May 10-16, 2002
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U.Va. study reveals suburbs more dangerous than cities
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U.Va. content-based center, high school teachers benefit from grant
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U.Va. content-based center, high school teachers benefit from grant
Photo by Matt Kelly
Professors David Gies (left), Gordon Braden (center) and Victor Luftig discuss plans for U.Va.’s Center for Liberal Arts, a content-based training program for high school teachers, which U.Va. faculty members created in 1984 and which Luftig now directs.

By Matt Kelly

The Arthur Davis Foundations, with a track record of supporting teacher education, has given the Center for Liberal Arts $130,212 to support its mission.

Created in 1984 by University faculty under the leadership of English professor Harold Kolb, the center draws upon its faculty to provide professional enrichment to primary and secondary school teachers. The center’s teacher-scholars focus on content, while most other training programs emphasize pedagogy. Associate English professor Victor Luftig, the center’s director, estimated that the center has worked with about 10,000 teachers, the vast majority from Virginia.

“This is one of the University’s most important forms of outreach,” said David T. Gies, Commonwealth Professor of Spanish and a project director for the center.

The center’s work has been recognized by other states, and educators from Vermont, Georgia and North Carolina have visited to study its program. The center has also sent teams to Modern Language Association meetings to discuss realigning continuing education for teachers.

“We are reflecting the interests of our customers,” said Roland Simon, associate professor of French. “We can pull 60 French teachers to spend a Saturday afternoon in the summer indoors.”

The Davis grant will provide money for continuing research fellowships and new programs at the center, including “Resources for Teaching the Romantics and Dickens” and “The Story of Spanish: Structure and History of the Language,” which will be offered this summer.

In spring 2002, the center will offer one-day workshops, including “Spanish Classical Theater: Who’s Afraid of Lope de Vega?” and “Innovations in Teaching German.”

The center is also running a four-week program in the summer on “Architectural Inheritances: Studies in the Meaning and Legacy of Classical and Medieval Architecture,” with Lisa Reilly, the Horace Goldsmith/NEH Distinguished Teaching Professor in Art and Architectural History at the Architecture School.

Gies said the center has received support from many sources, such as the National Endowment for the Humanities, because the center meets teachers’ needs.

“Teachers rely on us,” Gies said. “They demand it.”

And, being demanding, the teachers make good students.

“They don’t sit there and write down everything,” Gies said. “They question what you say, and you can have a real dialogue with them. They have provoked us and enlightened us.”

College professors and high school teachers have established strong scholarly bonds through these programs.

“Through this we remind ourselves of the larger community of teachers,” said Jonathan F. Miller, chair of the classics department and a project director. “They are our colleagues and this is a collaborative enterprise.”

“It is most rewarding,” said Gordon M. Braden, former chair of the English department and another CLA project director. “They want to be there and are ready to go. They spend their lives talking to children. This is why they are interested in the first place.”

“They have all layers of experience and background,” Simon said. “There is no grade. They just want to learn.”

Teachers recharge their batteries with center programs, Gies said, spending time with adults and having access to major research libraries at a time when teachers’ landscapes have changed dramatically. Over the past five years, Virginia’s Standards of Learning initiative, in particular, has made teaching a different enterprise.

“They are under extraordinary pressure, and this is an opportunity for them to step away from that pressure for a while,” Gies said.

Part of the center’s attraction is that it can offer access to some of U.Va.’s top scholars. And with the depth of the University faculty, there are many ideas to develop and directions the center may go in.

“Kolb’s stroke of genius here was that he wanted the best faculty members, the serious scholars,” Gies said. “They got others interested, and these participants are what we draw on.”

This approach has worked well, with many faculty members making themselves available.

This year, thanks to the Davis money, some of the teachers will be able to continue their research after they return home. The center will finance eight to 10 fellowships over three years at $2,000 each for teachers to pursue a selected topic.

Some research will be done on the Internet, which opens new doors for content and access to source documents. But William G. Thomas, director of the Center for Digital History, said teachers are “starved for guidance.”

“There is not a lot of quality control [on the Internet],” Thomas said. “They are under a lot of pressure to use the Internet to teach in the classroom, but it is not focused. It is an opportunity for the center to help them negotiate the world of information.”

The Davis Foundations are attracted to teacher education projects, said Luftig, who hopes to use the grant as seed money to attract other funds to the center.


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