are many teaching professionals who have studied and learned, for example, Spanish as a second language and, therefore, could teach their discipline in a classroom in which there might be non-English speaking Hispanics, nationwide, there still are not enough students who know Spanish well enough that they could help their Hispanic classmates who might have a question about their teachers’ explanations and/or instructions. Then too, even if all of the teaching professionals who speak and read multiple languages also know about global perspectives (religious and nonreligious), there is still a definite shortage of teachers who are able to teach global perspectives, effectively, to their heterogeneous student populations in today’s multiethnic and multicultural schools.
The number of teachers who know how to be religiously neutral is even smaller than the number of teachers who know how to teach about global perspectives. Being religiously neutral means knowing how NOT to favor one religion over another, and/or how NOT to favor religion over non-religion. Indeed, few educators are religiously neutral, because most educators: (1) cannot or will not acknowledge the existence of various other beliefs, and they (2) cannot or will not guarantee justice to supporters of these other beliefs who are enrolled in America’s public or private schools. A case in point is the current debate on whether intelligent design should be taught in public schools’ science classes as an alternative to the Theory of Evolution.
It is unfortunate that America just has a few good teachers who actually are teaching in today’s public and private school systems. It is even sadder to know that America will continue to have just a few good teachers, as long as the existing “average” teachers are not expected to learn their disciplines very well, are not expected to become passionately committed to their teaching profession, are not expected to teach their disciplines to every kind of learner, are not expected to promote (along with the “best and brightest” teachers) the teaching of multiple languages, and are not expected to become (along with the “best and brightest” teachers) committed to preparing their students for citizenship in America’s pluralistic society. For these reasons, penalties for failing to provide the best education possible for every student must be established and enforced. However, before thinking about dismissing any teachers who presently are teaching but do not meet what should be America’s cream of the crop and passionate about teaching minimal qualifications, these teachers not only should be made aware of their deficiencies but also should be given some time to correct their deficiencies before penalties are enforced.