On Teacher Education at a Liberal Arts College

On Teacher Education at a Liberal Arts College December 1, 2009

I am currently applying for faculty positions in departments of education and philosophy (I would be open to job in Religion too, if they would hire me). My most recent application (to St. Mary’s College of Maryland, a public honors college) asked me to compose a short essay “describing your beliefs about the role of teacher education within a liberal arts environment.” So, naturally, I did. I apologize in advance for the puffiness of it and the rather self-involved voice of the prose. I hope you can forgive me for writing it in I-need-a-job-ese. Here it is, in case you’re interested:

I know—in an intimate, first-person way of knowing—of the benefits of extending educational opportunity to those in need. This has not been highlighted, primarily, by my own fortunes as a first-generation college graduate and Gates Millennium Scholar, but, instead, by the real misfortune of many friends and relatives of mine. My commitment to the liberal arts and education grows directly out of this existential fact.

For me, this still-ongoing educational journey began in love, desire, and wonder of and for the vast world of life. The task of imagining and representing that to others—in this case, my students—is at the very core of my passion for teaching and the study of education via the humanities. The imperative this creates for my practice is a humanistic call to action: To teach human persons, not objects, statistics, or social resources. In every classroom I enter, my philosophy is just that: philo-sophia, love of wisdom. I share that love through texts and ways of thinking about thinking that attempt to help each person not only to learn, but also to become more deeply in love with the world and each other—human, in other words.

A graduate a small liberal arts college, I come to many of these convictions from my own undergraduate studies in an honors program with a dual major in Philosophy and Spanish. And I think that the educational perspective I have just shared is cut from the same cloth as the idea of the liberal arts college: a place where the book (liber) and freedom (libertas) come together to teach and practice the art of self-formation. In my mind, the art of teaching is a vital part of this art of the self. And this extends to not only the teaching of college students, but also to the tutelage of children.

Having taught Kindergarten through eight grades, I know that the there is a deep reciprocal synergy between the art of school teaching and the liberal arts. Teachers cannot fully tap into the potential for imagination and wonder if they lack grounding in the ideas of literature, history, philosophy and art, and, at the same time, these ideas to be found in the liberal arts cannot be communicated without the humanity and skill of pedagogy, curriculum, and educational studies. Fostering what seem to be deeply compatible—if not the same altogether—arts of becoming a person, the liberal arts and the educational arts (what some call the art of human ecology) offer a potential for a range of things that go from the most practical to the most whimsical. It is my belief that we need both: practical considerations and whimsy, policy and Peter Pan, teacher education and the liberal arts.

The integration of these aspects of higher education is not only my belief or opinion; it is also the central focus of my scholarship. It begins and ends with this hope: to blur the line between scholar and schoolteacher to the point at which schoolteachers desire to become passionate scholars devoted to their subject and scholars desires to become caring schoolteachers devoted to their students—the most important subjects of all.

"When complimented, I prefer to say, "Thanks. I need all the flattery I can get.""

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