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New book champions the role of liberal arts colleges in educating teachers

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY — You have undoubtedly heard of "No Child Left Behind." But a new book, co-edited by the chair of Vassar College's Education Department, argues that no teacher should be left behind either.

Christopher Bjork, associate professor and chair of the Education Department, along with education faculty from ten other colleges and universities, take an in-depth look at teacher preparation in the United States – and find that liberal arts institutions are uniquely qualified to cultivate inspired teaching. Taking Teaching Seriously: How Liberal Arts Colleges Prepare Teachers to Meet Today's Educational Challenges in Schools (Paradigm Publishers, 2007) is the first practical look at liberal arts education programs.

Bjork's co-editors are D. Kay Johnston, professor of educational studies and women's studies at Colgate University, and Heidi Ross, professor of educational policy studies at Indiana University. Contributors to Taking Teaching Seriously include professors from Vassar College, Swarthmore College, Barnard College, Colgate University, Bryn Mawr College, Colorado College, Mills College, Illinois Wesleyan University, the University of Maryland, Indiana University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Over the last decade, dissatisfaction with the quality of instruction provided in public schools has prompted a reexamination and revision of teacher certification policies, according to Bjork and his fellow contributors. And, the reforms that have followed – including mandated assessments for licensure, rigorous accreditation standards for teacher education programs, and complex certification procedures – have produced intense stress on those involved in the preparation of educators. Yet, as policy makers and scholars assess the challenges to teacher education programs, they almost always address those at large research universities.

"Assessments of the state of teacher preparation that do not consider the goals and influences of educational studies programs at liberal arts institutions neglect a vital component of the system," Bjork writes in "Teacher Education in Liberal Arts Institutions: An 'Intellectual-Educational' Endeavor", his essay for the new book. "It is my hope that the data we have gathered can begin to address that omission."

In their collection of essays, the book's contributors emphasize that teacher education at liberal arts colleges differs from programs at larger public institutions. They argue that, unlike large institutions, teacher education in the liberal arts setting is not driven by a desire to help teachers meet student-testing mandates. Rather, it is designed through supervisor-student relationships, philosophical foundations, and approaches to clinical fieldwork to create intellectual habits and reflective practices essential for excellent teaching. As a result, leading figures in the field of education can glean valuable insights from the liberal arts model.

"Liberal arts colleges have a unique role to play in preparing teacher-leaders for public education who can help kids learn to use their minds with power and imagination," Sharon Feiman-Nemser, Mandel Professor of Jewish Education at Brandeis University, says about the book. "Readers of this book will find a picture of teacher education worthy of a democratic society."

Taking Teaching Seriously: How Liberal Arts Colleges Prepare Teachers to Meet Today's Educational Challenges in Schools is available through a variety of outlets including the Vassar College Bookstore (, 845-437-5857) and Paradigm Publishers (, 800-887-1591 or in Virginia 703-661-1592).


Christopher Bjork is an associate professor, coordinator of education, and chair in the Education Department at Vassar College.

He earned his BA in English and his MA in liberal studies from Wesleyan University, and completed his PhD in educational anthropology at Stanford University. Certified to teach both elementary and secondary school, he has worked as a classroom teacher in public schools in Japan and the United States, as well as at Nishimachi International School in Tokyo.

His research interests include international and comparative education, educational reform in Asia, educational decentralization, and teaching cultures in Indonesia and Japan. He is also the author of the book Indonesian Education: Teachers, Schools, and Central Bureaucracy (Routledge, 2005), the editor of Educational Decentralization: Asian Experiences and Conceptual Contributions (Springer, 2006), and the co-editor of Education and Training in Japan (Routledge, 1997). His work has also appeared in journals such as Comparative Education Review, Anthropology &, Education Quarterly, Phi Delta Kappan, and International Review of Education.

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential, liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Friday, November 9, 2007