Monday, December 09, 2013

Thanks to My Teachers, Part 7: James M. Giarelli

When I was in a doctoral program in educational theory at Rutgers University in the 1990s, obtaining a degree was my third in a long list of priorities for attending graduate school.

My first reason for enrolling in the Graduate School of Education was probably the opposite of what most students enrolled there would say. I wanted a stronger theoretical foundation. I felt that I was intuitively a good teacher, but I was weak in pointing to the theoretical foundations that supported my approach. I achieved that goal by reading twice as much as the requirements on the educational philosophies Plato, Aristotle, AugustineAquinasErasmus, Vico, Dewey, Freireand many others whose concepts preceded the trendy ideas of today by centuries. 

My second reason was publication. I intended to make publishable essays of my class assignments. This decision made me do more than triple the work that professors expected of their students. For instance, if an assignment called for a 500-word summary of  Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory (95 CE), I would also contrast it with Comenius's The Great Didactic (1638 CE), leading to a 5,000-word essay, because the more exhaustive research would appeal to academic journals interested in publishing the piece. Needless to say, such a practice would annoy most professors, who just wanted to do the minimum in developing their students' perspectives and wisdom. Not James M. Giarelli, who patiently gave feedback and guided me through to my dissertation, which was as much as three times longer than my peers' work. The result was publishing more than a dozen articles in various professional and scholarly journals.

That third reason, actually getting the doctorate, has proved useful in my career. But if I had not achieved the first two aims, the third would have never happened.