Placements deserve a place in Swarthmore curriculum

Emma Waitzman/The Phoenix
Emma Waitzman/The Phoenix

At this point in the semester, students taking Educational Studies classes are settling into their placements at a variety of nearby schools, ranging from public to private, from inner-city to suburban. They’re not the only ones getting a glimpse of how their studies relate to the real world. The Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility designates several courses each semester as Community-Based Learning (CBL) because they “connect students and faculty directly with local communities and their members as part of the content of the course.”

Ed placements are designed to connect conversations in classes to real systems of education. There are two types of placements: Those in which students simply observe the classroom setting and those in which Swatties are expected to get involved with students. The latter can range from taking field notes to interviewing students. Both types are sincere efforts at making palpable the course readings that students are relentlessly assigned — texts that often shamelessly deal with the rather unbecoming elements of educational policy (most notably, the challenges that urban schools face in meeting the needs of their students).

It is this steadfast goal of allowing Ed students to engage with the material in a very tangible way that contributes to the generally positive consensus on campus towards the Educational Studies department. About Community-Based Learning, the Lang Center offers: “This pedagogical approach is based on the premise that the most profound learning often comes from experience that is supported by guidance, context-providing, foundational knowledge, and intellectual analysis.”

So it would follow that there be curiosity about why “placements” aren’t the curricular norm. While both the Ed department and the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility (often working in tandem) provide ample opportunity for students to get off campus and garner crucial experiential knowledge, that option isn’t as readily available for English majors or those who are on a Pre-Med track. Not everyone enrolls in an Education class, and so it is quite easy (and more than likely) that most students will graduate without ever having set foot in a facility related to their course of study outside of Swat’s campus.

Perhaps if Swarthmore departments across the board mandated at least one placement experience per student, those experiences would provide text and case material for work in the courses themselves. And they don’t even have to be in urban schools. How about organized “internships” of sorts that would expose a Poli Sci student to the intricacies of a nearby think tank? Or giving a Bio major some time in a non-university research lab (or even Penn’s)? These sorts of arrangements would be a compulsory component of courses, counting towards distribution requirements while simultaneously fostering observational and collaborative experiences. The value of that lies in giving us a chance to interact with professionals in a field while also exploring an academic discipline in depth.

The Educational Studies Department’s placement mission is a commitment to “preparing undergraduates to meet the needs of all students in an era of rapidly increasing racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity and technological change.”

But shouldn’t that be every department’s mission?

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