After more than 30 years of offering secondary teacher certification through the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Program (and a minor in education studies since 1998), Bryn Mawr College now offers students here and at Haverford the option to major in Education Studies through the new Education Department.
“There was a time when people could only imagine that you would study education if you were planning to become a classroom teacher,” says Alice Lesnick, term professor and chair of the Bryn Mawr/Haverford Education Department. “And that's a good reason to study. We have a large, wonderful group of students and alum who are classroom-based or school-based educators. But of course, education is an academic field that people do a whole lot of things with and from.”
Professor of Education Alison Cook-Sather has been part of the Bi-Co Education Program/Department since shortly after its founding in the early '90s, and along with colleagues including Lesnick has shaped the program to enact a partnership approach to education and to be a leader in enacting and promoting “student voice” in education. So, it should come as no surprise that when it came to applying to become a primary field of study, students took the lead.
During the fall semester, Cook-Sather offered a half-credit independent study course for Education students to help create a major proposal for the undergraduate Curriculum Committee. Eight students applied and joined the group: Emma Adelman ’25, Kat Erickson HC ’25, Claire Ford ‘25; Joanna Gu 23, Olivia Harkins-Finn ‘23; Isabel Martin HC ’23, Sunny Martinez HC ‘24 and Thea Risher HC ‘24.
“I was surprised by how much input and voice I had in the creation of the major,” says Claire Ford, who helped draft the proposal and now plans to double major in education and sociology. “It was unlike anything I had done before because there weren’t just student voices being listened to, but rather we were the voices creating the major. We, as a group of eight or so, were able to directly put our ideas and thoughts into this proposal.”
“As students, we knew what the needs are for the major, and we tried our best to make sure those were addressed,” adds Joanna Gu, who will be graduating this year with an education minor.
After the students spent the semester working on the proposal, Lesnick and Cook-Sather refined it over the winter break and submitted it to the Curriculum Committee at the start of this semester.
Made up of five faculty members, the Curriculum Committee is empowered to make a variety of curriculum policy decisions, including changing a program of study from being offered as a minor to a major.
“The Curriculum Committee found the proposal for the educational major compelling for its demonstration of curricular depth and clearly articulated pathways for majoring students,” wrote Associate Professor of History Anita Kurimay on behalf of the committee. “The proposed major will integrate well into the existing curriculum as well as department and program offerings at BMC. The Committee was impressed by how thorough and thoughtful the proposal was in terms of specific data collected for both Bryn Mawr and peer institutions.”
The major offers students the choice of five specializations. All five entail studies of how knowledge, culture, language, and power interrelate and bear on teaching and learning across contexts. Each is studied within the overarching frame of research, policy, and practice, and focused in one of the following arenas: Secondary Education with Certification (paired with a major in the discipline in which students plan to teach), Secondary Education, Higher Education, Elementary Education, and Out-of-School Contexts. The option to complete a minor remains, both for those students seeking secondary teaching certification and those seeking a more general preparation for lifelong teaching and learning.
“We're not expanding our offerings or our staffing. We are offering, basically, a clarification of possible pathways through existing curriculum that students have been pursuing for a long time. Having those constitute a major legitimates students’ choices to pursue these paths,” says Cook-Sather. “It signals to students that the choices they make in study and in practice are recognized by the institution.”
The designation as a major also recognizes the importance of education as a field of study that extends well beyond teacher preparation.
“Any of us who do professional work of any kind end up in teaching and learning and mentoring relationships,” says Lesnick. “A lot of students are interested in being part of organizations and institutions that make change, broaden access, increase representation, or change unfair structures. All of those efforts involve education.”