Dr. Patricia Graham: ‘The Global Challenge is in Educating a Character’
Patricia Albjerg Graham, Charles Warren Professor of the History of Education Emerita, is a leading historian of American education. She began her teaching career in Deep Creek, Virginia, and went on to become a lecturer at Indiana University, professor of history and education at TC, Columbia University, dean of the Radcliffe Institute and of Harvard Graduate School of Education from 1982 to 1991. She was President of the Spencer Foundation, the nation’s leading funder of research into education improvement, from 1991 to 2000. She is the first female dean at Harvard where there is a chair named after her.
Dr. Graham is a director of Central European University and Smolny College of St. Petersburg State University. She is the author of a number of books on education. The book Schooling America: how the Public Schools Meet the Nation’s Changing Needs was translated into Russian and published by the HSE. Dr. Graham visited Moscow and St. Petersburg this week. HSE hosted a seminar on the problems of modern education where Patricia Graham provided a wide review on the current situation of American education.
— Dr. Graham, what’s similar and what’s different between American and Russian schooling system?
— I am not expert in Russiam system but my sense is that school systems are not as different as we might think. My guess is that children from well-educated or wealthy families in both Russia and in the United States have more educational, opportunities than children from less wealthy or educated families.
— Describe, please, the situation with public and private schools in the USA. What’s your opinion on the situation with public versus private schools?
— 86% of American schools are public. The rest 14% is divided between Roman Catholic schools and a number of private schools, particularly in the South. There are a few absolutely superb private schools which make about 1-2% of the total number of schools in the country.
— You previously mentioned new charter schools. What is that?
— New charter schools were established about 15-2o years ago. They are free for public and some focus on a particular curriculum emphasis, such as the environment or global studies. The main difference is that they don’t have to hire trade union’s teachers. So, they hire young energetic teachers who work from 08.00 till 18.00 and have to prepare for the next day at home. Those teachers are not likely to last a long time.
— It’s quite fashionable in Russia among wealthy families to send their children for education abroad. Do American parents have the same trend?
— I would say that about 20% of all of American parents are very concerned about getting theit children into the best American universities.
It’s a junior year when students go for studies abroad usually and it’s not about academic studies. It’s mostly about seeing the world, perharps learning the language, and it’s often very expensice.
— Have you met students who came to study in Russia?
— There aren’t many schools who teach Russian. That gives limits. My husband Loren R. Graham came to Russia to study. He was a participant in one of the first academic exchange programmes between the United States and the Soviet Union studying at Moscow State University in 1960-1961. Now he is considered to be a leading scholar on Russian science outside Russia. His recent book Naming Infinity. A True Story of Religious Mysticism and Mathematical Creativity was also translated and published in Russia.
— Is the lack of good teachers a typical current problem for the world education?
— I would name it as a typical problem. There is a big need to support teachers as current practitioners and students as future practitioners. We need to establish more links, more programmes for bringing aspiring teachers into schools. Outreach programmes for students and professional support to current practitioners can add value to education system.
— What would you name as a global challenge for education today?
— To nurture and enhance wit and character. To raise children loving knowledge, innovative, imaginative, knowing how to solve problems. We narrow the wit sometime and we need to expand it. Russians are very good in knowing the facts but there is a question how to use the facts. Americans are good in using facts, but there is need to know the facts better.
The global challenge is helping to develop character: honesty, fairness, respect for others, ability to work hard and to cooperate with others.
— What school would you choose for yourself as a little girl if you would have such an opportunity?
— A school which will help me to learn and let me play.
Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News Service