Standing in front of the 50 students in her education reform course, Graduate School of Education Professor Katherine K. Merseth told her students, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention” to the state of American education.
Merseth teaches United States in the World 35: “Taking a Stand: Dilemmas of Equity and Excellence in American K-12 Education,” the first course to be offered exclusively for undergraduates at the Ed School.
Though there has been a growing interest in education reform at the College—evidenced by the 18 percent of the Class of 2011 that applied to Teach for America—U.S. in the World 35 is one of the few courses on education available to undergraduates.
The class, which drew far greater interest than many anticipated, is designed “to bring education more into focus for undergraduates,” Merseth said.
But beyond just exposing students to opportunities in education at Harvard and the broader world, the course also represents a move for greater collaboration between Harvard’s different schools.
According to Merseth, University President Drew G. Faust spoke with Ed School Dean Kathleen McCartney last year about her desire to create an undergraduate course about education reform to be offered at the Ed School.
McCartney then asked Merseth if she would be interested in teaching the class.
Faust’s interest in the new Gen Ed course is a reflection of her overarching goal for the University, Director of the Program in General Education Stephanie H. Kenen said.
“The president is being very proactive as part of her ‘One University’ initiative,” Kenen said, referring to Faust’s stated mission to foster greater collaboration between Harvard’s different schools.
Kenen added that Faust has been talking to deans and faculty members across the University about designing programs to teach undergraduates.
According to Kenen, the College is required to fund a portion of the salaries of many of the graduate school faculty who teach courses for undergraduates.
To help offset these costs, Faust has asked graduate school deans to contribute resources to the College, Kenen said.
Faust “is trying to encourage the deans of the other schools to, in some ways, ‘donate’ an appropriate course,” she added.
Merseth said she believes the scarcity of education courses available to undergraduates can be attributed to the College’s traditional focus on liberal arts.
“Historically, the College has been very careful about what one might call vocational studies,” Merseth said.