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Our School: Film Screening and Panel Discussion

Watch a free public screening of Our School, followed by a panel discussion, at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22, in the Community Room of the Drake Community Library, 930 Park St., Grinnell, Iowa.

This award-winning documentary follows the lives of three Roma (“Gypsy”) children who participate in a project to desegregate the local school in their Transylvanian town in Romania. With parallels to the Little Rock Nine and the history of desegregation in the U.S., this film uncovers an abhorrent civil rights issue in Europe but also provokes recognition of similar, ongoing racial inequities in U.S. education. Shot over four years, this poignant story captures how racism, poverty, language differences, and special education labels work to disenfranchise Roma children from equitable schooling. It is a captivating, human story wrought with humor, beauty, and tragedy.

Snacks will be provided. Film time is 94 minutes, followed by discussion.

The event is sponsored by Grinnell College's Cultural Films Committee and the Department of Education.



Little House in the Empire

Daniel PerlsteinDaniel Perlstein, a leading scholar of American education, will give a talk on Monday, Nov. 9, titled "Little House in the Empire: Imperialism on the Literary and Educational Frontier." 

The talk, which is free and open to the public, will start at 7:30 p.m. in Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101. The Center for Prairie Studies and the departments of education and history are sponsoring his talk.

"Many children first learned something about the North American prairie from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved 'Little House' books," said Jon Andelson, professor of anthropology and director of the Center for Prairie Studies. "Few realize, however, that Wilder herself claimed to have written her novels in part to teach American children about the New Deal’s totalitarian evils, or that Wilder’s books were shaped by an imperialist ideology, itself an expression of American progressive educational thought of her day."

Perlstein, professor of social and cultural studies in education at the University of California – Berkeley, will discuss these surprising and fascinating connections. He also will compare Wilder to John Dewey, a progressive education reformer in the 20th century.

Both Wilder and Dewey celebrated pioneer self-direction and the authenticity of pioneer life, Wilder through the imperialist ideology of her books and Dewey through educational reform. Comparing the two, Perlstein contends, sheds light on the integral role of the frontier in American educational thought. 

Perlstein is an education scholar committed to the creation of schools that address social inequalities in both American schools and life. He has written on various topics, such as race and class conflicts in urban education, radical school activism, gender, and school violence, as well as the African American freedom struggle. He has been published in various academic journals, such as History of Education Quarterly, Paedagogica Historica, and Teachers College Record.

Grinnell welcomes and encourages the participation of people with disabilities. Accommodation requests may be made to Conference Operations and Events.

Little House in the Empire: Imperialism on the Literary and Educational Frontier

Monday, November 9, 2015 - 7:30pm to 9:30pm
Joe Rosenfield '25 Center Room 101


Daniel Perlstein, Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Studies in Education
Graduate School of Education
University of California, Berkeley

Laura Ingalls Wilder claimed to have written her beloved Little House novels in part to teach American children about the New Deal’s totalitarian evils.   John Dewey embodied America’s left-liberal tradition.  And yet, the two were strange pedagogical and ideological bedfellows.  Like Dewey, Wilder consistently contrasts Laura’s activity and learning at home with the routinized oppressive lessons at school.  And like Wilder, Dewey celebrated pioneer self-direction and the authenticity of pioneer life.  Less sentimental than Dewey, Wilder makes explicit the contrast between the activity of settlers and the presumed emptiness of Native lands, to be filled through the activity of settlers.  Comparing Dewey and Wilder illuminates the role of the frontier in progressive educational thought.  In short, just as the Little House books mirrored the mainstream of American progressive educational thought, progressive educational thought articulated the imperialist ideology that shaped the Little House books.

Co-sponsored by the Center for Prairie Studies and the Departments of Education and History. This event is free and open to the public.

Gallery + Students = Alternative Classroom

The Faulconer Gallery’s thought-provoking art exhibitions benefit more than the casual visitor. Students in courses across science, social studies, and humanities disciplines find that the Faulconer is more than just an art gallery — it’s an extension of the classroom. 

Gallery as biology lab 

“One of the reasons I do art that incorporates biology is the wonder aspect,” says Becky Garner ’15, who took Professor Jackie Brown’s History of Biology course.  

Brown has long been interested in the intersection between art and science. Last year he incorporated From Wunderkammer to the Modern Museum, 1606-1884, a Faulconer Gallery exhibition of books documenting cabinets of curiosity, into his History of Biology course. The exhibition demonstrated the change in scientific thinking over the course of nearly 300 years. Connected to the exhibition, there was a panel discussion of the role of wonder in scientific inquiry.  

Brown has also incorporated the gallery into his First-Year Tutorial. “Lesley Wright, director of the gallery, leads a close looking exercise,” says Brown. It’s a way of teaching students how to examine things closely without going as far as interpretation. Brown’s tutorial performs the exercise in different settings ranging from looking at an animal to looking at art. 

Gallery as race and gender studies classroom 

Last year, Professor Michael Gill incorporated a student-curated exhibition, Decay: The Ephemeral Body in Art, into his Feminist and Queer Disability Studies course. This year, he structured an advanced special topic course on masculinity around an exhibition at the gallery, Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument. This exhibition showed how Time magazine shaped a photo essay by Parks to fit a particular narrative of black masculinity.  

“The cropping and lighting choices made a specific judgment of Red Jackson, the subject of the photo essay, and flattened his expression of gender for a white audience,” says Gill. Gill’s students responded to the exhibition by creating their own as a final project for the class.  

Gallery as education seminar 

Professor Kathryn Wegner took her students to both the Faulconer Gallery and the gallery in Burling Library to view two Chicago-related exhibitions. Students reacted to the narrative construction of Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument and spent time studying Sandra Steinbrecher’s The Education Project Photo Exhibition. The latter was a photographic study of three struggling Chicago high schools. In addition to images and stories of teachers and students, it also profiled journalists, activists, and politicians. Wegner constructed the syllabus for her course on education reform around both the Steinbrecher exhibition and a number of speakers brought to campus by a Rosenfield symposium.   

“We are always seeking ways to make works in our collection and in the gallery a dynamic part of the learning process,” says Wright. “And we work with artists, critics, and scholars — as well as faculty and other on-campus experts — to create a richer context for our exhibitions.”


Shaping Students

Two Mentored Advanced Projects (MAPs) in theatre, one in chemistry, an internship with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and a job managing the campus pub — the key points on Ben Doehr ’15’s resume indicate the chemistry/economics double major’s depth and breadth of knowledge.

Grinnell strives to produce “T-shaped students” such as Doehr, the depth and breadth represented respectively by the vertical and horizontal line of a T. This model stands in contrast to both the traditional university model, which emphasizes depth, and the perception of the liberal arts model, which is sometimes viewed as providing a base of knowledge a mile wide and an inch deep.

When they were applying to colleges, both Doehr and Iulia Iordache ’15 wanted something they struggled to find elsewhere. Iordache was looking for an alternative to the system of higher education in her native Romania, which would have required her to know exactly what she wanted to study when she applied. Doehr wanted to have the opportunity to study physics and economics in depth while also doing technical theatre and design work. 

Both have credited the College with expanding their knowledge within their key areas of study and helping them develop transferrable skills such as critical thinking and strong writing skills.

Developing deeper understanding

Doehr and Iordache point to MAPs as a key means of gaining depth. MAPs offer students the opportunity to work one-on-one with a faculty mentor. The results of these collaborations are frequently presented at academic and professional conferences as well as on campus.

Doehr likes to joke that being manager of the campus pub, Lyle’s, has taught him as much about economics as his coursework has. It’s not that much of an exaggeration: “Managing the pub gave me a very hands-on experience on the practical side of things,” Doehr says. His MAPs with the theatre department also allowed him hands-on work with interactive design. He and fellow student Caleb Sponheim ’15 created a series of three interactive installations in Roberts Theatre.

Iordache also credits her professors — both the degree to which they care about their students’ success and how accessible they are — for the depth of her knowledge. Iordache completed an education MAP that involved traveling to Romania to study the impact of voluntourism on the local population. Initially, she intended to be an economics major, but changed her mind and pursued psychology instead. She added a second major in Russian, and after completing a summer MAP with Assistant Professor of education Cori Jakubiak, decided to pursue international education when she graduates.

Establishing a broad base of knowledge

Iordache came to Grinnell in part because the open curriculum allowed her a chance to explore her interests. Outside of class, her perspective has been broadened by the views of other students. On a regular basis, she finds herself having conversations that relate to what she is studying. “We were talking about dualism in my psychology class,” Iordache says, “and I ended up having a conversation about dualism versus materialism in the Grill with a friend who wasn’t even in the class. It was a great discussion.” Iordache enjoys these kinds of conversations because everyone brings their own knowledge to bear on a subject.

A summer internship with the FDIC helped Doehr realize how his breadth of knowledge benefited him outside classes. He walked in knowing very little about the day-to-day operations of the FDIC, but quickly learned how the organization worked. He worked with a number of young FDIC employees and found that he could write on the same professional level as they could. He credits his liberal arts education for both his writing skills and giving him the ability to tackle new problems without being specifically trained for them.

Intentional Diversity

“Even though I am African-American,” says Zac Ellington ’10, “I don’t think I truly understood the benefits and importance of diversity — not just racial, but socioeconomic, geographic, and experiential — until arriving on Grinnell’s campus with my Posse.”

Posse Scholars are students with extraordinary academic and leadership potential who may be overlooked by traditional college recruiting methods. Each Posse consists of about 10 students who attend college together as a group.

The Posse Foundation recruits students from nine urban areas in the U.S. and then helps them prepare for and apply to participating colleges like Grinnell.

As of 2014, 97 Posse Scholars have graduated from Grinnell, 59 from Los Angeles and 38 from Washington, D.C. Nationally, 90 percent of Posse recruits graduate from college.

Introducing Posse Alumni

Javon Garcia ’14

“I would not be where I am right now without Posse and Grinnell,” Garcia says. “It has given me so many opportunities.”

Garcia counsels and educates Illinois residents through AIDS United Chicago, a group consisting of AmeriCorps volunteers.

In New York, Garcia served as a public health intern for Harlem United and conducted street outreach for the Audre Lorde Project, which provides services for clients with HIV/AIDS. 

“Posse for me is not just for four years,” says Garcia. “We are lifelong friends. It’s just a commitment we have made for life.”

Rosal Chavira ’11

  • Major: Spanish and sociology
  • Position: site lead, Leslie Lewis School of Excellence, Chicago
  • Posse city: Los Angeles

With five brothers and five sisters, Rosal Chavira says college might not have been affordable for her family. After her high school English teacher suggested Posse, she knew college was a part of her future. 

“Grinnell has a reputation for creating critical thinkers and creating educators who go back and serve,” says Chavira, a first-generation college student.

“Being a mentor and teacher is both rewarding and grueling work, but I wake up every morning to serve my students — because they too deserve to see and rise above their circumstance into the greatness they have the potential to become,” Chavira says.

Zac Ellington ’10

  • Major: psychology
  • Position: international program director, World Scholar’s Cup Foundation, Los Angeles
  • Posse city: Los Angeles

“The power of any posse is greater than the sum of its parts, and I was and still am fascinated by the way students of different backgrounds who don’t necessarily share interests come together to be a force for dialogue and change,” Ellington says.

“It helped me understand why colleges, especially liberal arts institutions like Grinnell, strive to look past just test scores when admitting an incoming class,” he says.

Frank, meaningful conversations during Posse Plus Retreats helped inform the entire campus.

“Some of the conversations that started during the retreats became recurring themes in campus dialogues, and I really feel that the retreats helped participating students find their voices,” he says.

Lester Alemán ’07

  • Major: sociology and education
  • Position: program director, Posse Los Angeles
  • Posse city: Los Angeles

When Lester Alemán attended high school, his college plans were underdeveloped.  

“I was thinking very vocationally,” says Alemán, a first-generation college student. “The purpose was to go off and find a career to pay me.”

Fortunately, being nominated for Posse expanded his college possibilities — and it led him to Grinnell.

“I can’t imagine having gone to college without a Posse,” Alemán says.

Posse became an even bigger part of his life after graduation in 2007. Now, he works on behalf of the program to help exceptional students have their own Posse experience. Alemán worked as a trainer for Posse Los Angeles and is now its program director. His academic background as a sociology and education major fit well with building a career at Posse and helping students.

At Grinnell, he experienced “an amazing” Posse mentor, lasting friendships with Posse Scholars, and encouragement to excel academically.

“Posse is a transformational experience,” he says.

Rural Education Summit

Grinnell College is hosting Iowa’s first-ever Rural Education Summit Friday and Saturday, April 4-5, 2014. Nearly 100 K-12 educators, leaders in the field of rural education, and education majors from Grinnell and other colleges will gather to discuss issues facing rural school systems.

Among the featured speakers is Kai Schafft, director of Penn State’s Center on Rural Education and Communities.

Summit topics include:

  • The challenges of recruiting teachers
  • Consolidation
  • Increased poverty

A full schedule and registration information are online.

The Summit is sponsored by Grinnell’s new program on Careers in Education Professions. The program is designed to encourage students to consider long-term careers as teachers and to bring added prestige to the field.

Making Teachers and Education Better

For many young graduates, teaching is a launching pad to successful jobs in policy, social services, and business. But too many people are ignoring teaching’s potential as a career in itself, says Ashley Schaefer, the College’s Lawrence S. Pigeon Director of Careers in Education Professions. Often, young teachers exit the profession just as they begin to excel at it, leaving behind an open position and classroom instability.

That’s why Grinnell, along with the University of Chicago and Amherst College, has started a program designed to help students think about the longterm possibilities of teaching. In addition to courses offered through the College’s education department, the program will provide internship opportunities, speakers, and panels to encourage students to commit to a teaching career. All three schools’ programs are funded through gifts from Penny Bender Sebring ’64 and her husband Charles Ashby Lewis.

By helping students build connections and skills through the program, Schaefer hopes to change not only the perception of teaching as a worthwhile endeavor, but also the trajectory of students’ career paths. “Today, teaching is often one of the last things that students consider doing,” she says. “We want to make it one of the first things they consider.”

Rural Education Summit

Conference registration is open for the program's first conference, the Rural Education Summit, April 4-5, 2014. It is open to all K-12 and college educators, as well as undergraduate and graduate students.  Some of the topics include: school consolidation issues, teacher recruitment, the growth of technology in the classroom, learning and teaching in an Indian Settlement School, and helping minority students and those with disabilities succeed at rural schools.

Kai Schafft, Penn State University's Center on Rural Education and Communities, will offer the keynote lecture at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 4.  The keynote is free and open to the public. Those wishing to attend the conference itself need to register. Early registration ends March 10, 2014; prices will increase $10 after then.

About the Careers in Education Professions Program

Penny Bender Sebring ’64, a life trustee, and her husband, Charles Ashby Lewis, have long believed that improving public pre-K–12 education is one of our nation’s most pressing needs. “It’s both a social justice issue and an economic competitiveness issue,” Lewis says. Sebring and Lewis think that professionalizing education, which is dependent upon attracting top talent and obtaining higher status, is one of the keys to improvement. Sebring co-founded the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research and Lewis is also deeply involved in education improvement.

In countries with the best educational outcomes, top college students are encouraged to pursue teaching as a career, Lewis notes. That is not true in the United States.

Attracting top talent to teaching — as well as to administration, educational research, and policy — is why Sebring and Lewis recently created and initially funded the Grinnell Careers in Education Professions program. The program will provide access to numerous opportunities to help students begin early exploration of education as a career option and then help those interested in pursuing it.

Sebring and Lewis have recently helped start companion programs at the University of Chicago and Amherst College.