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Preparing Doctors and Teachers

The preparation of doctors and teachers is moving in opposite directions, even though both professions have the same goal of serving their patients and students according to the highest standards.

This paradox is evident in the new Medical College Admission Test, which places less emphasis on basic science and more emphasis on humanistic skills ("Pre-Med's New Priorities: Heart and Soul and Social Science," The New York Times, Apr. 13), and in the new teacher licensing exams, which downplay pedagogy and stress subject matter.

Driving the 2015 revision of the MCAT is the belief that mastery of core science is not sufficient to assure what is often referred to as a bedside manner. By evaluating applicants on their ability to relate to patients, for example, the exam hopes to produce better doctors. This is not the first time that the gatekeeper exam has undergone changes. From 1942 to 1976, the MCAT included a section called "Understanding Modern Society." But questions not dealing with hard science were effectively disbanded in 1977. In the minds of critics, the result was the elimination of well-rounded students.

In contrast, the revision of teacher licensing exams in most states is based on the belief that teachers do not know their subject matter well enough. Reformers note that only 23 percent of teachers come from the top third of their college classes ("A Push to Improve Teachers' Colleges," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 1, 2011). Of those, many majored in education, as opposed to an academic subject. To gain taxpayer confidence, some states require that candidates pass tests measuring subject matter content before they can begin practice teaching. However, the bar has never been high. Although knowledge of subject matter is vital, it is not enough. Knowing how to connect with students is indispensable, which is one of the objectives of pedagogy.

Pressure on doctors and teachers to meet the needs of their patients and students has never been greater. That's why it's interesting to note how medicine and education have chosen to go down different roads at this time.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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