Student Spotlight: Jay Shuttleworth ☆

Jay is a Social Studies and Education Ph.D. candidate.  He consults with new teachers in the South Bronx and recently began a two-year preceptorship in Columbia College’s Core Preceptor Program. Jay was a History major at the University of California Davis and received his Master’s degree from TC in the Teaching of Social Studies.  He is a Fulbright Scholar and a Northern California native.

Can you please share your educational background?

I did my student teaching at LaGuardia High School and then decided I wanted to return to California to start my teaching career.  I took about six months off to recover, because anyone who is familiar with that program knows it is challenging.  I taught for nine years at Winters High School, which is 45 minutes outside of Sacramento in the farming community.  It was great—probably the best first job I could have had.

The decision to pursue your Ph.D. was tied into your Fulbright work, correct?

Yes.  I went to Japan on a Fulbright Memorial Scholarship in 2004.  My objective, along with other cultural aims, was to learn how Japanese Social Studies teachers taught about World War II.  I went all over the country.  I went as far north as Shiu Giri, which is above Nagano, all the way down to Hiroshima.  Of course the responses varied.  What I found from the process is that inquiry into education was very interesting.  I really enjoyed the interaction with the teachers and the students and learning how they approached education.  At that point, I realized it was something that I wanted to do long term.

You chose to come back to TC?

Yes.  The department had a lot to do with it.  I was looking very seriously both at TC and at Stanford.  The fact that the program was offering me a teaching position was a major deciding factor.  I began in 2008 and was an instructor for three years in the Social Studies and Education program.  I’m grateful for that time.  This year I’m coordinating INSTEP and working on the Core.

What is it that you are tasked with teaching as a Core Preceptor?

Contemporary Civilizations.  We start with Plato’s Republic and we take it to 1939, with everybody in between, including Nietzsche, Freud, Aristotle, John Locke.  We look at the big questions:  What is happiness?  What is justice?  What makes a good leader?  How do you know these things?  Questions that we might wonder on our own, but we are looking at it through the lens of books they think are important.

You have an interesting take on “the canon”.

The canon itself is worthy of discussion, since it is mostly Euro-centric and mostly male.  Even in this day and age—I was surprised.  Though it is easy to ask if Plato and Aristotle were feminists, based on their writings, because gender is an irresistible theme.  But I am surprised to see it is more of a traditional canon.

Is the Core still relevant, 80 years after its creation?

I think it is worth it for a few reasons.  The discussion of the canon in itself is always a worthy discussion.  It seems to be valuable for a close reading of a text under the guidance of an instructor with a small group of students in a close space with common ground.  It’s a good opportunity for the students to get to know each other.  They will each get to host a small segment of a class where they bring in a question or two that they want to talk about.  Those types of opportunities where they get to take risks intellectually and socially in a safe environment can be tough on a large campus like Columbia.  I think the meaning of the course is more of a personal growth opportunity.

I imagine you have students in your classroom who are scientists and mathematicians, and who might otherwise never touch this material.  What does that mean to you as a teacher?

I prefer to have a diverse group because then our common ground is the content.  Instead of this being a really deep Philosophy class, this is kind of a History/Philosophy survey course where our common ground is each other and the books.  So we have to come together to find out who we are as people.  I prefer it.  That intellectual leap that I have to make and they have to make is what makes the class worthwhile.  Not that they can draw on years of coursework.

Will you be a different teacher when you teach the course next year?

Absolutely.  I think I’ve over planned, thus far.  Which, of course, is the hallmark of a new teacher.  I’m looking forward to taking a more playful approach with the curriculum.  When we talk about Socrates’ Allegory of the Cave we watched the part in The Matrix where Neo had to choose between the red and the blue pill.  It’s difficult for students to remember the material when this is one of many classes, so I am going to try to enhance my own craft with brining in those types of activities.

Your research has to do with sustainability education.  Can you please explain it?

My dissertation is on how do Social Studies teachers teach sustainability education as a social issue.  Sustainability education for years has been couched in the Science Education Department, looking at things like pollution, overpopulation and loss of resources.   Science education often stops short of asking the social issues, like, “Whose responsibility is this?”  For at least the past 15 years, researchers in our field have said that Social Studies should claim part of that dialogue.  I think the research about how it could or should look is rich, but nobody seems to know what it should look like in the classroom.  In the age of No Child Left Behind, I think public school teachers are reluctant to add things to the curriculum if their administration is so big on them teaching to the standards.  I’m currently working in conjunction with TC’s Science Education program to create a sustainability curriculum with National Geographic and the University of Iowa. That’s my trajectory.

What will you do with your degree?

I would like to do what I have done for the last three years in the program, which would be to work with pre-service Social Studies teachers.  I would like that to be at the university level, ideally in New York City or on the West Coast.

You haven’t gotten California out of your system!

When you’ve crossed the Sierra Nevadas on foot on a day hike, the appeal of the region is strong.    That said, New York City, TC, and the main campus have all been good to me.  I’m especially grateful to Anand Marri, Margaret Crocco and Bill Gaudelli—and I’m looking forward to getting to know Sandra Schmidt.  They’ve all been great and have really given me a platform from which to jump from.  TC has provided so many great opportunities.  Opportunities that I could not have foreseen before I came here.