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January 10, 2001


Calvin College English professor Jennifer L. Holberg and a Central Michigan University colleague have launched a new journal whose aim is to help college English professors become better teachers.

The ambitious journal is titled Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture.

The word "pedagogy" is defined as "the science of teaching." But for Holberg teaching is both science and art, an art that she feels has for too long been neglected by many college and university English departments. She hopes the new journal will be a way to help professors think more critically about what they do in the classroom.

Her own experiences as a graduate student (she earned her master's and Ph.D. at the University of Washington) convinced Holberg that thinking about teaching needed to become a higher priority at the college level.

In the Editors' Introduction in the first issue (which made its debut last month at the 11,000-person-strong Modern Language Association convention), Holberg and co-editor Marcy Taylor remembered their experiences as teaching assistants (TAs) in graduate school.

"We found," they wrote, "that the profession paid little attention to issues of teaching; subsequently, as teacher trainers ourselves, we had little information to provide to the new TAs in our program." The duo hopes to fill that void with "Pedagogy," which is primarily funded by Calvin and Central Michigan (along with smaller grants from Seattle Pacific University and the University of Minnesota) and published by Duke University press.

"Teaching at Calvin has always been valued," says Holberg. "One of Calvin's strengths is trying to balance teaching and research. But at many schools the push has been primarily to research and to publish. In that model, one's 'work' is scholarship. And so teaching has become marginalized. What 'Pedagogy' seeks to do is bring scholarship and teaching together. To say that our teaching demands the same kind of rigorous analysis that we bring to literary texts.

"We want to energize the conversations about teaching. We want the journal to be a place where good teaching is valued. We want people to be able to learn from each other. We want to be able to see ourselves as teachers and scholars. Recently, we have seen an expanding of the discussion within the profession about teaching. So we believe the time is right for Pedagogy to become part of the discussion and, in fact, to be a leader."

Holberg notes that many higher education issues -- for example, the use of part-time faculty, the philosophy behind curricular choices, the politics of teaching assignments -- have a direct impact on teaching and thus on students.

Holberg hopes that in addition to current faculty, graduate students will also benefit from the thrice-yearly journal, which boasts an impressive editorial board, including representatives from such schools as City University of New York, Chicago, Penn State, Rutgers, Virginia, Washington, Toronto, Georgetown and Michigan.

"I'd like to see (Pedagogy) become a forum for discussion of graduate professional development," she says. "I think it could become a valuable tool for TA training and really raise the status of teaching at the college level. One of my own professional interests is preparing future faculty so I think the journal will always have that component."

"These are important issues," she says. "How students are taught makes a difference. And those students may themselves go on to teach, perhaps at the college level, but often times at the elementary or secondary level. So there's an important ripple effect. We cannot afford to ignore the scholarship of teaching."

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Contact Phil de Haan.