Panel Discussion on "Reaching Each Student: College Faculty An
"X" Factor in Educational Reform?"
National Forum of the College Board
November 1, 1990
Remarks of James R. Vivian
I appreciate this opportunity to comment on ways in which college and university faculty members can assist in addressing the educational needs of an increasingly diverse student population. The title for our session this morning suggests that the part that college faculty members can play in the "education reform movement" is, as yet, largely undetermined. would like to suggest, however having worked for a number of years with the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute that members of the faculty of arts and sciences, not only education faculty members, can and must play an important role, particularly in the continuing development of our nation's school teachers.
The assistance of college faculty members in the professional development of school teachers has never been more important; we continue to face a crisis in the preparation of our country's 2.3 million teachers to teach the subjects they are assigned to teach. Nationally, as in New Haven, there is a dramatic shortage of teachers who specialized during their formal preparation in the subject areas which they now teach. A high proportion of teachers in the sciences and in the humanities, more than 60% and 40% respectively in New Haven, did not major in college or graduate school in one or more of the subjects of their school courses. In New Haven, 60% of the students are Black and 22% are Hispanic, and 60% come from families receiving public assistance. Thus, as Adrienne Bailey, until recently Vice President for Academic Affairs of the College Board, put the matter some years ago:
Since this demographic pattern will become increasingly characteristic of public school enrollment throughout the United States, the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute has chosen, in a sense, to wrestle with the nation's educational future.In establishing the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, the questions we faced were not unlike the question before this panel. Some skeptics asked, at that time, what faculty members at an institution like Yale could possibly offer to teachers whose students are different from Yale students in so many respects and, furthermore, why these faculty members would even be interested in trying to help in improving local schools. Beyond this, why would an institution such as Yale wish to involve itself in the nettlesome issues of an urban school district which sends each year no more than a handful of its own graduates to attend our college? In short, some thought that an institution like Yale was the least likely place for the establishment of an effective program to aid our local public schools. Ironically, I now sometimes hear an opposite view expressed that only institutions with the resources of a place like Yale could possibly conduct such a program.
Neither view, of course, is correct, and so I should speak about the involvement of the 71 University faculty members who have given talks and led seminars through our Institute during the past thirteen years. More than 300 individual New Haven teachers including more than one third of all current New Haven secondary school teachers in the humanities and sciences have completed the program at least once. Through the Institute, they have studied subjects ranging from medical imaging to aerodynamics to detective fiction and autobiography and national parks. They have prepared more than 700 curriculum units to apply what they have learned in their own teaching in New Haven classrooms. In short, I believe their experience provides a persuasive example of how leading members of the faculty of a research institution such as ours can be and, indeed, wish to be involved in working with their colleagues who teach in schools in ways that strengthen teaching and learning in an urban public school system.
The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute is, then, a mechanism through which faculty members from both Yale College and the Graduate School, including the departments of American Studies, Biology, Classics, Engineering and Applied Science, English, Geology and Geophysics, History, Physics, and Spanish and Portuguese; and the Schools of Architecture, Art, Divinity, Forestry and Environmental Studies, Law, and Medicine can be involved with pre-college education. When we established the Institute, the intent was not to create new resources at Yale; rather, it was to make available in a planned way Yale's existing strength, that is, to expand and institutionalize the work of University faculty members with their colleagues in the schools. From the outset we have thought that, of the many ways Yale might aid New Haven, none is more logical than a program that shares our educational resources with the schools. The Institute therefore makes our faculty available to assist teachers in meeting their students' educational needs.
Simply stated the purposes of the program are to increase the academic preparation of teachers in their subjects and to assist them in applying their new learning to their own classrooms. Studies have shown how the Institute accomplishes these aims and, moreover, how it increases teachers' confidence in and enthusiasm for teaching the subjects they study in the Institute. Many tell us that this has encouraged them to remain in teaching in New Haven.
They also tell us, through the surveys we have conducted, that their own participation in the Institute has led to an increase in student learning, that student attention in class to Institute-developed materials is often higher than their attention to commercially prepared curricular material, and that in many cases students' motivation and mastery is also higher.
Three-quarters of the teachers who take part as Fellows of our program, consider working with Yale faculty members to be one of the most important incentives for their participation. And, the benefits are reciprocal.
Yale faculty members who lead Institute seminars speak about the value of increasing their own knowledge about public schools and thus about the background of many of their own students, and about how their experience in the Institute has influenced their own teaching and scholarship. The following comments that seminar leaders have made in their written evaluations at the conclusion of the program illustrate what they feel they have gained.
I benefited greatly from the kind of questions raised in the seminars because they are almost always insightful yet concrete. . . . I gained some new ways of seeing from the seminar.These, then, are some of the reasons why Yale has undertaken a fund raising initiative, which we announced last week on receiving a $2 million endowment challenge grant from the DeWitt Wallace- Reader's Digest Fund, to secure a $5 million endowment to make the Institute a permanent function of the University. In this way we intend to make our faculty available in perpetuity to assist our colleagues who teach in New Haven schools and, we hope, to demonstrate a way that faculty members in academic departments at other institutions who otherwise may have little or no involvement in the improvement of public education can contribute in mutually beneficial ways to teaching and learning in schools.
[Leading the seminar] has made me reflect, once more, on the difficulties of making the unfamiliar familiar and on the intricacies of cultural exchange. It has also given me a more informed view of the secondary school system in this country, a subject about which I knew little or nothing.
I continue to have my mind extended by teaching topics I don't ordinarily teach, and by ideas and broad experience that the teachers bring. . . . Also, it's tremendously awakening for me to get into the schools and meet students, and watch the classroom interaction among students and between teachers and students. . . . It's valuable in a general human way as background for my teaching, but I get plenty of useful new ideas for that as well.
Yale faculty members gain from teaching in the Institute a chance to rethink a subject in the context of teachers who truly must teach, as opposed to lecture, and who therefore bring an important and realistic perspective to questions too often asked in purely theoretical contexts in a university such as Yale. I have no doubt that teaching in the Institute has contributed both to my scholarship and to my regular teaching at Yale. The Institute . . . brings faculty much closer to the life of New Haven. The program can help faculty reduce the level of abstraction in their other work by forcing them to communicate to a more experienced audience. The seminars continue to offer me the chance to think through topics and texts with other adults who would often not enter anything like my undergraduate or graduate classrooms. They help to keep me aware of a wider audience and a wider responsibility.
As always, one grows from teaching those who are in the front-lines of education. Even more, one grows from working as a partner with them. This is the main benefit for the Yale faculty members. A periodical reminder of the realities of public education is useful to anyone who purports to teach, at whatever level. The strengths of the Institute, both for Yale and for New Haven, are thus obvious.
The Institute has given me a much more complete sense of being an involved member of the New Haven community than I had before, and it's just the right sort of involvement one that brings in my special abilities, and contributes to improving them at the same time. . . . Intellectually, my ideas on books have expanded from contact with a series of adult minds.
In our own Institute, then, we have two basic commitments. First, a commitment to university faculty members and school teachers working together as colleagues as one of the most necessary means of strengthening teaching and learning in the nation's schools and colleges. Second, a commitment not only to excellence in education at all stages of the educational process, but also inseparably a commitment to ensuring that all students have equal access to that excellence. In fact, these two are really one: we seek through the educational process to prepare all students to fulfill their own promise and thereby our promise as a diverse people.
In conclusion, the experience of the Institute has convinced me and many others at Yale and in New Haven that through a program such as this college and university faculty members may increase not only the preparation of their own future students, but also their own preparation for dealing with an increasingly diverse student body on campus.