April 16, 2001
The Main Idea of Education
By Eric Rangus email@example.com
Eleanor Main understands the misconceptions, and the pitfalls, that can befall educators.
I can remember being a freshman advisor in the early 90s,
she said, leaning across her desk to tell a story. One of my advisees
was a young man who had been born in Vietnam and had come to this country
and graduated high school in West Georgia.
The first thing he said to me was, Im one of those
Asians whos not very good in math. He felt through his educational
experience that people would assume he would be very good in math.
You know, political science was not an area women were supposed
to go into, Main said, appearing to change subjects, but not really.
In 1966, Main was just the second woman to earn a doctorate in political
science at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Women now make
up more than half the Ph.D recipients in the subject.
The new century, as well as the last decade of the old one, has brought
a proliferation of women into higher education.
The effect of this demographic shift is still being felt, and it could
result in a fundamental change in the teaching process, Main said. Whether
this is a good or bad thing, or a little of both, is
The first question you have to ask is whether you have to change
[teaching], and if so, how do you do it? Main asked. There
are some people who think women and men learn differently. I worry about
carrying that kind of analysis too far. You could get to the point of
saying, Women cant do this, and men cant do that.
Its a line that sounds suspiciously like very old-school thinkingnot
the sort Main has ever been involved in.
There are real challenges here, Main said, here
being the Division of Educational Studies, of which Main is director.
She was named to the position in January after spending the last 15 years
as an administrator (two in the college and 13 in the graduate school),
most recently as associate provost for graduate studies.
Education is so much at the forefront of the needs of American
society today, she continued. We at Emory have the opportunity
to look at these issues.
Located in the North Decatur building with a roster of just eight faculty,
educational studies sometimes might be overlooked, but that doesnt
mean its invisible or irrelevant.
What we are doing is trying to rethink and recalibrate our focus,
which is concentrated on urban and comparative education, Main said,
adding that she hopes to expand the faculty, as well as fill a couple
of open positions in the near future. She also is looking to promote one
of the divisions most interesting offerings: the Bridge to Teaching
program, which offers students an easy transition from undergraduate work
in the college to a graduate-level education curriculum.
The Bridge to Teaching program, as well as the division in general, will
be on display at an open house next Monday, April 23, in the Harris Hall
parlor from 45:30 p.m. The target audience is sophomores and juniors
who might be interested in earning teacher certifications in middle or
The 2-year-old Bridge to Teaching program is unique in that students
can enroll in graduate education courses during the second semester of
their senior year. When they graduate with their bachelors degrees,
they have just 12 months of coursework remaining until receiving their
Master of Arts in teaching.
Mains move to educational studies marks a new beginning. She first
came to campus in 1969 as an assistant professor of political science.
At the time, she was one of just four female faculty members in Emory
College. She helped form the Emory Womens Caucus in the 1970s, which
eventually became the Presidents Commission on the Status of Women.
Her service appointments and professional activities take up several
pages on her CV but here are some of the highlights:
She was a founding member of the Georgia Womens Political Caucus;
she started the political science internship in the college (which led
to a longstanding professional relationship with former governor, now
Sen. Zell Miller); shes an adviser to the Center for the Study of
Public Scholarship; and she has sat on dozens of Emory committees.
Main first met Miller when as lieutenant governor he spoke to Emorys
political science interns. In the late 1970s, she invited him to teach
a course at Emory, which he did for three straight years.
I believe that a universitys relationship to museums and
schools and government is extremely important, Main said. We
have a role to play in interacting with other institutions of society.
That doesnt mean everybody at the university has to be doing it,
but there should be some people building on these kinds of relationships.
A native of Queens, N.Y. (she still has a slight Northeastern accent),
Main, perhaps surprisingly, is an expert on state and local politics in
the South. She chairs Emorys task force on Southern studies and
sees subtle differences among all the states of the old Confederacy.
Given the growth of the Atlanta metropolitan area and the influx
of people from outside the South, Georgia is different from Mississippi
or Alabama, Main said. One of the wonderful things about state
politics is that no state is exactly the same as another.
Not only does her move to educational studies give Main a new beginning,
it also marks a return to the old days. For the first time in 10 years,
she will re-enter the classroom, teaching a freshman seminar this fall
in the politics of education. Its a responsibility that makes her
both excited and nervous.
But Ive always been nervous before a semester begins, she admitted. One of the nice things about being in academia is that youve got a new beginning every year.