Indeed, the biggest insult to the intelligence of American teachers is the idea that their intelligence doesn't matter. “The teaching of A, B, C, and the multiplication table has no quality of sacredness in it,” Horace Mann said in 1839. Instead of focusing on students’ mental skills, Mann urged, teachers should promote “good-will towards men” and “reverence to God.” Teachers need to be good, more than they need to be smart; their job is to nurture souls, not minds. So Garret Keizer’s first supervisor worried that he might have too many grades of A on his college transcript to succeed as a high school teacher, and Elizabeth Green concludes her otherwise skeptical book with the much-heard platitude that teachers need to “love” their students.
Keizer is offended by comments like that, and he has every good reason to be. Do lawyers have to love their clients? Must doctors adore their patients? What American teachers need now is not love, but a capacity for deep and disciplined thinking that will reflect—and respect—the intellectual complexities of their job. It won’t do to simply strip away our insipid accountability systems and leave everything in the hands of present-day teachers, who are mostly unprepared for the tasks we have set before them. The US badly needs to design and develop an entirely different system of teacher education, stressing cognitive skills above all else. Anything less will leave our teachers languishing in “intellectual stagnation,” as Elizabeth Cady Stanton told Susan B. Anthony, and our schools mired in mediocrity.