In the summer of 2005 I taught EDCI 5870: Seminar in Foundations of Education to a group of music teachers from across the state of Wyoming. During the conversations regarding the history of public schools in the United States one student sat in the back nodding her head agreeably. From time to time, she’d make a comment similar to “yes, I remember Grandma telling me about that.” After this occurred a number of times, I interrupted to query “Is Grandma still with us?” Upon hearing that she was, and still lucid, I immediately set out to schedule an interview.
Thus I travelled to Gering, Nebraska, where I watched my first seven-member football game and ate my first Runza. I found a family in which three generations out of four were teachers; all three agreed to interviews. The same questions were asked of all participants with some minor variations and follow-up based upon responses. In an interesting afternote (that, had I not been sitting there, I wouldn’t believe as it appears too contrived) the great-great granddaughter is also planning on being a teacher as well—and the cycle continues.
Like all too often happens, those tapes and field notes went into a file, which moved from university office, to home office, to closet in home office, waiting to be dusted off, transcribed, and used. If the ultimate goal of doing oral history was to make public the findings, clearly I had fallen short. Time went by, and I was assigned various committee assignments in addition to my teaching and scholarship, one of which was the university Library Council. During one meeting, the library announced a new online initiative to digitize and post student and faculty-generated research. As the librarians presented idea after idea, page after page of holdings already migrating to the online server, that briefcase full of tapes and field notes leapt back into my mind, and the idea for this site was born.
This content is part oral history, part set of challenges. Teachers in the U.S. have developed a bit of an inferiority complex. All too often educators become overly modest when becoming self-referential, saying “I’m just a teacher.” This is wrong on a number of levels. The basis of this project is that NOBODY is “just” a teacher: The public schools are both a reflection of, and a contributor to, society as a whole; accordingly, teachers are some of the primary agents that shape society; and, as such, every teacher’s story is worth telling.
In addition, there has developed a dearth of instruction nationally regarding the foundations of education. Colleges of Education put more and more emphasis on “scientifically proven methods” in their preservice preparation at the expense of the philosophical and historical foundations that shaped our current practice. Teacher stories from a variety of periods prove, time and time again, that if educators simply pay attention to what has come before, we would quickly realize that there is not much truly new in education and that we can learn quite a bit from those who have dealt with these issues before.
The challenges are twofold: the first is to all those involved in education, be they classroom teachers, preservice teachers, school/district administrators, faculty in colleges of education, or the politicians who determine educational policy. Now is the time to move the phrase “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it” from cliché to reality. Please use the resources and materials gathered here with your classes, your colleagues, your peers, your elected officials, or whomever you find getting involved in public school policy. The second challenge is to build the materials in this. If you know a veteran teacher who’s stories should be recorded, are aware of previously conducted interviews looking for a good home, or for any other reason wish to participate, please see the “Get Involved” page (link this).Acknowledgements:
Edward Janak wishes to express his gratitude to the following for their help and assistance throughout this project:
- First and foremost to Chad Hutchens, Head of Digital Collections, for starting this project as a sideline to his work, keeping it alive for longer than he should, then turning it into an excellent holding;
- To Dean Maggie Farrell, UW Libraries, for freeing up server space and library personnel to help with this project, and Kelly Visnak, Scholarly Communication Librarian, for keeping the project on people’s radar;
- To Dean Kay Persichitte, College of Education, for her ongoing support of my research in historical foundations and life writing;
- To Mary Garland and the facilitators of the Mary Ellbogen Garland Early Career Fellowship for providing the assistance to allow me to study oral history methods and archiving;
- To Elinor Maze and all at the Institute of Oral History, Baylor University, for hosting their ongoing series of oral history workshops that provided a source of support and advice;
- To the Biographical and Documentary Research Special Interest Group of AERA for working hard to continue to provide a public space for the exchange of ideas regarding life writing;
Submissions from 2013
Interview with Cheri Grutkowski, Chaunacey Ary
Interview with Jim Lash, Philip Goodell
Interview with Ken Detweiler, Bryonna Mulvaney
Interview with Rodney Gene Mahaffey, Jason Murdock
Interview with Connie Rogers, Sara Simpson Ressler
Interview with Kim Savage, Christina Shatto
Interview with Patty Johnson, Aaron Temple
Interview with Jim Woodard, Alex Vernon
Interview with Edward Steve Cassells, Samantha Rachelle Urban Wittrock
Submissions from 2012
Interview with Victoria Robinson, Heather Tyrrell
Submissions from 2011
Interview with Sylvia Hansen, Jami Anderson
Submissions from 2009
Interview with Ethel Gifford, Edward Janak
Interview with Jeri Revelle, Edward Janak