2018 PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS: Chasing the Elusive Muse in the History of Education.
My professor in the course was the famed educational philosopher, Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon. Dr. Sophie as we called her at that time had us read Plato, Rousseau, Alfred Whitehead, W.E.B. Dubois and Dewey. Most of these philosophers were unknown to me except for Plato. What Dr. Sophie taught me was to read these works out of context, which feels counterintuitive if you are a historian. To do this, Dr. Sophie developed a method called interpretive discussion. She would come up with a basic question. It could be for example: Why does Rousseau believe that it is better to learn by oneself than learn from others? When we got back to class the following week we would have prepared more questions tied to the basic question. This would help us better understand the text.
For example, below is one of my questions I developed for Dr. Sophie's class when we were reading Rousseau's Emile:
In Book III of Emile, pg. 172, paragraph 2, Rousseau writes, "The issue is not to teach [Emile] the sciences but to give him the taste for loving them, and methods for learning them when this taste is better developed." Does Rousseau mean that it is best to help inspire students to acquire the tools necessary for learning to take place over one's lifetime? Or does Rousseau mean, that it is more important to motivate the student to become a learner than to teach the basic skills like reading, writing and memorization? And if so, how can a student use his motivation for learning to learn by himself, even if he has not learned the basic tools for solving problems? Would this create a frustration in the learner and cause the learner not to learn by himself?
At the end of the class discussion, which would typically go on for the entire class session, we would come up with a shared meaning of the text. It was a mentally challenging and grueling process. That really helped us to think. It felt like we had taken apart the text, put it back together and we did it again and again, each time in a different way.
My philosophy of education course taught me to think in a way that I was not used to. Like Dr. Sophie's class, my studies in history also taught me to think. The greatest misconception about history is that it is about memorizing dates. History teachers hate when people say this. My work as a history teacher was far more complex and important than memorizing dates. I got my students to think and helped them develop their critical thinking skills. This was one of my primary goals as a teacher. My style of teaching was what Dr. Sophie called, "Teaching through Discussion," which I learned from her. What this means was that what my students had to say was just as important as what I had to say. They had to of course back it up with evidence, but ultimately, they had to figure it out for themselves if they were going to learn it. I was there to guide their learning and challenge their ideas.
I started my teaching career as a history teacher at Lincoln Park High School in Chicago. I taught World history and European History, and I loved it. I had students who lived in multimillion dollar homes in the well-to-do Lincoln Park neighborhood and I also had students who struggled making it by in Chicago's most impoverished communities. I tried to teach history as a story. Kids love to hear stories because it sparks their imagination. Kids can translate a teacher's words into real life images in their heads. No other living species in the world can do this like the human child.
I have noticed in recent years we have had some wonderful paper presentations. Many of them were published in our journal. I have seen papers that take a "micro" historical approach; papers that look at important individuals and movements, papers that consider what Fernand Braudel called the longue dure, and papers that discuss the impact that a historical event has today. These papers are no different than what one will find at other historical associations around the world. They are very good.
Sometimes it is hard for us to find our inspiration when writing about the history of education. When I was studying history, I read this wonderful book by Richard E. Eaton The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier 1204-1760. It exposed me to the history of the Islam in Bengal, something I knew very little about. It led me to Marshall Hodgson, William McNeil and Leften Stavrianos' work on world history.
Professor Eaton starts his book with a dedication to Clio. Below his dedication, he writes 2 P.M., 15 November 1978, as if to say this is when Clio gave him the inspiration for his book. We could imagine Mr. Eaton siting behind his desk. He is trying to figure out what to write. He is tearing pages and pages from his typewriter, when suddenly, his office window blows open and like the wind, a muse covertly sneaks into his office and whispers into his ear: "The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier." In great jubilance Mr. Eaton jumps out of his chair and says, "Gosh Darn it, That's it!"
Today many scholars worry that their work will never get noticed. The truth is people do not read as much as they used to. Newspaper articles also seem shorter than in past years. People often just read the headlines, or just skim through the article. Even the news channels try to do the thinking for you. There is a lot out there and many people just don't seem to know whom to trust. During the Middle Ages, monks controlled most information which was found in books and stored in libraries. They were also a minority of people who knew how to read and write. During the Scientific Revolution, much of what was published was in Latin, which also limited public access to information. Today, the issue is not access to information, there is plenty of that out there, but the challenge is disseminating which information is true and which is not.
Many people get their news from Facebook and Twitter. I even saw a post on Facebook after Hurricane Harvey of President Trump saving two kittens. The person that posted the doctored photo wrote, "Just another example that the Fake news media is not reporting the truth!" It is true that most published journal articles are read on average by three or four people. I am sure that not many people outside the field of Islam in Bengal have read Mr. Eaton's book, but Mr. Eaton sought to tell the truth to his readers.
We must remember that in world of "Fake News" and "Alternative Facts," we are guardians of truth. At the most basic level we are expected to get the facts right. To do this we ask Who, What, When, Where. When we analyze historical information we ask How and Why? We can debate how something happened or why it happened, but the facts are facts, and they do matter.
If we cannot agree on the facts we cannot build upon our pre-existing body of knowledge. The point is that an article that is read by three people and gets the facts right has a far greater impact than an article that is read by one hundred thousand people and gets the facts wrong. If anything, the article that gets the facts wrong only impedes furtherance towards truth and knowledge.
While the Muse can sometimes be elusive, we do not have to search far and wide to find her. In Mr. Eaton's case, she finds us. I find my inspiration through reading, writing and talking to my colleagues and students and also by asking the right questions. My academic work focuses mostly on the history of education in Greece after the Greek Revolution in 1821. I try to answer such questions: how does education shape national identity, how do nations decide what to include in their history textbooks, and what can be considered an education today? I am currently working on a project concerning how teachers at the most under-resourced schools in Chicago are forced to come up with creative and innovative ways to teach their students. I call this the "Miltiades's Syndrome" after the famed Athenian general Miltiades who defeats an overwhelming Persian army along with his men at Marathon. I see teachers in the same way. When they are expected to fail in their classrooms, they succeed through their creativity and determination to help their students.
Now about the conference and organization. We have had a good turn out this year and some great papers presented. I would like to congratulate everyone for a successful conference. For the last three years OEH has met at North Park University. The conference has been held in Chicago for more than a decade. I am happy to say that financially we are in healthy shape. This is mostly because of the work of John Laukaitis, our past president, who was able to take the organization out of the red and into the black. Our financial situation is important and we need to continue to take a frugal financial approach when it comes to our expenditures.
However, the organization also needs to grow. Anne Marie Ryan who has done an impressive job organizing this year's conference found that we had more paper submissions than we could accommodate. I believe that our advertising efforts to reach a greater audience, our continued efforts to recruit graduate students, will only help OEH grow in the future. The future of the organization however is found in our young scholars. They are doing some cutting-edge work. Many of them understand how important a peer-reviewed paper is when applying for an academic job. We should work with them in helping them to get their work published and recognized.
Many of the presenters who attend the conference encourage their students to attend. I've even noticed that many of the participants began
attending as graduate students and now bring their own students to the OEH conference. I would like to commend these individuals for their hard work in farming in our next generation of OEH members. We are a boutique organization. We are small enough where people can get to know each another, and we are also a welcoming community.
The last two years we have even had two international scholars and I have noticed attendees from parts of the country that were not represented in the past. As the organization grows we should also re-consider our membership fees and our conference attendance fees. They seem a bit high compared to other organizations. I would even like to see graduate student fees be reduced.
Finally, it has been 53 years since Kenneth Beasley and Gerald Gutek founded OEH as the Midwest History of Education Society. Many of us were not yet born when the organization was founded. We have had a long history and many notable scholars have come through here. It is a place where we share ideas, make new friends and connect with old friends. It has been a pleasure serving as your president and I look forward to seeing all of you next year in Kansas City. Thank You!
Theodore G. Zervas
President, Organization of Educational Historians, North Park University
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|Title Annotation:||ARTICLE 1|
|Author:||Zervas, Theodore G.|
|Publication:||American Educational History Journal|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2019|
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