A Riggatron Model For Education

Our Fusion Reactor The SunOne of the current controversies in Chicago is Mayor Emanuel’s proposal to add 90 minutes to the school day. The idea is to use the additional time for reading and math. Needless to say, the teachers are not happy with the largely unilateral way this was introduced, ignoring the collective bargaining agreement with the Chicago Teachers Union.

As my wife and I discussed this, we quickly realized that adding 90 minutes is not going to solve the most fundamental problem facing the system. How do we get more talented and motivated teachers into the schools? Initiatives such as Teach For America and various alternative certification programs have had some limited success.

They have drawn young, energetic, and motivated people from the colleges and professions into teaching. But most do not remain in teaching beyond their initial 2 year commitment, in the case of Teach For America for example. This should not be surprising given the extraordinary challenges many teachers face in the classroom, and the relatively low pay of teaching relative to other professions that those with great talent and skill might have available to them. In particular, highly talented women have far more opportunities available to them than only a few decades ago when teaching was the best career they could hope for outside of the home.

Most of the effort to abate this situation has been aimed at increasing teacher pay. But the brutal, honest facts are that through our actions, we as a society do not value teaching enough to do that. Teacher pay and benefits are not going to increase enough to attract and retain the best and brightest among us. So what do we do?

Back in the late 70’s, one proposed design for fusion reactors, the Riggatron, was planned around the use of cheap copper wired electromagnets rather than much more expensive superconducting magnets for the plasma containment field. These magnets would have to be closer to the plasma and would only last about 30 days. So the Riggatron was designed so that the magnets could be replaced quickly and easily, like changing a burnt out light bulb.

I think it is better to have a series of great teachers for a couple of years each, than a less talented one for a couple of decades. Why not expand and enhance programs like Teach For America so that there are enough of these young teachers to fill the naturally occuring openings in the schools as teachers retire and move on to other pursuits? Our students would benefit greatly from the wide diversity of talent, skill, and perspective such a system would engender. And I think our society would also benefit from having more of its members experience teaching as a profession.

This entry was posted in General and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.