Paying tribute to a brief and shining moment: One educator’s perspective

By Morgan Appel, director of UC San Diego Extension's Education Department

As the end of November heralds the 50th anniversary of the end of Camelot — an era popularly characterized by optimism; future think; space flight and the idea of American exceptionalism, one might wonder whether we have seen the end of unbridled exhilaration in the modern era. Vestiges of these times remain — although many now are barely recognizable — modern art; Googie; animation depicting an ambitious and exaggerated future (the Jetsons, for example); among others. Our postsecondary campuses pay a unique architectural homage to the period, replete with honeycombed window panes and foundations jutting skyward. Unfortunately, a good number of these edifices have fallen victim to disrepair or were sacrificed for more technologically and environmentally friendly facilities—too old to be of practical use, but too new to irk the purest of preservationists.

Whilst the media tugs at our historical heartstrings, we also recall that California was a hotbed for the modern era, making its bones on aerospace, entertainment and design. We could only imagine that the pushbutton transmission on our Chrysler might at one point propel us into orbit — or at least to Cocoa Beach. Denizens of Los Angeles saw the last of the Pacific Electric Red Cars give way to freeways and tailfins — and the promise of a Tiki-laden suburban ranch paradise in the San Fernando Valley.

What may not have been obvious at the time was a wonderfully interwoven use of cross-disciplinary education — where engineers and design personnel worked hand-in-hand to develop products that were not only useful, but aesthetically pleasing. The assembly lines continued to rumble in Michigan in a fairly traditional way but even the most reasonably priced DeSoto allowed the driver to feel as though she were in command of an Atlas rocket. So too did our postsecondary institutions value a well-rounded education that developed sound habits of mind that empowered graduates toward success in any field.  Despite strong adherence to a rather draconian factory model of education, our K-12 schools attempted to follow suit in an interdisciplinary manner.

Fast forward to the 21st century and we find an education system that is dogpaddling in the wake of assessment-heavy school reform and cautiously anticipating opportunities to re-infuse creativity into the classroom thanks in part to Common Core State Standards and local funding options. As teacher educators, we have the occasion to seize a unique moment in time — one that empowers us to work with aspiring educators that involves the sciences and the arts alike. We have the opportunity to pull teachers from the mire of No Child Left Behind and lend them a more mosaic-like perspective on the learning endeavor.

The Education Department at UC San Diego Extension believes strongly in a robust and highly differentiated curriculum for its candidates in advanced credentialing and certificate programs. As the reader may recall, we seek to provide a holistic and contextually driven experience that frequently incorporates supplemental professional development in neuroscience and the visual and performing arts. In partnership with other departments and divisions on our campus, we hope to bring the intellectual weight of the University to bear on our K-12 partners with flexibility and fluidity. This is a long-term mission in its infancy — but we know that change agentry has more to do with quality of relationships than it does with haste. So, in the words of King Arthur from the 1960 musical, “Don't let it be forgot / That once there was a spot / For one brief shining moment / That was known as Camelot!”

Indeed, there will never be another Camelot — but fidelity to an encompassing and multidisciplinary view of education in this era certainly pays fitting tribute.

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