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Teachers As Scholars Seminar Lauded by Los Angeles Pre-Collegiate Educators
Images of urbanism in Latin America: Mexico City subway.

Teachers As Scholars Seminar Lauded by Los Angeles Pre-Collegiate Educators

The UCLA International Institute Teachers as Scholars concludes successful fall seminar series on urbanism in Latin America, plans three new programs for winter and spring 2004.

Jonathan Friedlander Email JonathanFriedlander

Sixteen teachers from various Los Angeles area high schools and middle schools completed a successful three month seminar series at UCLA this fall on the topic "The Latin American City in Memory, Myth, and History: Perspectives on Contemporary Urban Issues." The series in part of the ongoing Teachers As Scholars program, a national effort to give current academic experience to secondary schoolteachers funded by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Upcoming series in the first part of 2004 at UCLA will include a study of French language literature from Africa, museums as a tool for cultural preservation, and the study and lore of maps.

Over the course of three months last fall, university and pre-collegiate educators engaged in academic discussions that are the hallmark of the UCLA Teachers As Scholars seminars. Designed to energize the teaching profession, TAS is part of a national program sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. It currently involves 26 sites -- and growing -- mostly based at universities, from Princeton to the Newberry Library in Chicago, to the University of Texas at Austin and the University of California campuses in Santa Cruz, Irvine, and Los Angeles. UCLA was one of the first institutions awarded a Wilson Foundation seed grant to embark on this endeavor, which is dedicated to promoting intellectual fulfillment and lifelong learning -- the motto of the TAS program based at the UCLA International Institute.

Professional development in public schools usually focuses on curriculum and pedagogy, and workshops rarely give teachers access to university faculty or time to reflect and discuss ideas and scholarship. Teachers as Scholars is based on the concept of professional development as intellectual development. It reconnects K-12 teachers to the world of scholarship -- the reason many of them became teachers in the first place. Content-based seminars led by university faculty are the centerpiece of the TAS model. The seminars are held on the university campus during the school day, demonstrating that both the school and the university are committed to the program, and insuring that all teachers have an opportunity to participate.

Using the release time afforded by their respective schools, 16 elementary and secondary school instructors and resource specialists interacted with Latin America expert and Global Learning Outreach director Steven C. Williams (UCLA History PhD, 1994) during three weekday meetings (9 am - 4 pm), each held a month apart in October, November, and December 2003. The seminar was organized by the UCLA Latin American Center, and the discussion that emerged focused on contemporary urban issues of the Latin American city as manifested in memory, myth, and history.

"Urban space has been the key center of economic, social, and political development throughout the history of Latin America," said Williams. "In this seminar we examined consistencies and changes in the city, paying particular attention to urban space as an idealization of social geography while contrasting those notions with the realities of everyday life. We focused on these issues through discourse in scholarly books and articles, as well as seminar discussions of urban development using maps, schemas, charts, paintings, and photography. And to provide contrast to the sharp delineation of the Latin American urban ideal, we viewed a variety of contemporary Latin American films. The seminar culminated in a discussion of the rise of the dystopic mega-city and what that portends for the future of Latin America."

"Steve had a very easygoing approach," said one teacher. "Though he is very knowledgeable, he allowed us to form our own opinions and have really interesting discussions."

Seminar participants read I Saw a City Invincible: Urban Portraits of Latin America, edited by Gilbert Joseph and Mark Szuchman (1996), Riots in the Cities: Popular Politics and the Urban Poor in Latin America, 1765-1910, edited by Silvia Arrom and Servando Ortoll (1996), and "Civilizing" Rio: Reform and Resistance in a Brazilian City, 1889-1930, by Teresa Meade (1997).

Williams selected these works to focus discussion on his contention that the populist dialectic of Latin American politics is shaped by the contours of Latin American urban history. In preparation for the seminar, he asked teachers to consider why Meade put the word "civilizing" in quotes, what are the political and ideological connotations of the concept of civilization, how it has been used by other writers, e.g. Freud (Civilization and Its Discontents) or Samuel P. Huntington (The Clash of Civilizations), and how the concept has changed over time.

Discussion of the assigned texts and the issues they raise took place in the morning session of each meeting. In the afternoons the group viewed recent Latin American films relevant to the issues under consideration: Amores Perros, Alejandro González Iñarritu's internationally acclaimed debut feature which follows three storylines as they unfold and intertwine on the brutal streets of Mexico City; Carlos Diegues' Orfeu, set in Rio's favelas, which portrays the city's common folk as they prepare for the annual bacchanalian celebration of Carnaval; and Felipe Degregori's Ciudad de M, a Peruvian film set in Lima that shows brutality and bitter despair for those who dream beyond their means.

The seminar utilizes an open source course management online software system called Moodle which enables teachers to access an array of materials such as maps, charts, chronologies, notes, and other learning objects. Teachers are also encouraged to participate in an online forum on the topics raised in the seminar. "The email and web connections were great ways to continue the dialog and delve more deeply into all the vast ideas we touched on but could never possibly exhaust," commented one teacher.

Teachers can also earn professional development credits from UCLA Extension should they desire to conduct academic work beyond the conclusion of the seminar.

"I love it! This is one of the major benefits for me -- to be rewarded to continue to learn," said Susan Hecht, a senior teaching faculty at Hamilton High School, which sent a team of five to the seminar with the solid support of principal Michelle King. "It's perfect for me," concurred David Steiner. "I am hugely interested in learning and I enjoy the discourse and the reading. Also, the time away from teaching is so important for recharging my idea batteries and inspiring new material. And all of this is independent of the lessons I can formulate from the content." Alan Kaplan added, "Steve guided us with a gentle scholarly authority, and with great sensitivity to the many backgrounds and interests in the room. I especially enjoy getting to know the ideological proclivities and the personality of the scholar. I always get jazzed when I know a lot more walking out of something than I did when I walked in. It means a lot to be part of a scholarly endeavor done for the right intrinsic reasons."

"I find the TAS seminars very stimulating," said Susan Casey, head of the Global Studies Center at the Hamilton High School Complex. "Teachers are often so bogged down with planning lessons, correcting papers, and administrative affairs that they don't get to engage in dialog with their peers. They often engage in discussions about different methodologies and pedagogy, but not about content. This gives teachers a chance to read, discuss, and learn about areas outside their expertise."

Teachers from other schools were equally forthcoming. In her evaluation of the seminar, Patricia Zanger from Northridge Middle School wrote, "The seminar was enlightening and provided outstanding curriculum elements to enliven the unit I use on Latin America. The conversations and discussions were both intellectual and creative. . . . They facilitated interactions between disciplines and teaching professionals that were outstanding. TAS brings the intellect back to the classroom teacher, and the classroom teacher is thereby raised back up to intellectualism."

"I enjoyed the many comments and observations about what history teachers think of Latin America," said Virginia Carter who teaches Spanish at Beverly Hills High School. "Just the fact that we as teachers -- in order to participate in this program -- go through so much trouble to leave meaningful lesson plans, forego prep time and come back to stacks of papers the substitute couldn't grade, is plenty proof of commitment," she added. "It was very useful," said Vanessa Fernandez, also a Spanish teacher at BHHS. "I incorporated the contents and approaches into a project I assigned my students on cities in Latin America."

"To be honest with you, I didn’t know what to expect," remarked Susan Curren who teaches art at Palisades Charter High School. "I almost felt guilty attending the Latin American seminar because it's not my field. But I guess that's the point -- isn’t it? I applaud your goal of allowing teachers to become involved in intellectual discussions purely for the sake of 'ideas' . . . I really wish that more schools would begin to consider the fact that if teachers are viewed and treated as scholars the end results will produce positive outcomes in their classrooms."

"My principal trusts my intentions and respects my choices as an educator," affirmed Danielle Aucoin from Cleveland High School. "I believe wholeheartedly in being a lifelong learner, and too often I don’t have the time to pursue that goal. . . TAS provides that opportunity, in addition to being a great way to network with professionals from other schools."

"The time release is a privilege," said Berendo Middle School teacher Merle Frankel, a National Council for the Social Studies Teacher of the Year in 2003. "I always left the seminar feeling a little richer intellectually. THANK YOU for the respect shown to teachers."

"My overall evaluation is GREAT," reiterated Christine Redlin from Hamilton High School. "The TAS experience is restorative to the teaching soul -- a revitalization of the intellectual muscles and a wonderful coming together of not necessarily like-minded individuals, but ones who are willing to speak their minds and to listen. . . . Working with a scholar was a very worthwhile experience for me, and a good brain stretch. UCLA and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation cannot be commended enough!"

The UCLA International Institute will be offering three Teachers As Scholars seminars in winter and spring quarters, including the Literature of Francophone Africa led by Dominic Thomas, Curating Cultures led by Allen Roberts, and The Politics, Practice and Poetry of Maps led by Sherry Vatter.

The UCLA International Institute Teachers as Scholars program is part of a national endeavor nurtured by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Visit the UCLA Teachers as Scholars website for more information and to enroll in a TAS seminar, or call Jonathan Friedlander at 310.206.8631.

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