The University of Chicago News Office
Jan. 29, 1997 Press Contact: Julia Morse
(773) 702-8359

College/High School Connection Project Aims to Transform Education

Chicago area high school students and University of Chicago college students will gather together this winter to discuss Shakespeare’s The Tempest, using an innovative teaching strategy designed by University of Chicago English and Education Professor Gerald Graff.

“The Tempest is an ideal text to illustrate the current debates about the relationship of art and social issues,” Graff said. “Shakespeare’s position at the top of the canon has long been thought to rest on the ability of his works to speak to all people across all boundaries of time and place. But even he may have been limited by the prejudices and blindnesses of his age and culture. How we read a play like The Tempest seems to depend on our position in this debate.”

By teaching the conflicts, Graff believes, students learn that literature is a vibrant, turbulent field, not just a hoop to jump through on the way to graduation.

Students in Graff’s class “Literature and Society in the Culture Wars” and those in eight high school classes at West Chicago High School and Downer’s Grove High School will read The Tempest along with a short selection of criticism on the play chosen to illustrate clashes between traditional and revisionist readings. Students from the high school and college courses will periodically visit each other’s classes and report back to their classmates.

“This format allows the high school students to gain valuable experience of college-level work, while giving the college students the opportunity to mentor–a role which will involve valuable experience in explaining their work to students outside the college classroom. In addition, the two sets of teachers will learn from each other in a way that the current division between high school and college education tends to preclude,” Graff said.

The high school students will come to Graff’s class on “Literature and Society in the Culture Wars” during the first two weeks of February. Reporters wishing to attend should contact Jennifer Vanasco at (773) 702-4195.

The high school and college students and teachers will gather in a final symposium at
1 p.m. on Saturday, March 8 at Max Palevsky Cinema on the University of Chicago campus. Students will present papers, exchange ideas and engage one another in debates over the current “culture wars” and the place of literature in them.

“This symposium will provide experience in the kind of academic event that is common for professors and graduate students but is all but unknown to college students–let alone their high school colleagues,” Graff said. “By demonstrating to these students the way in which ideas about literature are developed in such public forums, the hope is that they will imagine themselves as able to enter and benefit from such conversations.”

Hillel Crandus, one of the high school teachers involved in the project and a student in Graff’s Master of Arts in the Humanities Program, said that observing college students debate will teach his high school students that literature is valuable. “It shows the high school students how adults disagree. In other words, when two articulate adults engage in a debate, students not only must choose a side to defend or create a third position, but they get a chance to see model debaters. All it takes is one moment, where a student connects with an adult who is articulating a position, for a faith in literary discussion to be sparked.”

The College/High School Connection Project stems in part from Gerald Graff’s recent work Beyond the Culture Wars (1992), in which Graff argues that academic subjects clarify themselves for students at moments of controversy and that teachers need to connect different courses and approaches in order to make academic work more intelligible to students.

The philosophy and the classroom methodology come also from Thomas McCann’s University of Chicago Department of Education dissertation on improving the skills of argumentation among high school students and from the methods of teaching argument developed by McCann and Joseph Flanagan at Community High School in West Chicago. McCann and Flanagan are among the high school teachers who are designing and participating in the project.

Graff has been involved in several high school/college collaboration projects, including one in 1996 at Hyde Park High School and one in 1994 at Chicago’s Mather High School cosponsored by NEH, the Brown University Comparative Literature Department and the Coalition of Essential Schools at Brown.

Gerald Graff, the George M. Pullman Professor of English and Education at the University of Chicago, is director of the University’s Master of Arts Program in the Humanities. MAPH is an innovative new program that attempts to redefine graduate study for our age of multicultural controversy, global communications networks and increasing convergence between the academy and the public sphere.

In its first year, the program boasts 65 students with backgrounds in such diverse fields as secondary education, law, government, industrial design and museum curation and whose ambitions range from further graduate study to continued work in these and other fields.

Drawing on such a range of talents and interests, MAPH is developing new educational structures that break down barriers between disciplines, between the academy and the worlds of business and policy and between university and high school education.
Last modified at 03:50 PM CST on Wednesday, June 14, 2000.

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