Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
New funding is helping the Educational Studies department innovate inside and outside the classroom. Educational Studies Professor Lisa Smulyan ‘76 has been awarded the Maurice Eldridge Faculty Fellowship to fund a four-year project that will involve both Swarthmore students and Philadelphia-area urban teachers.
The new fellowship was established by Eugene M. Lang in 2011 in honor of Vice President for College and Community Relations Maurice Eldridge ’61. Eldridge shares Swarthmore’s vision of not only academic excellence but also its application in society.
“You want excellence in teaching,” Eldridge said, “but you would like to believe that Swarthmore alumni get not only an excellent education but an inclination to use that excellent education to make the world a better place. So to enable faculty to create courses that further that purpose is one of the goals of this school.”
Philadelphia teachers will develop and implement projects designed to promote community-based social justice through teaching. Students in two of Smulyan’s classes will participate in the project, working with the teachers on classroom, school, or out-of-school projects.
Smulyan describes the project in terms of five components. The first is a course that will be offered for the first time in the fall of 2013: Classroom Research for Social Change.
The second component is to establish and develop a professional community of teacher leaders. Smulyan worked with Philadelphia-area teachers during the 2011-2012 school year to help them identify and develop their goals as teacher leaders within their communities. For example, one teacher has designed a writing center that is becoming the model for a similar centers in other public schools. This new teacher leadership group will have monthly meetings, which have already begun for the 2012-2013 academic year, so that their research and development will be a collaborative effort.
“Most people tend to see teaching as an isolated activity,” Smulyan said. “This group of urban teachers wants to come together as a community in order to improve their own teaching and contribute to educational change.”
The third component is the involvement of two of Smulyan’s classes: the seminar Social and Cultural Perspectives in Education and the new course Classroom Research for Social Change. In the past, Smulyan has always included a fieldwork component to her classes, having students work with classrooms and schools in the Philadelphia and Chester area to practice and apply their knowledge. In these two courses, students will act as research partners with the teacher leaders involved in the grant.
The other grant components will be a conference on teacher leadership and book to be co-written by Smulyan, teacher leaders, and student researchers. These both allow those involved to present their work to a greater audience and thus make a broader impact.
Smulyan’s awareness of the powerful role of educators can have in society began with her early desire to be a teacher. “I was very idealistic, and I’ve become a lot more conscious of both the limitations and the power of education in society,” Smulyan said. “By teaching you can touch a lot of people, teach them to be critical and empower them.”
Smulyan’s research focuses on the role of education as an institution within the larger social, historical, and cultural contexts. As a faculty member in the Educational Studies department, she hopes to allow Swarthmore students to develop their own critical understanding of the roles of schools within society.
“My teaching, my research, and my civic participation are all related,” Smulyan said. “It’s part of why I am an educator in general, and why I’m an educator [specifically] in the field of education.”
Swarthmore’s Educational Studies department has expanded since the time Smulyan was a student, when the department was housed in Parrish basement. It has worked to establish its role as part of the College’s liberal arts mission. The project funded by the fellowship is just one example of the department’s emphasis in encouraging students to become “self-conscious, critical, and responsible citizens,” Smulyan said.
Photo from Swarthmore College website.