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University should follow education course sequence with more offerings combining theory and practice.

By Maroon Editorial Board

A January 29 Maroon article (“New Courses Guide Future Educators”) covered the introduction of the College’s first course sequence geared toward students interested in education. The sequence is the result of a burgeoning partnership between the Urban Education Institute (UEI), Urban Teacher Education Program (UTEP), and the relatively new UChicago Careers in Education Professions (UCIEP). The new program is an expansion of a course offered last spring, “Schools, Communities, & Urban School Reform,” which met with huge enthusiasm and student approval. UChicago should strive to create more course offerings that merge academia with concrete and beneficial application of subject material.

“Schools, Communities, & Urban School Reform” was taught last spring by Kavita Kapadia Matsko (A.M. ’03, Ph.D. ’07), director of teacher preparation at UTEP, and Sara Stoelinga (A.B. ’95, A.M. ’01, Ph.D. ’04), senior director at UEI. The course “emphasizes historical, anthropological, and sociological perspectives [to] explore questions about the purpose and history of public schools, the influences on the character of their structure and organization (especially in urban contexts), and how these institutions might be improved.” This last bit is the novel aspect of the course, and one worth replicating: this is a class rooted not just in study, but in suggestion. It is pedagogically oriented, but also fundamentally structured to serve as a corrective forum on the current ails of education. In fact, weeks 9 and 10 of the course exclusively focus on “Exploring Solutions,” where students give presentations on specific topics in educational reform. Matsko and Stoelinga, in conjunction with Nahida Teliani (A.M. ’12), director of UCIEP, have taken this template, expanded it into a full sequence, and even anticipated the inevitable problem of rising student demand. Though priority is currently given to UCIEP students, they are planning to expand the sequence even further, by utilizing a team-taught approach.

Avoiding careerist course offerings has long been a trademark of the UChicago curriculum, and for good reason. The philosophy of education here emphasizes theory over practice—how to think, not just how to get a job. This approach has by no means lost its appeal, and remains a significant part of this University’s success. And, admittedly, there is no shortage of interdisciplinary and careerist opportunities on campus. Career Advancement (CA)’s UChicago Careers In… programs offer mentors, events, speakers, and advice for those interested in certain career tracks. For example, UChicago Careers in Business (UCIB) allows students interested in the business sector to supplement their College education with classes and lectures at the Booth School.

However, what UCIEP, UTEP, and UEI have introduced goes further by integrating methods of application directly into a rigorous UChicago course curriculum. Their education sequence is not separated into a theory section and a real-world one; they have crafted courses that deal with theory and application as interrelated and inseparable aspects in the practice of education. And they are right to do so. The approach is somewhat similar in nature to our excellent Human Rights program, which provides classes like Susan Gzesh’s “The Practice of Human Rights,” a class wherein students engage with the process of human rights advocacy and analyze it through the lenses of the humanities, history, and law.

These are the kinds of courses, and programs, we would like to see in other areas. Imagine, for example, UChicago Careers in Journalism (UCIJ) and the Committee on Creative Writing offering a three-quarter sequence on journalism’s history and theoretical underpinnings, but also giving students opportunities to actively hone their writing and reporting skills. Or picture UChicago Careers in Public and Social Service (UCIPSS) (which already offers a promising course titled “Working for Justice in Contemporary Urban Space”) partnering with the political science department and the Institute of Politics to offer sequences that utilize our leading poli-sci faculty and explore how on-the-ground politics work. These are options that engage students directly with professional resources and experiences relevant to their areas of interest while remaining true to the UChicago tradition of inquiry. This is not a call for a curriculum overhaul, or a rejection of the academic principles that define the undergraduate experience. UChicago would merely do well to continue to increase course offerings in which practical application and the “life of the mind” cohabit the classroom.

The Editorial Board consists of the Editors-in-Chief and the Viewpoints Editors.