In 1949, CASDA was founded by a group of educational leaders from Eastern New York with the goal of linking the New York State College for Teachers with area school districts. The primary purpose of CASDA at the time was to examine emerging educational challenges and provide professional development to K-12 schools in the Capital Region, which were rapidly changing due to post-war expansion. Since then a lot has changed at CASDA and in the field of education. In order to showcase these changes, as well as the similar challenges we still face in our schools today, we will be featuring articles from CASDA newsletters dating as far back as our founding in order to showcase the education challenges we have faced in the Capital Region over the past 67 years. Our first article was written by William E. Vickery of the State College for Teachers and was featured in our Fall 1950 newsletter. It addresses the establishment of SUNY’s Center for Community Studies that was set up as a “laboratory” for teachers to test theories in community relations and develop new ideas and techniques to bridge the gap between teachers and community organizations.
“A Laboratory in Community Relations for Teacher Education”
By William E. Vickery, State College for Teachers, Albany
At the beginning of its fall term, the New York State College for Teachers in Albany announced that it had established a Center for Community Studies, operating in part under a grant of ten thousand dollars from the Bureau for Intercultural Education, New York City. The University of the State of New York, of which the College is a constituent part, gave the project its unqualified approval, and provided support roughly equal to the private funds. Simultaneously, the College announced the appointment of a Professor of Intercultural Education who, in addition to his instructional duties, would serve as director of the Center.
In at least one important respect, the establishment of a professorship of intercultural education at the New York State College for Teachers marks a unique development in American higher education. The professorship at the State College in Albany is the first of its title and function to be supported only by regularly appropriated public funds in a state university. The appointment is not contingent on any special grant, nor is it conceived of as a temporary project or experiment. Rather, it represents the conviction on the part of the University of the State of New York and the State College for Teachers that all teachers should know how to work constructively in the field of community relations, and that instruction in this field is therefore an integral part of pre-service and in-service teacher education.
The Center for Community Studies was set up in conjunction with the professorship of Intercultural Education to help provide the “laboratories” that are as necessary for community studies as they are for science courses. Teachers cannot acquire the knowledge and skill they need to do effective work in community relations from textbooks and lectures alone. Practial experience in working with other people on specific inter-group problems is needed too, if teachers are to extend their social sensitivities and perfect their skills in democratic leadership. The Center, then, will help teachers and prospective teachers find laboratory situations, in their schools and in the wider community, where theories in community relations can be tested and new ideas and techniques developed.
An equally important function of the Center is to find ways of bringing schools and community organizations into more productive working relationships. It is unfortunately true that communities have rarely used as fully as they could the resources of school faculties. On the other hand, teachers have frequently failed to utilize community resources either to improve instruction or to broaden and deepen their own relationships with the people whose children they teach. In most cases, this separation of school and community runs counter to the wishes of all concerned, but no one seems to know quite how to break down the barriers. The Center hopes to identify both the obstacles and the means by which they can be overcome.
Operating within this framework, the Center has, therefore, a threefold function: to systematize the study of the factors which make strong democratic communities, to teach school teachers and administrators how to utilize this knowledge, and to develop their own skill to strengthen the communities in which they work and help the communities which serve as its “laboratory” to solve their own problems in intergroup relations.
The fundamental idea behind action studies of community relations is that the average American town or city is in some ways a single unified community, and in other ways a collection of many communities. There is, for example, the community of the old families and the newcomers, of the owners and managers of business and of the people who work in stores and factories. There are the difference church communities – Catholic, Protestant and Jewish – and the communities defined by the congregations and parishes that make up each of the denominations in the city. There are Americans of different racial backgrounds and various ethnic origins, each with a community more or less distinct from the others. From still another point of view, there are the communities of the young and old, of men and women, of rural folk and city dwellers. In short, towns and cities may be defined as geographical areas or as recognized subdivisions of the State, but in the last analysis, communities exist in the minds of people who say to themselves, “this is my group, this is where I belong.”
Despite the fact that people who belong to such communities learn somewhat different ways of life, members of all the groups have some life goals that are essentially the same. For example, they want a job that fits their individual interests and abilities and gives them rewards commensurate with the work they do. They want a good home, plenty to eat, and some of the luxuries as well as the necessities of life. They want a chance to raise their families in reasonable comfort and security, and to give their children an education that will fit them for whatever place in life they have the ability to fill. They want to enjoy full civic rights and assume the corresponding responsibilities that living in a democracy implies. They want to feel that they are a part of the total community life, first-class citizens of the town, the state and the nation.
The Center’s job is to find out what kinds of relationship between groups in the community help people reach these goals. If we can identify these relationships and incorporate them in everyday community life, we are likely to have the kind of society that promotes both the happiness of its individual members and the welfare of the people as a whole. We can build a society that is strong yet flexible, unified, yet providing room for differences in opinions and ways of living.
Another aspect of the Center’s work is to discover the various kinds of intergroup relations that are socially destructive, that prevent people from getting what they legitimately want and need. Perhaps the most obvious illustration of such relationships is one group’s using its power to deny opportunities to the members of another, restricting the educational opportunities of minority groups, for example. But illustrations of this sort by no means exhaust the range of possibilities. The Center will study all kinds of intergroup relations in the community that tend to develop self-centered, malcontented people and thus lead to a disorganized, unproductive society.
Obviously, the job that the Center has undertaken is a big and complex one. But having a permanent base for such studies will mean that there is an opportunity to put valid ideas to work over a long period of time. Even more, it means that there will be a chance to try out new ideas and profit by mistakes as well as by successes. Above all, it represents a way for both the College and the communities of the State it serves to work together in educating teachers who, through their continuing work in the school and communities, can extend the ideas they learn through the Center until the goals we hope for are finally attained.