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Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot Henry Rosovsky
Katherine Merseth Charles Deutsch
Martha Minow

Back to Promoting a National Love of Children
Katherine Merseth
Photograph by David Zadig

Katherine Merseth, executive director of the Harvard Project on Schooling and Children, believes that children and their education should be everyone's most urgent concern, a conviction that makes her a determined though tactful proselytizer in championing that cause at Harvard. She has turned HPSC's offices into an art gallery that displays children's artwork from schools in the Greater Boston area.

Trained in theoretical mathematics, Merseth taught math in the Massachusetts public school system before receiving her doctorate from the School of Education in 1982. From 1983 to 1988 she directed the teacher-education program for undergraduate and graduate students at Harvard. She also founded and was the first director of the school's Mid-Career Math and Science Teacher Education Program, whose mission is to attract professional scientists and mathematicians to high-school teaching. She maintains a strong interest in schools and teaching and would like to see Harvard become more active in offering its expertise to teachers and administrators at local schools.

"I think one huge role for this University is to serve as a model for professional training programs in education," she says. "When we talk about serving the community, this involves connecting families and communities and schools. I see very few programs in the country that are training individuals for work in that very complex web."

David Kearns agrees. The former chairman and chief executive officer of Xerox Corporation, a member of the executive board of HPSC, says, "If we are to make a difference, we will do so only by combining the knowledge and expertise of people in business, law, health, education, and government. It will require the very best minds working on the toughest educational issues in schools and classrooms across the country."

Merseth believes that addressing children's problems requires a diversity of views that refiects the diversity of views in society. Unfortunately, she observes, education issues are highly political; even so seemingly straightforward a subject as reading levels becomes freighted with political overtones when it gets tied to family and community issues. She thinks HPSC's most important goals are the Core Curriculum course on children and the proposed concentration in children's studies. These may do something to overcome what she calls "the marvelous ability we have in our policies to ignore children. The more students learn about children and children's issues, the more likely we are one day to have citizens sitting in the seats of power who will be informed and who will care about those issues."
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