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March 18, 2008


At Harvard University, the Harvard Graduate School of Law is called Harvard Law School, the Harvard Graduate School of Medicine is called Harvard Medical School, but Harvard Education School is called the Harvard Graduate School of Education—surely that indicates something...

In any case, Harvard Education School is kind enough to offer, on its website, an insight into the research interests of its faculty. Their centers for research include: “The Center on the Developing Child; Change Leadership Group; Chartering Practice Project; Civil Rights Project; Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education; Dynamic Development Laboratory; Everyday Antiracism Working Group; GoodWork Project; Harvard Family Research Project; Language Diversity & Literacy Development Research Group; National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL); NICHD Study of Early Child Care & Youth Development; Project IF; Project on the Next Generation of Teachers; Project Zero; Projects in Language Development; Project for Policy Innovation in Education; Public Education Leadership Project (PELP); and Understanding the Roots of Tolerance and Prejudice.”

The mission of some may be less clear. The “GoodWork®” Project explains that: “The GoodWork® Project is a large scale effort to identify individuals and institutions that exemplify good work—work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningful to its practitioners—and to determine how best to increase the incidence of good work in our society.” There is no indication that they are interested in good academic homework. Project IF is about “Inventing the Future.” Project Zero is home to work on multiple intelligences, among other things.

If you dig down further into the research interests of individual faculty, also kindly provided on the site, you may have the same difficulty I do in finding anyone interested in the work of the schools in teaching math, science, history, literature and foreign languages. There may be exceptions, but the overall impression is that academic work, of the sort we are asking students to do in our schools, gets little attention.

There is concern for finding and retaining teachers, but not too much for seeing that they have the academic preparation to be successful in promoting the study of math, science, history, literature, and foreign languages among their students.

It would not be too much of an exaggeration to suggest that the focus of Harvard Education School is not on academics, but rather on a variety of social change, school management, “dynamic development,” and race, gender and ethnicity issues.

Education has many important and significant aspects, and surely Harvard Education School devotes its attention to some of them, but it seems equally clear that student academic work, and the preparation of teachers to help students in doing it, should be fairly prominent among the concerns of faculty there.

As far as I can see, they are not. In addition, it has been observed, from time to time, that other institutions may follow what Harvard does in organizing their own approaches to education. If this is the case in Education Schools, then there may be widespread national neglect of academic work in many of them.

It has been noted elsewhere that those who pursue degrees in Education have much lower Graduate Record Examination scores, in general, than those who pursue graduate degrees in medicine, law, engineering, the sciences and even the liberal arts.

Which gives rise to the question, for me, of whether lack of success in academic pursuits may incline those who seek degrees at Harvard Education School actually to have less interest in academic subjects than other graduate students have. I believe that those who are considering work with children in our schools, if they are academically weak, sometimes decide that if they do not know much about math, science, history, literature, foreign languages and the like, at least they “know about people.” By some quirk of logic, they may think that “being good with people” is a fine substitute for knowing and caring about academic work in our schools.

Perhaps academic schoolwork has comes to seem mundane, banal—really beneath them—so they decide to give their attention to “higher” concerns like multiple intelligences, child care, everyday antiracism, inventing the future, and "dynamic development." To some, it may appear that many of these topics might better be studied in a school of social work or in a graduate department of psychology, but if Harvard Education School feels that academics are not that important for teachers and students in the schools, they have to do research on something, I suppose, and to me it seems that what has occurred as a result might be called the psychologyzation of an education school.

Now, if our public school students were already doing splendidly in academic work, perhaps there would be a need to look beyond plain academics as a subject of study, but my impression is that this is not yet the case in the United States.

I think it would be great if Harvard Education School, and others, would, until our students are more proficient academically, spend more time working on ways to teach academics and to encourage our students to do academic work in the schools. Then, when our students are doing a lot better in academics, the Ed Schools can go back to roaming around in social justice, everyday antiracism, child development, inventing the future, and all the other subjects to which they are now devoting themselves.

Will Fitzhugh has an A.B. from Harvard College and an Ed.M. from Harvard Education School

"Teach by Example"
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
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Varsity Academics®

Posted by Will Fitzhugh at March 18, 2008 7:32 AM
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