I call this blog Nonfiction Matters, but anyone who has read it can quickly see that it really should be called Social Studies Matter — I have ignored science and math in the worst way. I am moved to make this horrible confession by reading the latest issue of "eschool news" — a weekly and monthly email newsletter that is available free. The lead article in the August issue covers a briefing held in Washington in June. Teachers of science and math, as well as education professors, were in the nation’s capital to talk about a STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) "teaching crisis." The problem is that teachers who attempt to teach these topics are not trained in the content, or, if they are, are plunked into classes with little or no teaching experience. They are set up to fail either way — because they are not comfortable with the subjects, or because they do not have the tools and training to handle the classroom. As a result, every year some 16% of the STEM teachers leave their jobs — the highest turnover rate among teachers.
This should all sound depressingly familiar — so similar to the Social Studies Crisis that has been my constant theme. As the educators told Congress, teachers, even of topics such as Engineering, graduate from education programs without any training in content. That is exactly the point I’ve been making about history. In a way, too, it relates to my last post about "context." If a teacher cannot answer Kai’s question about how suspension bridges work, or Brittany’s query about what an irrational number is, or Alex’s curiosity about how a curve ball curves, she’s going to expect a book to help out. But then the book — which you provide — has to do double duty — not only anticipate what the student may not know, but what the teacher may not be able to add.
Clearly no one book can take the place of improving our teacher training — which is a national issue that involves funding, policies, changes on all levels of education from K-12 through graduate teacher education. But I do think we who write, edit, publish, review — and circulate — books do need to speak up. We can do our best to make our books engaging and informative, to anticipate what readers will need to know. But we cannot provide the missing training for our teachers. We can smuggle some of that into our teacher’s guides. And, please, do let us know what kind of material you are hearing teachers need. But in the end we can only make good books, we cannot substitute for good teachers.