Speaking of Education

In previous columns I have reported on a number of initiatives relevant to psychology and health. Health is one of our nation's major concerns and my own background in teaching, training, research and practice at the interface between psychology and health helps me advocate for psychology's potential.

However, the mission of the directorate is decidedly broader, and in this column I would like to address issues related to psychology and education. Education is one of our nation's greatest concerns, and psychology and APA have much to offer.

In addition to the expertise of directorate staff, I have benefited from the wisdom of APA's advisory groups, most recently the Task Force on Early Education and Care originated by Laura Barbanel and chaired by Barbara Wasik. I have spoken with colleagues from school, developmental, child and educational psychology, as well as with leaders in other disciplines. Most recently, I read Seymour Sarason's 2001 book, "American Psychology and Schools: A Critique."

Maximizing psychology's relevance

Sarason expounds upon psychology's potential for much greater contribution to public welfare through an increased mission in schools and education. He describes our history of social responsiveness to the needs created by World War I and World War II, and challenges us to rethink our education and training of future psychologists in terms of the nation's needs for educational reform. He cites a number of changes he believes are necessary to maximize psychology's relevance:

  • Increase appreciation for applied research.

  • Emphasize contexts of productive learning.

  • Pay more attention to individuals in their sociocultural and organizational environment.

  • Focus on prevention.

  • Develop a direct pipeline between "the science of psychology and the artistry of teaching."

  • Increase involvement in teacher education.

  • Provide training opportunities for immersion in the school culture.

  • Conduct research on unintended effects of standardized testing as well as the correlation between classroom performance and real-world settings.

He urges us "back to the future" with perspectives from APA founders such as G. Stanley Hall, William James and Lightner Witmer--all who remind us that our roots as a discipline and a profession are in education. And Sarason asserts that "learning as process, as a developmental phenomenon, as the glue between internal and external world, always in relation to contexts" is the conceptual tie that provides a shared identity for our discipline.

Future developments

Sarason raises concern about the lack of pressures on American psychology to increase its interest in education. Yet themes of relevance to education were significant features of the meeting of the Council of Directors of School Psychology Programs and the Houston Conference of Counseling Psychology this past winter. And our colleagues in Div. 15 (Educational) are tackling issues related to standards for teaching educational psychology and translating psychological research to education policy. Psychology's internal pressures for increased social relevance appear strong.

I am also pleased to report that rethinking psychology's role in education is a major theme of the Education Leadership Conference to be held in September--an event for groups across all levels of education and training to address issues of mutual concern, promote a shared disciplinary identity and, where appropriate, affect public policy regarding education in psychology and psychology in education (see page 12).

Some initial questions chosen for study are:

  • What should every preschool, elementary and secondary teacher know and be able to apply from psychological science that is relevant to classroom teaching and learning?

  • How should psychology be part of the K­12 curriculum?

  • What knowledge should students have obtained by the end of elementary school, middle school and high school and in what psychological/behavioral skills should students be competent at each of these levels?

I eagerly anticipate hearing how participants will tackle these issues; their work will provide the groundwork for materials that APA can contribute to national conversations on educational reform. If you'd like to add to these discussions, put it in writing, and I'll be sure it is available for conference participants.

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