Speaking of Education

On board for five months now, I continue to learn about the diversity of programs within APA's Education Directorate that further the work of our governance board and committees.

For this column, I have decided to share some of my initial musings as I discover more and more about the organizational features of our discipline. For example, I am often in meetings where I hear groups talk about their "constituencies," and I reflect on what that means for education. Obviously those who work in educational settings are our constituency, and that turns out to be over one-third of full-time employed APA members. (In terms of primary work settings, educational settings account for 32.4 percent of full-time employed members, followed by independent practice 31.8 percent, and hospital/clinics 16 percent, according to data from the 1999 APA Directory Survey.)

Our multiple roles

But there is also considerable overlap in the work settings of our members; for example, nearly 25 percent of those whose primary employment is in an educational setting have secondary employment in a practice setting. Moreover, many psychologists working solely within educational settings participate in multiple roles of teaching, research and practice, and many of those working outside of educational settings have significant interests in education. In fact, 46.8 percent of all full-time employed psychologists report involvement in educational activities. More basically, however, I don't believe that the "education constituency" should be defined solely by occupational activities, since as a basic premise I believe that:

  • Education is fundamental to science.

  • Education is fundamental to practice.

  • Education is fundamental to the integration of science and practice in the public interest.

Given these beliefs, I find the concept of stakeholders as more relevant to the directorate than the traditionally named constituencies. And the stakeholders for education include all of psychology, as well as the public--as the teaching of psychology in the schools is truly public education, and the application of psychology to education affects the public welfare.

Inappropriate labels

I must also admit that I feel uneasy when labels are used for various groups in psychology as if they conveyed mutually exclusive categories. Maybe it's because it reminds me of my early days in practice 25 years ago, when I received consultation requests from physicians who wanted me to tell them how much of a particular problem was in the patient's "head" v. "body"--the old "functional v. organic" question. I have spent years educating physicians and other health professionals that psychology had a scientific knowledge base and practice relevant to both "mental" and "physical" health--and that they were asking the wrong question. Most of them finally stopped (although requests for services grew); as they had increasingly learned that the biopsychosocial model cannot be segmented into its component parts without attention to interactive efforts, and that the very use of dualistic language actually made integrative attempts more difficult.

More recently I've heard concerns by graduate students about categorizations in our own discipline, about language that leaves them wondering how to identify themselves as young professionals and with APA--language, for example, that has been reflected in our own descriptions of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students as comprised of two kinds of students: science and practitioner. What if students want to be both, or what if they want to teach as a primary activity? What if they want to do it all? I have spent years looking at our discipline through the eyes of our graduate students, and have appreciated their dilemmas when they feel asked to identify a particular career path very early in their development. Some are quite sure, many are not; data suggest that their ideas often change. How then should we promote their socialization into our discipline and their identification with APA?

Just as all psychologists are stakeholders in education, so are psychology educators stakeholders in the entire discipline. I believe that the Education Directorate should serve an integrative function for psychology, but it should be an integration that fosters excellence, not just integration for integration's sake. As former Executive Director Jill Reich so often noted, the breadth and diversity of our initiatives, and the number of interested stakeholders, is both a strength and a real challenge for the directorate. I am committed to furthering her efforts to foster collaborative partnerships across APA, across organizations within psychology and external to psychology, and across all levels of education. Given what I believe about education and its role in our discipline, I will also do my best to avoid the language and conceptual traps that could further unnecessary centrifugal forces. I invite readers' vigilance regarding this.

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