On Common Ground: Number 8, Winter 1998


Research and Pedagogy in the New Partnerships

By John Carlos Rowe

University faculty interested in working with school administrators and teachers to coordinate better education at different levels have traditionally done so in two different and often mutually exclusive ways. Professors understand their purpose either to "refresh" knowledge in the teachers' disciplines or to "update" teachers' instructional methods. The first encourages theoretical reflection, library research, and writing that combines both simply for the sake of new knowledge. The second addresses practical problems, draws on actual classroom experiences, and develops new lesson-plans or curricula to meet concrete needs.

The differences between such approaches represent the traditional division between "research" and "teaching" in the university, as well as between "theory" and "practice" in many of higher education's disciplines. There are many reasons why these differences should be overcome and that research and pedagogy ought to be integrated in future partnerships between schools and universities. The advantages of new programs that integrate discipline-specific research with new pedagogies will be recognized not only by school administrators and teachers, but also by university faculty, some of whom have long understood the educational disadvantages of the traditional conflict in higher education between research and teaching.

For the past three years, we have designed and administered a five-week summer program at the University of California, Irvine that brings together high school, community college, four-year college, and university teachers in Southern California to do what we term "collaborative research" in announced topics. Our topic in the Summer of 1995 was "Multiculturalism in Contemporary American Fiction," and that of 1996 was "Race and Gender in Nineteenth-Century American Literature." The topic for 1997, "Global Cultures and Local Communities," departed from the focus in the first two summers on the United States and on its literatures, in keeping with our long-range plan to vary disciplines as well as topics in what we hope will become a permanent summer institute for intersegmental higher education.

Like participants in smaller NEH Summer Seminars, we work with recognized experts in the subject of each summer's work. In the first two summers, research scholars like A. LaVonne Brown Ruoff (University of Illinois, Chicago), Catharine Stimpson (the MacArthur Foundation), Gerald Graff (University of Chicago), Eric Sundquist (UCLA), Louis Owens (University of New Mexico), and Emory Elliott (UC, Riverside) conducted morning seminars with the entire group of teachers and students. Instead of inviting these scholars to "teach" their areas of expertise, we suggested that they conduct the meetings in the manner of an advanced doctoral or post-doctoral research seminar, in which it is assumed that everyone has considerable expertise in the subject. Each visiting scholar was asked to recommend two recent essays or book-chapters related to the topic: one by the visitor and another that the visitor considered important in recent scholarly discussions of the topic. We encouraged each visiting scholar to use fifteen to thirty minutes of our two-hour seminars to contextualize the essays recommended, but then to open discussion to the entire group.

Our aim was to familiarize participants with our visiting scholar and current issues in the scholarship on our topic. We were effectively simulating in a short time what advanced graduate students and post-doctoral fellows gain through long experience. Given the different segments of higher education represented in our summer institute, very different levels of professional knowledge were represented. Knowing we could not put everyone on the same level in short order, we nevertheless worked to establish a more mutual context in the morning seminars by asking two participants to volunteer to organize and administer the seminars for each of our visiting scholars. We asked each pair of seminar leaders to formally introduce that week's visitor, brief the visitor on how the seminar was normally conducted, and lead the seminar discussion. We had, of course, another goal in mind by giving three different people responsibility for organizing and directing the seminar: breaking down the barrier between "authority" and "students" that generally divides professors from teachers in most partnership programs.

In the afternoons, participants divided into small workshops. This is where the practical "research" would be conducted, but such research would encompass a wide range of activities, from the writing of scholarly essays and book chapters to curricular and pedagogical reforms. Each afternoon workshop had a very simple agenda: select two new leaders each week, read the reports of other workshops from the previous week, and write your own report for distribution to other workshops. Discussions in the afternoon workshops would begin with the topics discussed in the readings for the morning seminar and thus continue the discussion of that seminar. To help spark this discussion, the visiting scholar visited each afternoon workshop and participated simply as one member along with the others.

We announced the general purpose of the workshops as the development of schoolyear projects, involving faculty from at least two different segments of higher education, that would help students at these different levels understand better the competencies they would be expected to demonstrate at the next level of education. All participants discussed a wide variety of schoolyear projects: student-run conferences, classes team-taught by faculty and/or students from different schools, reading groups (faculty, faculty-student, student), special events (poetry readings, film festivals, historical celebrations or memorials), campus and class visitations by students from a different level of education (often including campus tours and meetings with admissions' officers on college and university campuses), research and writing projects (from journalism promoting educational issues to formal essays in professional journals, textbooks, and co-edited collections of scholarly essays).

The topic of each summer's institute, as well as the assigned readings and visits by recognized scholars, served the purpose of constituting an otherwise diverse group of teachers as "working researchers," sharing a common vocabulary and thus more capable of imagining common school year projects. Members of the Coordinating Committee envisioned our summer institute relying on models for collaborative learning advocated by such educational theorists as Kenneth Bruffee in Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence, and the Authority of Knowledge (Johns Hopkins, 1993). The "learning communities" of our summer institute—from plenary seminars to small workshops—worked effectively because they drew upon the different educational experiences, expectations, and aims of the participating teachers. In the conventional "research seminar," knowledge is contested by appeal to abstract criteria for truth or validity; in our "research workshops," various knowledges were contested by appeal to their utility in very different educational situations.

By openly acknowledging these different contexts for knowledge, we were able to break down the conventional hierarchy of professor and teacher. The best evidence of this was the fact that the scholars involved in these institutes acknowledged that they had learned from high school and community college teachers in the afternoon workshops and that this knowledge did not center exclusively on pedagogical problems. Further evidence was the success of intersegmental schoolyear projects involving faculty from research universities and high schools, suggesting that university professors recognized that there was as much to be learned from their colleagues as they themselves might contribute. Discussions about partnership programs often revolve around improving the rewards system to motivate the best (and often busiest) educators to participate, but one "reward" rarely mentioned is the knowledge teachers and professors can gain for their own future work in the classroom and their publications.

Much of what I have termed the "different knowledges" that resulted from these collaborative research ventures did come from high school and community college teachers' willingness to connect even the most theoretically abstract or historically remote issues to the everyday conduct of their classes and the lives of their students. Teachers asked without hesitation how we would discuss the sexual and physical abuse of African-American women under slavery represented in Harriet Jacobs' Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861) with the kinds of abuse experienced and/or witnessed by their students. Realizing that they rarely discuss such questions in their classes, most university professors also recognized that such problems are just as prevalent in the lives of college students as they are in the lives of high school students. Teachers were equally quick to ask how contemporary research regarding the social constructedness of gender roles and sexual preferences could best be introduced to students who variously, often contentiously, are deeply homophobic, confused about their own sexualities, hold religious beliefs that condemn homosexuality and/or uphold traditional male-female hierarchies. Despite many intellectual differences, university professors and their students often forget that "liberal education" also involves a certain unspoken consensus that includes respect for cultural and ethnic differences, rational debate, and rules of evidence. It was instructive, then, for university professors to learn from their colleagues in the schools that many of these same irrational forces of social divisiveness may still be operative just beneath the surface of liberal education. "Teaching the conflicts," to borrow from the title of Gerald Graff's important book, might mean both addressing the well-recognized political oppositions in contemporary education and bringing some of the hidden conflicts harbored by students into open debate in the contemporary college classroom, as they are often debated in today's high school classes.

However interesting and innovative our summer institute has been in its organization and conduct, it still raises critical questions about the validity of such work as research. In the Spring of 1996, faculty and students from Orange Coast College, Santa Ana High School, and University High School held a conference on the writings of Sandra Cisneros (one of the authors studied in our first summer institute) on the University of California, Irvine campus. Students presented papers containing traditional literary research; students did dramatic readings of creative writing inspired by Cisneros' work. Faculty and students conducted workshops and panels in the manner of national scholarly conferences, and the "proceedings" of the entire day were shared in various printed and videotaped formats after the conference was finished. Approximately four hundred students were involved in this conference. Without knowing any of the preparation required for the conference, an observer might have concluded that most of what occurred was teaching—innovative, interactive teaching, to be sure, but not the sort of work traditionally associated with research. In order to prepare for this conference, teachers had to raise funds, involve other teachers in the project, compile bibliographies of work by and about Sandra Cisneros, and make all the logistical arrangements. None of this would have ever occurred, of course, had the teachers planning the event not met first in the workshops of our summer institute.

Such work does, in fact, constitute a cross between teaching and research that is already being performed in many other ways and contexts by teachers and college faculty involved in university and school partnerships. There are several reasons why such work needs to be recognized for how it interrelates research methods and teaching practices to produce a new, uniquely valuable educational process. It is important, of course, for teachers and administrators in the schools to make curricular changes in light of current scholarship in the disciplines represented in that curriculum. College and university faculty in these disciplines are the best sources of such knowledge, but it is important to stress that in most fields this is "knowledge" that cannot be transmitted simply as "information." Teachers and administrators must work with scholars to comprehend the full significance of the new scholarship for education at their levels. Although the results of this cooperative, intersegmental work may not be "published" in traditional scholarly ways, it may well be disseminated by alternative means that reach even wider audiences than traditional scholarly publications. In other words, the sharing of such knowledge should be considered a version of "research." By the same token, college and university faculty should learn from these intellectual partnerships that a great deal of their traditional "research" both has relevance to and finds its verification in application to diverse teaching situations. Too many college and university faculty imagine that such concerns belong exclusively to their colleagues in departments and schools of Education, but work in most partnerships teaches faculty from many different disciplines that educational theory and practice should be central to their research.

If scholarly research often deals with changing social and historical conditions, especially in the humanities and social sciences, then partnerships with the schools can give scholars a sort of "advance warning" of generational trends, both in terms of students' responses to traditional knowledge and their influence on what counts as knowledge. Gerald Graff's Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education (Norton, 1992) is an important book for educators in many respects, but no more so than in Graff's frequent reliance on curricular and demographic changes at community colleges and other non-research institutions to chart a course for higher education in the coming decades. In the view from our summer institute, which we shared with him when he visited us in the Summer of 1995, Graff should have paid more attention to how changes at pre-college levels are shaping the research agendas for future scholars in many disciplines. Often enough curricular and pedagogical changes have already occurred at these levels of education in advance of comparable changes in colleges and universities, because changes in student demographics have required teachers to rethink how and what they are teaching. To be sure, not all of these educational revisions have been made successfully, because they have been adopted hastily or without adequate consultation with other experts. But this problem argues even more forcefully for teachers and scholars to work cooperatively in the interest of related curricular reforms at the different levels of higher education.

Finally, the success of school and university partnerships depends in large measure on effective local networks of teachers and scholars that can be initiated by summer workshops, like our summer institute, and maintained by cooperative ventures, like our schoolyear projects. The long-term continuity of such cooperative partnerships, however, is what really matters, and this is often the hardest goal to realize when funding for such programs tends to be tied to annual budgets and the changeable fates and policies of private and national foundations. The best solution to this problem would be for teachers and scholars involved in such partnerships to establish electronic means of communicating and maintaining a common database. One of the first things we do in our summer institutes is provide training in the use of e-mail and establish a listserve for efficient communication. One of our long-term goals is to maintain a database at the University of California, Irvine that would include regularly updated materials—curricula, major and graduation requirements, syllabi, sample essays and tests, bibliographies, teaching evaluation forms and criteria—from all levels of higher education and accessible to interested teachers at any level.

Designing an effective electronic center for local educational knowledge in many different disciplines would be itself a challenging research project in technological, communicational, and pedagogical terms. We also need to encourage scholars to think about how new social histories, new cultural studies, and a host of other new and exciting approaches to human knowledge might best be represented in such databases, in summer workshops and institutes, in outreach programs during the schoolyear, and in the school "in-service" programs focusing on curricular and pedagogical reforms. Such problems of representing our knowledge to other educators and their students ought to be considered attractive challenges from which college and university scholars themselves will learn as they share their wisdom. Rather than accepting the public's cry for "more teaching" and "less research," teachers and faculty involved in school-university partnerships should be arguing vigorously for extending research opportunities to all levels of education. In order to do so, of course, we will have to reimagine what we mean by "research" and its traditional distinction from "teaching."


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