Learning to teach is complex work. Even when teaching appears to be founded on the simplest of elements—the ABCs of forming and recognizing words, or the dependable truth that two plus two always equals four—there is much more at stake than meets the eye. Teaching is about relationships. It is about equality and justice—in individual lives and whole communities. It is about attention, opportunity, and setting an example. Teaching is about knowledge and imagination, information and experience, heart and mind. At its best, teaching is about making a connection, making a difference, making a future. It is about fundamentals and basics, and it is about pushing past boundaries. Teaching is about trust, strength, and potential. It is about conflict and compassion, goals and ideals. And it is about change.
The stories and personalities that comprise the rich history of Syracuse University’s School of Education serve as witnesses to the intricacy and importance of learning to teach and to education’s relevance to individual well-being and the welfare of society. This year, the school celebrates the legacy of 10 decades as a leader in preparing teachers, counselors, and administrators, and acting as an agent of change in shaping public educational policies. “This is a significant milestone for the school,” says Douglas Biklen G’73, the school’s 11th dean and a professor of cultural foundations of education, disability studies, and teaching and leadership. “We’re celebrating a century of engaging with our many communities and working together to make a positive difference.” He notes the school’s long-standing reputation for identifying tough problems in education—including such weighty issues as racial desegregation, inclusive learning for people with disabilities, and equity in urban education—and tackling them head on by linking research to practice. “In all the time I’ve been here, which is now more than 30 years, I’ve seen the school as a place that is able to take risks and that really stands for something, rather than simply being a collection of programs where teachers and counselors are trained or technologists are developed,” Biklen says. “The School of Education even has a reputation for making waves and, in some obvious ways, trying to transform society. Today, more than ever, we are committed to blazing pathways in education, using creativity and innovation to make teaching and learning more effective.”
The school kicked off its centennial celebration in April with an opening gala reception and “Inclusion Imperative,” a two-day national conference honoring diversity in education. Sponsored by the School of Education, the Facilitated Communication Institute, and the Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies, the conference explored issues involving representation, human rights, and diversity. It featured an address by journalist and talk show host John Hockenberry, a four-time Emmy Award winner and three-time Peabody Award winner, and presentations by author and arts consultant Simi Linton and producer and director Gerardine Wurzburg, who collaborated with Biklen on an Academy Award-nominated documentary about a young woman with autism. Several centennial events are scheduled throughout the fall and spring semesters, including The Landscape of Urban Education lecture series, bringing to campus some of the most respected voices of urban education, and The Legacy of 10 Decades, a series of seminars and events showcasing the school’s programs and departments (see An Invitation: Celebrating a Century, below). Additional programming is planned for the University’s centers in Washington, D.C., and New York City.
“In keeping with the nature of our school’s history and strengths, the celebration is not confined to the School of Education,” says Sandy Trento, assistant dean for continuous education and global outreach. “We want it to be broad in scope and inclusive of the University, the local community, and the greater community. This is more than a series of events. It is a way of sharing and celebrating the school’s story, here in Syracuse, and through the involvement of our alumni around the globe.”
A ‘Special’ Education for All
A national leader in improving and informing educational practice for diverse communities, the School of Education is committed to the principle that diverse learning communities create conditions that enrich the educational experience and provide opportunities for all to realize their full potential. Led by special education professor and former dean Burton Blatt, the school pioneered the inclusion movement in the United States, making way for all learners to participate fully in mainstream classrooms and other learning opportunities. Blatt was well known for Christmas in Purgatory, a highly visible national exposé that documented atrocious conditions in institutions for people with mental retardation. In 1971, he created the Center on Human Policy to seek positive, humanistic alternatives for addressing the issues his research had uncovered. “Blatt was an outspoken advocate of what we now call ‘inclusion,’” says Steven Taylor G’77, professor of cultural foundations and co-director of the Center on Human Policy, Law, and Disability Studies. “He took what was at the time a very radical position, saying that not only are all children educable, but that they ought to be educated together. Years later, the right to education for all children became federal policy. It also became a centerpiece of Syracuse’s work.”
At about the same time, in the late 1960s, the school was also involved with issues of racial desegregation in the City of Syracuse. “We played a strong role in the city district, working with teachers and school leaders in integrating schools and creating exciting opportunities for diverse schools,” Biklen says. One result of those efforts was the establishment of an urban teacher preparation program, which attracted students with liberal arts training who wanted to learn how to translate their broad knowledge into teaching careers. The program was among the first to offer classroom internships with mentor teachers. “In an era when many energetic young people were entering the teaching field, the School of Education was becoming known as a strong advocate of the right of all children to receive an education,” Biklen says.
The school was the first of 1,200 national teacher preparatory institutions to create a program that certifies students in both elementary and special education. Its special education program is consistently ranked in or near the top 15 by U.S. News & World Report, and the School of Education appears in the top 15 private schools of education and the top 50 overall in the magazine’s ranking based on reputation by deans and superintendents. In addition, the school’s disability studies program was one of only two in the country when it began in 1995. Today, universities nationwide consult SU faculty for assistance in launching similar programs.
The School of Education is also well known historically for its work in language arts and literacy. “Our faculty were among the first to advocate for the notion of reading across the curriculum,” Biklen says. “Today that seems very ordinary. But in its day—the 1970s and early 1980s—that was groundbreaking work. And we have always had faculty who are regarded as leading scholars in reading and language arts.” Today, faculty study such diverse topics as how children grasp phonics to become readers and how youth write on the Internet. The school also boasts strong technology programs. Its instructional design, development, and evaluation (IDD&E) group is among the nation’s first educational technology faculties. “Similarly, we were one of the early programs that brought together rehabilitation counseling with the field of counseling and housed them in the same unit,” Biklen says. “Again, this demonstrates a strong integrationist flair in terms of disability.”
Several other educational theories and practices have their roots in Syracuse, including a focus on international collaboration through IDD&E, whose graduates often work in education administration around the globe. One of the nation’s first student affairs preparation programs for women leaders was the school’s Student Dean Program, established in 1931 (see story, page 48). In the mid-1930s, Dean Harry Ganders developed a plan for the all-university school of education, establishing the system of dual faculty appointments that prevails today. Additionally, the cultural foundations of education department was an originator of qualitative research methodologies, and several School of Education faculty members, including Taylor, Robert Bogdan G’64, G’71, and Sari Knopp Biklen, have written foundational texts on the subject. And just last spring, the school had its first graduate from a new joint degree program with SU’s College of Law. The only one of its kind in the country, the program allows students to earn a law degree and a master’s degree focusing on disability studies in only three years.
“Today, at Syracuse, almost every area we have is well known,” Biklen says. He points to the work of higher education faculty members Vincent Tinto and Catherine Engstrom, who are completing a million-dollar research project with the Lumina Foundation that explores the effect of learning communities on student retention. The school’s exercise science faculty members are engaged in basic and applied research that will ultimately have implications for how the world addresses aging and wellness. In science education, faculty have a new multi-year National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to improve the field. Faculty in math education are in the final stages of a multi-year NSF grant to examine how middle and junior high school students think about math. The school’s philosophy of education faculty, including Emily Robertson G’81, Barbara Applebaum, Kal Alston, and visiting scholar Kenneth Strike, are leaders in the field, allowing Syracuse to attract “some absolutely spectacular doctoral students,” Biklen says. Work in disability studies, including Biklen’s well-known research on autism and his devotion to using the tools and resources of academia to give voice to people with disabilities, remains a hallmark of the school. “We also have wonderful faculty with joint appointments in the College of Visual and Performing Arts and the College of Arts and Sciences, because we are training people in substance and content as well as teaching methods,” he says. “We are a naturally interdisciplinary field in most ways, and that’s exciting.”
Bridging Worlds, Building Futures
The core of any school of education is teacher preparation, and that work takes center stage at Syracuse. Emphasizing a solid foundation in the liberal arts, School of Education programs prepare teachers in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 in a variety of subjects and disciplines. “We prepare teachers who know the substance of what is being taught,” says Amie Redmond, assistant dean for academic and student services. “They have to be good at math, good at the various sciences, and good writers, which means they take on one of the most challenging programs at the University.” One significant strength of Syracuse’s teacher preparation programs is the opportunity it affords students to develop their skills in multiple real-world classroom and clinical settings. Students often begin field placements in their first year and complete more field experiences than are offered at most other institutions. “Teacher preparation is extensive,” Redmond says. “It is an intense and rigorous program that requires students to be very dedicated and to know it early in their academic careers.”
Literacy education graduate Kristin McAllian ’03, G’04 believes the extensive field placement requirements contributed to her “extremely positive, and priceless” experience at the School of Education. “Making connections—both within the school and in school districts—was very rewarding,” she says. “We started our placements right away, and although it was challenging, it helped me accomplish something very important: feeling prepared and ready for the classroom.” Brian Cohen ’03, G’04 also valued the number and variety of classroom practice opportunities he experienced as a School of Education student, not only for the knowledge and confidence he gained, but also for the sense of belonging those opportunities provided. “The time you spend in schools really scaffolds you from the first semester here,” he says. “That was important to me, because, before that, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a teacher.”
The school’s teacher preparation programs are enriched by a long-standing partnership with the Syracuse City School District (SCSD), a relationship that contributes to a richer student-teaching experience while extending University resources in the community. “Syracuse University’s School of Education understands the needs of urban education and its students,” says Daniel G. Lowengard ’72, G’73, SCSD superintendent of schools. “I’m grateful for the partnerships between the school and the district—partnerships that provide our administrators and teachers with the most modern and innovative instructional tools to increase the academic achievement of all our city’s students.”
Teacher preparation students are required to fulfill as many as 11 field placements, at least half of which must be in a high-needs school system like SCSD. They also have the unique opportunity to student-teach in Brooklyn through the program A Bridge to the City, and a similar program will begin in Manhattan this fall. Working with Syracuse University Abroad (formerly DIPA), Biklen is also negotiating a comparable arrangement with a school in London, and hopes to do the same in Beijing in the near future. “The idea that we can place our students in the most diverse locations in the world is phenomenal,” Biklen says. “Our students develop skills of interacting with a diversity of populations. That is a fabulous advantage for us.”
These kinds of opportunities contribute to an ongoing success story for the school’s students, faculty, and alumni. “Ours is a relatively small school of education, with approximately 50 tenure-line faculty and between 1,200 and 1,300 students, about evenly divided between graduate and undergraduate,” Biklen says. “So we are not a huge school of education, but we are a nationally prominent one. Our students are prized commodities in the job market, tending to get a half-dozen or more offers when they go to job fairs. And our graduates are all around the world—in leadership roles, working in government, and as heads of major research centers and projects.”
As the school celebrates its first century and honors a reputation for progressive, collaborative work and a broad concern for social justice and equity in education, it looks in new directions for the future. Biklen expects the school to continue to prosper, enlivened by the input of energetic new faculty and inspired by such emerging areas of study as the role of pop culture in education and the importance of teaching English as a second language in a global society. He sees great growth potential for the school in such areas as exercise science, technology, and externally funded research. And he notes continuing efforts to honor diversity, including enhanced recruitment of students and faculty of color.
“Since 1906, the School of Education has been at the cutting edge of change and innovation, and that will continue,” Biklen says. “We encourage the entire Syracuse University community to join us as we celebrate a century of exploration, and to participate with us in addressing issues and seeking solutions that can define the future of education in America and around the world.”
An Invitation: Celebrating a Century
Anniversaries are a time for coming together—to remember, reflect, celebrate, and look ahead. As the School of Education community gathers to honor 100 years of excellence, its members note with gratitude the important role alumni play in that legacy. “The contributions of our alumni are important in countless ways, both on a practical level in terms of the profession, and as an embodiment of the history and mission of the school,” says Victoria Kohl, the school’s assistant dean of advancement. “Alumni will also play an essential role in building the future that survives us all—the next 100 years!”
Kohl sees the centennial as an opportunity to recreate the whole body that is the Syracuse University School of Education—that unique collection of people, thoughts, stories, and talents. “We are proud and happy that the centennial provides us with this chance to call everyone back together,” she says. She invites all alumni to get involved in centennial activities and to see this celebration as a time to reconnect with the school and to make a commitment to its continued growth in the future.
Her enthusiasm is echoed by University Trustee and School of Education Board of Visitors member Judith (Halpern) Greenberg Seinfeld ’56, who extends a personal invitation to fellow alumni. “Educational equity is paramount in all that we do,” says Seinfeld, president of Heritage Management Company LLC in Ridgewood, New Jersey. “Morally, economically, and socially, as well as in a civic way, whatever we can do to foster the education of all will aid our country in a most powerful way.” Seinfeld believes it is incumbent on all alumni to provide the resources, encouragement, and participation necessary to move the School of Education forward. “It is not enough to just tell people about our cause,” she says. “As a community, we have to show what works. There is a profound relationship between the school and its graduates, and we can help define the next century by investing in the School of Education’s development.”
Among the upcoming events are the following:
September 11-October 6
April 21, 2007
Visit soeweb.syr.edu for more information.