This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

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Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Demographics of Good Teaching

If there is one single theme that rolls through all aspects of demographic behavior, it is that education changes everything. It is education that enlightens and modernizes us, and is responsible--both directly and indirectly--for longer and healthier lives, and fewer but more economically successful children. But who is teaching those children? There is an old zen saying that "when the student is ready, the teacher appears." In the complex modern world, however, the quality of the teacher that appears is important, and there is a lot of concern in the U.S. and elsewhere that the teaching profession is not doing a good job of attracting the best and the brightest among us to be teachers. The Economist highlights the story in this week's edition. 

The headline of the Economist's recalls the old saw that "those who can, do; those who can't, teach." But there are key demographic factors that are hidden behind that phrase and behind the declining quality of teachers: the ability of women to compete in all aspects of the labor market. For the first several decades of the 20th century, as America's economic power was surging and educational levels were rapidly rising, women who wanted to work as professionals had two main choices--teaching and nursing. Discrimination in the labor force meant that no matter how well educated and talented a woman might be, her options were very limited--she "could" do other things in theory, but society wouldn't allow it. Thus, many of the best and brightest women went into teaching because that's what there was. The pay was low for the professions, but the regular schedule and long vacations were attractive to women who could then work and have a family. Those days of limited options for women are now long gone--thankfully--but the teaching profession has not adjusted. The Economist discusses the fact that teacher's unions, among other things, have hampered progress. But the main point I am making is that if the solutions do not recognize the changing demographics of the pool of potential teachers, the quality of teaching is unlikely to improve much.

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