Magazine article National Forum

The Preparation of Elementary School Teachers: A University-Wide Responsibility

Magazine article National Forum

The Preparation of Elementary School Teachers: A University-Wide Responsibility

Article excerpt

Preparing quality teachers to staff our elementary schools is arguably one of higher education's most important responsibilities. Yet few colleges and universities include this responsibility in their mission statements. John Goodlad, in conducting research for his book Teachers for Our Nation's Schools (1990), visited twenty-nine institutions of higher education of various types and found that none of them gave high priority to preparing elementary school teachers.

Teachers and a Liberal Education

Persons who will spend their professional lives as elementary school teachers must be liberally and broadly educated, more so than individuals with other careers, because of the* positions as role models for our children--positions that are crucial not only to the students whose lives are directly affected, but to the general society as well. Other than a student's parents, no other person has such an opportunity to influence, to motivate, and to inspire a child to value the intellectual life. In fact, acting as an intellectual role model may well be the single most significant aspect of the teaching profession.

A well-conceived general education program, in conjunction with an interdisciplinary academic major, followed by a year of professional graduate study, will provide elementary school teachers with the knowledge and skills necessary to serve as models for children to emulate.

A liberal education is the embodiment of the collective intelligence that accrues from the study of history, mathematics, English, the arts, philosophy, and the like. This collective intelligence--a structural whole--is not reducible to the contribution of any one discipline. Although the curriculum does not preclude offering separate courses, connections between and among disciplines should be systematically planned in delivering these courses. Each course, in addition to consisting of discipline-specific content, should emphasize analytical skills and synthesizing skills that extend beyond the confines of individual disciplines. These courses should emphasize the relationships among the arts, the sciences, and the humanities. Specific content should support the broader focus, juxtaposing thinking and process skills with content area knowledge.

Team teaching is the most appropriate way to deliver the liberal education courses. Teams should be composed of senior faculty members from the disciplines of the arts and the sciences who have demonstrated an understanding of the interrelatedness of knowledge. Collectively, the faculty team should design and teach the liberal education curriculum organized sequentially by years and thematically within semesters, connecting the study of the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts. This series of courses should span the entire four years of the undergraduate curriculum and should encompass approximately 40 percent of the student's total undergraduate curriculum.

Several arguments support an interdisciplinary approach to liberal education.

* Interdisciplinary courses can address the larger social, political, and ethical questions of our times by crisscrossing the bounds of individual disciplines.

* Discipline-specific content can be presented after students have been introduced to and recognize the importance of the conceptual and theoretical bases of an issue. Students thus become motivated to learn what otherwise might appear to be unimportant. …

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