Three prominent academic-honor societies for high school and college students are banding together to improve liberal arts education and to counter what the organizations’ leaders say is a growing public perception that technology- centered skills are of more value than studies in the traditional disciplines.
The National Honor Society has joined the Phi Beta Kappa Society, the venerable honor society for college and university students, and Phi Theta Kappa, which recognizes academic achievement among community college students, in creating the Alliance for Educational Excellence. The alliance, unveiled here last week, will include enrichment programs and expanded efforts to provide more support to teachers and students.
“American high schools and community colleges, as well as four-year institutions, are under pressure to train a workforce rather than to educate a community,” said Douglas Foard, the executive secretary of Phi Beta Kappa. “Students think they can take a one-year certificate course in computer networking and programming and start earning $50,000 a year,” he said. “It’s imperative to communicate to faculty and students that they must learn how to live a life, rather than simply have the skill to earn a living.”
Advocates of in-school preparation for the world of work have defended that emphasis, saying the hands-on and “real world” curricula enrich instruction.
“We’ve been aware that there has been criticism from some corners that things like school-to-work and tech-prep and other programs focusing on creating a workforce work to the detriment of the academic pursuit of kids,” said David Bond, the vice president for education/employer partnerships for CORD, a Waco, Texas-based organization that creates tech-prep programs. “Whether or not a student is going to work in that field, these programs have enhanced the classroom.”
The Washington-based Phi Beta Kappa has rarely reached out to other organizations in its 223-year history. But in recent years, the society, which has 17,000 student members and 260 chapters nationwide, has felt the need to encourage strong liberal arts curricula in secondary schools and two-year colleges, Mr. Foard said.
Since 1994, the society has provided resources and workshops for students and teachers involved in the National Honor Society, which was created in 1921 and counts more than 18,000 member high schools around the country.
Beginning in the fall, the alliance will sponsor satellite seminars for high school and college students and instructors that explore the meaning of community and the factors that strengthen and weaken bonds between citizens. The organizations will also seek grants to create summer professional- development institutes at leading liberal arts universities and to provide awards to outstanding teachers.
“This ultimately provides new resources for teachers and our students,” said David P. Cordts, the director of student activities for the Reston, Va.-based National Association of Secondary School Principals, which sponsors the National Honor Society.
Phi Theta Kappa, an organization with 82,000 student members, will share curricula and resources from its Honors Study Program, a theme-based interdisciplinary program formed with Phi Beta Kappa.
The organizations hope the collaboration will encourage students to continue to pursue high academic achievement throughout their educational careers.
A version of this article appeared in the May 02, 2001 edition of Education Week as Honor Societies Form Alliance To Bolster Liberal Arts Education