History of the Center

“An indispensable function of education, at every level, is to provide sound training in the fundamental ways of thinking represented by history, science, mathematics, literature, language, art, and the other disciplines that evolved in the course of mankind’s long quest for usable knowledge, cultural understanding, and intellectual power. To advance moral conduct, responsible citizenship, and social adjustment is, of course, a vital function of education. But, like the other agencies which contribute to these ends, the school must work within the context provided by its own characteristic activity. In other words, the particular contribution which the school can make is determined by, and related to, the primary fact that it is an agency of intellectual training.”

Arthur Bestor, The Restoration of Learning. 1955


In 1984, a group of concerned faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences banded together in an effort to redress what they saw as a lack of an importance placed on content enrichment in teacher education. What emerged was an institution, directed by Harold H. Kolb, Jr., that brought together professors from English, History, Classics, Politics, the Foreign Languages, Math, and Science, in order to create and administer programs for school teachers and to establish an ongoing relationship between the university and the schools. The structure of CLA was an effective one: each academic discipline would have a Project Director who would determine what kinds of programs and topics would best help the advancement of teacher knowledge in a particular fields.

With early funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and a variety of other state, private and federal sources, CLA sponsored groundbreaking programs for teachers that included one-day Saturday workshops, multi-week summer institutes for graduate credit, off-grounds courses, and trips abroad for intensive study.

When Kolb retired in 1999, Mathematics professor Loren Pitt, a longtime Project Director, took over the directorship; he was soon joined as co-director by Victor Luftig, who arrived at UVa in 2000 from Brandeis University after many years of teaching high school English teachers at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English. These changes coincided with CLA’s moving from the College of Arts and Sciences to the Office of the Provost, and from Zehmer Hall Annex to 2400 Old Ivy Road. Luftig soon became sole director; he secured new funding from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations and highlighted CLA’s achievements as Director of UVa’s “Teachers for a New Era” grant. While Luftig ran TNE@UVa, Bonnie Hagerman served as Interim Director; at the conclusion of the TNE grant, Hagerman became CLA’s Associate Director.

NEH funding continued to be crucial to CLA, fostering teacher seminars by Crandall Shifflett’ on “Virtual Jamestown” and on Norman Architecture, and funding David Gies’s “Cine Con Clase,” a Spanish film archive designed by high school teachers for high school teachers that has garnered interest from instructors from over 40 countries across the globe.

Throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, CLA continued to honor its vow of nurturing relationships between the university and schools, as well as becoming a major player in UVa’s commitment to working with the Coalfields region in the southwest part of Virginia. From 2003 to 2014, CLA worked with the Southwest Virginia Public Education Consortium to secure four Teaching American History grants from Department of Education. Through these grants, numerous UVa faculty traveled to Abingdon to interact with teachers from the 16 school districts within the Consortium, and Southwest Virginia teachers traveled to Charlottesville for residential summer seminars. The third of these grants issued in a certificate program for “History Specialists,” modeled on Pitt’s successful Math Specialists program, and the fourth generated the novel “My History Partner” adaptation of My Teaching Partner, and a new observational tool for measuring the teaching of history content, the Protocol for Assessing the Teaching of History, created by Stephanie Van Hover and David Hicks.

In addition to the programs in southwest Virginia, CLA has almost from its inception offered courses to teachers at Virginia Beach for teachers in that school division. CLA’s on-Grounds programs attract teachers from around the state, including Northern Virginia, the Hampton Roads area, the Richmond area, and southwest Virginia; federally funded programs attract teachers from around the nation.

The grants from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations have dramatically re-structured CLA: the first one created the Arthur Vining Davis Teaching Fellows, teachers who, having developed new knowledge in CLA programs, were funded to continue that work with UVa faculty towards developing classroom materials for their fellow teachers. The second grant added experienced teachers to the roster of UVa’s Project Directors. The third, awarded in 2014, will allow CLA to use evidence to perfect its models of short-term content-driven professional development for teachers and will foster replication of CLA’s models at partner institutions.

Begun as an experiment in 1984, the Center for the Liberal Arts has, for more than three decades honored its mission of offering “programs for K-12 teachers designed to increase their knowledge of the content that they teach.” It has also sustained and nurtured respectful relationships between university faculty and those K-12 teachers as they collaborate with education and technology specialists and master teachers to created pedagogical tools and materials that are used around the globe. The Center now resides at 102 Cresap and continues to enjoy the support of the Office of the Provost. Its administrative assistant is the inestimable Rebecca Yancey.

For Hal Kolb’s extended history of CLA’s first 15 years, click here.

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