Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Are You an Educator or Historian?

Mark Schwehn begins his masterful Exiles from Eden: Religion and the Academic Vocation in America with a story from his days teaching at the University of Chicago.  While waiting for a meeting to start, one of the scholars at the table asked everyone to share with the group how they would be identifying themselves on their tax forms.  I will let Schwehn take it from here:

The first person spoke up at once with a kind of brisk confidence.  "Sociologist," he said.  And so it continued--"anthropologist," "historian," "psychologist," "historian."  At about this point (though I have been sometimes slow to catch the drift of things, I did discern this time a clear pattern emerging), I began to wonder whether or not I had the courage to be honest in the company of so many of my senior colleagues.

Though trained as an intellectual historian, I had never once thought to put such a designation down under "occupation" on my tax form.  When I finally spoke up, I admitted (it certainly felt like an admission) that I had written "college teacher" under the relevant heading.  This disclosure was greeting with what I can only describe (though it was doubtless a projection even then) as a combination of mild alarm and studied astonishment.  I felt as though I had suddenly become, however briefly, an informant from another culture.

Anyone who has passed through Valparaiso University as part of the Lilly Fellows Program in Humanities and the Arts knows this story.  Just ask historians like John McGreevy, Paul Harvey, Kathleen Sprows Cummings, Tal Howard, Stephanie Yuhl, Mike Utzinger, Mary Henold, Andrew Finstuen, and Matt Hedstrom, among others.  It is one of the many stories that informs the culture of a wonderful post-doc program.

I also imagine that Lendol Calder (who was not a Lilly Fellow, but has certainly read Exiles from Eden) was thinking about this story when he recently asked an audience at the American Historical Association annual meeting in New Orleans how they would describe themselves on this year's tax form.  (I was not in the audience, so I do not know if Calder referenced Schwehn).

Calder was part of a panel on improving teacher-training in history doctoral programs.  I did not get a chance to attend the session, but Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Ed apparently did.  She has written an informative article on several teaching-oriented panels at the AHA.  Here is a taste:

Lendol G. Calder, history professor at Augustana College, in Illinois, asked audience members to consider whether they’ll describe themselves as historians or educators on their tax forms this year. The varied responses among professors pointed to a fundamental disconnect between the way historians approach their research – problem-based and rigorous – and their pedagogy, he said. 

“Few historians inquire into teaching and learning the way that we venture into our own work,” he said, adding that historians typically have had a disdain for educational literature. But that’s changing. The History Teacher journal now has 40 or more footnotes per article, versus far fewer 15 years ago. Scholarship also focuses now on how to teach, not just what to teach. 

Colleges and universities also can help reshape the supply of teaching-savvy Ph.D.s by demanding more pedagogical training from would-be faculty members. Augustana, for example, now requires interviewees to prepare a 50-minute pedagogical colloquium on teaching philosophy, in addition to the standard information about their dissertations and backgrounds.

“We were nervous when we started,” Calder said. “To our surprise, it sent a very strong message about who we were to applicants, [without] any drop-off in the quality of their research.”

So how will you be describing yourself on your 2013 tax form?