Making Licensing & Degrees Less Important

I mean the kind they make you wear funny hats to get, not the kind that come in Kelvin, Celsius, and Fahrenheit.

I guess I’m a week late to the party, but Clifford Winston wrote a nice editorial in the New York Times last Monday called “Are Law Schools and Bar Exams Necessary?”. Winston makes two big points – first, we require people to hire a licensed lawyer to do a lot of simple work (like drafting wills) for which full legal training is simply not needed, and it would be good to open that work to companies and individuals who never passed a bar exam (and who will charge much less for their services). Second, and related, we should protect people from bad legal practitioners, including bad lawyers, not by relying on a licensing exam (which doesn’t always work and can provide a false sense of security), but by allowing people to find and exchange information on legal practitioners so they can know and seek out the good and avoid the bad – basically, the same way they decide what product to buy at the grocery store or any time a real market is operating. Of course, most lawyers (or at least the groups that represent them) fight against these kind of changes and the introduction of this additional competition.

I especially like Winston’s conclusion,

It is worth recalling that two of the finest lawyers and civil rights advocates our country has ever produced, Abraham Lincoln and Clarence Darrow, would not be allowed to practice law today under current rules.

I’ve had similar thoughts about teaching – I’m thinking in particular about teaching high school here, but please extend the argument as you see fit. For starters, I have a PhD in Physics, but would not be permitted to teach Physics in a Michigan high school – that’s already nuts. I can (and do) teach the teachers, but wouldn’t be permitted to teach their students.

But let’s not stop with PhDs – why not eliminate all teacher certification requirements? After all, there is no state-mandated certification program for university professors as far as I know – colleges can hire whomever they want to teach. So do we all notice a marked decrease in teaching quality when we transition from high school to college? Of course not. And why not? Because university hiring committees aren’t stupid. They’re going to do interviews and sample lectures and make sure the person they hire can do the job. Why can’t we trust high schools to do the same?

To make the discussion a little more personal, we have a friend in town who has recently arrived from France. She trained as a speech therapist in France, but is looking for a different job now since there is little demand for French-speech therapists here in Michigan! While I cannot know for certain, I bet she would make an excellent French teacher for a high school in need. (How many high schools have French teachers from France?!) Sadly, no one will ever know how good she could have been, because she would have to undertake years of training before she would even be permitted to try to teach. What a waste of talent that could be, for her and probably thousands of others. And what a loss for our public education system.

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2 thoughts on “Making Licensing & Degrees Less Important

  1. I can’t agree more. My cousin has decided to major in elem ed at college, and I can’t help but think he’d be quite capable of teaching after just a few lesson-planning classes, rather than a full-blown college degree plus another 4 yrs for his masters (probably). And don’t get me started on lawyers… They aren’t all evil, but I’ve met more bad apples than good. And honestly most of them just want your money and couldn’t care less about your case or you as a person or the justice/injustice of the whole issue. But, unfair as the lawyer/teacher degree situation is, unless the govt changes those requirements, we are stuck. Here’s hoping for smaller fed govt and more states’ rights… and for more states to permit the “less educated” (but probably more qualified) teachers and lawyers to employ their skills.

    Great post. You got me thinking (and ranting, sorry).

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