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Harvard is a School. It Should Value Education. Part II.

By Meaghan E. Townsend, Contributing Opinion Writer
Meaghan E. Townsend '21 was an English concentrator in Lowell House.

Sequels are often worse than originals. I wish this one did not bear writing.

Last February, I condemned the deferral of General Education 1076: Equity and Excellence in American K-12 Education, Harvard’s seminal K-12 education course. Now, I write to protest the abrupt, furtive cancellation of the Harvard Teacher Fellows. Harvard has now dismantled its two primary pathways into teaching. In doing so, the College inflames a longstanding rash of hypocritical negligence towards education.

When I eagerly joined HTF in November 2020, I never suspected that I would be among its final members. I now know I skated across an ice bridge that melted right after I crossed. As of this coming year, HTF has been “subsumed” by the Teaching and Teacher Leadership Program.

Two key failures, of communication and ownership, have tarnished this redesign. Most vitally, the application for the TTL residency track is due today, Nov. 1! And prospective Harvard applicants have not been given a fair chance to learn about and apply to this program.

In autumns past, you couldn’t set foot in an education-related space at Harvard without hearing about HTF. But it being subsumed into TTL has been kept ominously quiet. There was a single TTL info session earlier this month, nothing on the HTF website until two weeks ago, and seemingly no emails sent to get anyone interested in TTL — not even to the Education Secondary listserv. Even today, on its application due date, the TTL website still lacks any concrete details about the number of fellowships.

It should raise a red flag that a program soliciting applications advertised itself so poorly. If TTL is so promising, why not shout it from the rooftops? “HTF is being brilliantly reimagined, and anyone who was formerly interested should apply to TTL!” Instead, this thundering silence suggests a desire to go unnoticed — or contentment to allow fewer Harvard undergraduates to teach.

Even now, to my knowledge, no one has directly told current fellows of our program’s cancellation. TTL leadership ruptured a crucial chain of communication present in any program: Current fellows advise and recruit interested applicants. HTF’s current cohort is the best-positioned to inform the next class of undergraduates of TTL’s existence. We should have been among the first told. Instead, to friends who have asked, “Does Harvard have a teacher education program anymore?” I’ve had to say, “I don’t know.”

TTL’s communication has been not only sparse but entirely reactive. Until a concerned professor reached out on behalf of confused students two weeks ago, last year’s deadlines remained on the HTF website. It wasn’t until The Crimson wrote an article on TTL (after I reached out suggesting the coverage) that HGSE put out a self-praising press release on the program.

Now, at today’s deadline, any communication is too late. Our current HTF cohort has 33 members, with many more applications turned away. As of Oct. 27, only 40 people have started a TTL application.

These failures of communication also obscure programmatic drawbacks. TTL offers some advantages: namely, openness to non-Harvard students, and the flexibility to choose either a residency or internship track. But Harvard cannot tout these positive changes without acknowledging two major disadvantages.

Where HTF required two spring courses, providing six months of training before we entered classrooms in July, TTL fellows now have only a nebulous “spring core experience.” Without bearing academic credit, this will, at best, amount to a glorified book club — leaving teachers far less prepared.

And while HTF funded every student, TTL does not. Instead, “top candidates” will compete for limited fellowships. Harvard’s Graduate School of Education will accept more tuition-paying students and likely shell out fewer scholarships. This change need not be nefarious to be damaging. Gone is another central facet of HTF: the drive to make teaching viable for Harvard undergraduates of all financial backgrounds, some of whom might otherwise choose more lucrative fields. This will surely happen more now.

Especially frustrating is the fact that Harvard created, then undermined these programs. It’s not that Harvard didn’t offer a great K-12 education course or teacher education program. Gen Ed 1076 was among the most popular courses at Harvard; HTF built its size and capacity each year. But decision-makers either didn’t understand or value these programs, and so dismantled them. With Gen Ed 1076, Harvard missed a golden opportunity to adjust in response to over 1,000 alumni, students, and professors urging the course to be renewed. There might have been a similar outcry around HTF, were this situation not kept so clandestine.

I am sick of Harvard’s hypocrisy towards education. And I’m devastated that future undergraduates have lost the opportunity of HTF — and won’t even know what they’re missing. Harvard is relegating education to the storage closet and deluding itself if it thinks that students will still find their way there. Or, perhaps, the College doesn’t particularly care to have its alumni land in classrooms. Teachers don’t cut big checks.

Twice now, Harvard has quietly axed opportunities that encouraged its undergraduates to teach. The least we can do is make things less quiet. Do administrators understand the cumulative gravity of these choices? Do they care? Do you?

I have every hope that TTL can be a new and improved HTF. But Harvard must: first, extend the deadline; second, clarify the number of spots and fellowships offered; and third, acknowledge its missteps with an apology. If you agree, email TTL Faculty Co-Chairs Victor Pereira and Heather Hill to demand these three things — before today’s deadline.

Meaghan E. Townsend '21 was an English concentrator in Lowell House.

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