For the past few years, undergraduates at Harvard have been hungry for ways to be involved with the field of education, either as a future career or as part of their belief in public service. Unfortunately, except for a couple of individual courses offered at the college, which are difficult to get into because they are so popular, and the formal Harvard Teacher Fellows Program, it hasn’t been easy to dive into the issues around teaching and learning.That changed in the spring when it was announced that starting this academic year, undergraduates would be able to choose education studies as a secondary field, the Harvard equivalent of minoring in a subject.
This first-of-its-kind collaboration between the Ed School and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) involves five approved courses that students can take at either school, plus a capstone project.Senior Lecturer Kay Merseth, M.A.T.’69, Ed.D.’82, helped lay the groundwork when, four years ago, an undergraduate approached her with the idea to push for the education minor.“We worked up a proposal for education studies and then began a very long process of getting it approved,” says Merseth, who started teaching United States in the World 35: Dilemmas of Equity and Excellence in American K–12 Education, in the fall of 2011 — at the time, the only education class for undergraduates. (That first year, 90 students vied for 47 seats. Now, 400 students routinely sign up for the lottery, and Merseth has expanded the course to two sections of 75.)
This new education minor, she says, offers many more options for undergraduates.“What this does for Harvard College students is provide a loose structure whereby students can study different strands of education studies: economics and education; learning and psychology and education; social policy; inequality in education, and so on,” she says. “We found, when looking for relevant courses, that there were actually quite a few, but it took some searching to find them. Now they will all be listed in one place and students can choose different areas of focus.”Merseth, who retired last year from administrative activities but still teaches, says there will also be monthly events for those interested in education studies to get together, hear speakers, have debates, and learn about internship opportunities.
“This will provide undergraduates with a ‘home room,’ in a sense,” she says. “They will also have an easier time finding sympathetic faculty working on research that might interest them. I frankly think this is huge for the Ed School and for the college as well as for the field. Now college students will be able to see multiple ways to get involved in education beyond becoming a teacher. Some might decide to teach through the Harvard Teacher Fellows Program, but this broadens the potential for the engagement. I am beyond thrilled about this!”