Speaking of Education
As I prepare to retire from the APA staff and be "piped ashore," as I was nearly a quarter of a century ago following a career in the Navy, my final salute in this instance is not to the national ensign, as it was then. Rather it is to our nation's teachers at all levels of education.
During the course of the past decade, I attended 50th reunions of my graduating class from grammar school, high school, college and Navy officer candidate school (OCS). As we shared our kaleidoscopic memories of those periods, especially compelling to me was the virtual consensus among classmates about the profound positive impact that certain teachers had on our lives. Yes, this was true even in our Navy OCS class for which Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeants were among the teachers we most favorably (and some, less favorably) remembered. Some of those gathered could even mimic their voices, gestures other mannerisms, or examples of instruction! More important, however, was our sharing of the lessons learned from these teachers...perhaps least important among which was the subject matter they taught. If B.F. Skinner had it correct when he noted that "education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten" (New Scientist, May 21, 1964), the lessons learned from these remembered teachers were vital to our education.
Collectively, the teachers most remembered were very different persons teaching very different types of lessons and subject matter under very different circumstances. Yet, in the composite, they shared a quality that might be characterized as follows. They knew their subject matter, had a passion for teaching and shared that with us. They were disciplined in their approach to teaching and expected us to be the same as learners. They had distinctive mannerisms and pedagogy tactics, and seemed to recognize implicitly that we too were different from one another as learners. They set high standards for themselves and held us accountable to the same. They respected us as individuals and had a genuine interest in and commitment to our personal development-a quality we certainly did not always recognize at the time we were students!
Of course, my story is not peculiar to me and my classmates. It is a story that most everyone can tell or has told about teachers who influenced their lives, who opened their minds not only to new ideas but to critical thinking, who challenged their assumptions about life's expectations, and who nurtured their sense of personal integrity and motivation to serve in society.
Teaching and learning have always been at the core of psychology, not only as the grist for our study of thinking and behavior, but as one of our discipline's major contributions to society. Among our discipline's earliest leaders, William James, John Dewey and Charles Judd were scholars of teaching and the schooling process, each contributing significantly to American education. Within the past half century, Wilbert (Bill) McKeachie's "Teaching Tips"(Houghton Mifflin, 1986) has been recognized across all disciplines as a classic primer for college teachers. Even the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, has benefited from the presidency of two psychologists in its history, the distinguished leader of public service, John W. Gardner, 50 years ago and the noted scholar of teaching and learning, Lee Schulman, currently.
In addition to these examples of psychologists' contributions to the advancement of teaching in general, there have been many scholarly publications on the teaching of psychology itself. The journal publication of APA Div. 2 (Society for the Teaching of Psychology), the 1992 centennial publication "Teaching Psychology in America: A History" (APA), edited by Antonio E. Puente, Janet R. Mathews and Charles L. Brewer, and the more recent 2002 publication "The Teaching of Psychology" (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers), edited by Stephen F. Davis and William Buskist, are nice examples of such.
The mission of the APA Education Directorate is consistent with this history in advancing education in psychology and psychology applied to education. Effective teachers and teaching are essential to the achievement of these mission orientations. Consequently, the preparation and support of teachers is among the highest priorities of the Education Directorate. Toward this end, we partner with others within and outside our discipline who share this commitment. The memories of such partnerships will always remain fondly with me.
To the teachers of psychology, I salute you for your service to our nation's students. Thank you for the privilege of serving with you to advance education in psychology and psychology applied to education!
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