Education Opinion

The Eggheads and the Lovers

By Charles M. Breinin — May 13, 1992 3 min read

Modern educationists can be divided into two main groups: the eggheads and the lovers. The egghead is primarily concerned with teaching subject matter and skills while the lover wants to “facilitate’’ the development of children into “self-actualizing,’' creative, loving adults. The egghead is concerned that the kids “think’’ right; the lover that the kids “feel’’ right.

The educational pendulum swings back and forth, first giving status to the egghead and then to the lover. When the egghead is in the ascendance we get ability grouping, “elitism,’' new and demanding curricula. When the lover is on the rise we get “child-centered curricula,’' social promotion, and “enhancing self esteem.’'

When the egghead rules we have relatively clear and understandable tasks for the teachers: Teach the little buggers to read, write, and figure to some degree of competency. When the lover gets his turn nobody cares too much what the teacher teaches as long as he is loving, tolerant, provides an environment that maximizes personal growth, and is a good role model. The egghead has his classes read Milton and Shakespeare and tells them what the artist is trying to say and do. The lover wants something “relevant’’ to the needs of the child and asks the kid to express his personal view of his peculiar world (which often is very peculiar).

The egghead believes that by virtue of education and experience he has cornered the market in educational expertise. The lover figures everyone knows as much as he does ... and he is probably right. The egghead wants professional autonomy. The lover wants democracy, community control, power to the people, and all that other good stuff.

The egghead takes the position that anything new in education can’t be good while the lover believes that anything new can’t be bad. Thus, the lover is always grasping at every “innovation’’ that comes along and the egghead is perpetually skeptical. If some new scheme fails, the egghead says, “I told you so.’' If some innovation succeeds (can you think of one?) the egghead sees it as a mere variation on some past practice. The lover sees it as a revolution in meeting the needs of the child.

What change does occur is seen by the egghead as a flash-in-the-pan. The lover, though, sees each change, from movable desks to the computer, as a fantastic alternative that will not only alter the school, but will restructure society! In a word, for the egghead each change is a dismal failure; for the lover each change is an unqualified success.

The egghead is elitist while the lover is a democrat. When Jefferson said that all men are created equal, the lover took him at his word, without qualification. He believes that anyone can learn anything, at least to a Ph.D. level, if properly taught. The egghead is not so sure. He sees the normal distribution curve in operation in his classes. The lover is a proponent of open classrooms, open schools, open campuses, and open admissions--open everything except when he wants his basketball or football team to be a winner. The egghead wants qualifying tests, entrance examinations, and educational “standards.’'

The egghead believes we must have competition in our schools to prepare kids to live in a competitive world. The lover believes we should be non-competitive because we must prepare kids for a kinder and gentler cooperative world.

The egghead tends to see such technological advances as the printing press and television as just a more effective way of pandering to the public taste. The lover looks on them as ways of raising and increasing the sophistication of popular culture. (I guess we can already judge who’s right on this one.)

Appreciating these differences between teachers, we can better understand why one teacher believes his study hall should be silent while another accepts talking and chess-playing in his, why one teacher prefers lecturing and drill and another wants discussion, why one teacher believes he is teaching kids something, while another is teaching kids to be independent learners.

If you have trouble understanding why the teacher down the hall is doing what he does, ask yourself, “Is he an egghead or a lover?’' Perhaps he’ll ask the same question about you ... and me. Maybe, then, we’ll better understand why some of us work one way, some another.

A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 1992 edition of Education Week as The Eggheads and the Lovers