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Toward Effective University-Public School Partnerships: An Analysis of a Contemporary Model

by Ira Harkavy & John L. Puchett - 1991

Universities can contribute significantly to the improvement of human welfare by directing academic resources toward solving problems. They need a radical mission-oriented focus devoted to using reason to improve the human condition and local public schools and school districts. The article describes programs that have succeeded to this end. (Source: ERIC).


In 1990 America, there is an unprecedented recognition that we as a nation face unprecedented problems. Education, health care, human services, criminal, judicial, indeed nearly all major societal systems seem to be in a state of crisis, unable to function effectively and to meet their professed missions. The state of our cities is the most dramatic and severe example of that state of crisis. Our cities are beset by the numerous plagues of crime, crack, poverty, illiteracy, infant mortality, teenage pregnancy, welfare dependency, and family and community disintegration.


These interconnected plagues are so deep, complex, pervasive, and destructive that they have shaken the enduring American belief in a better future for all our citizens. An August 11, 1989, New York Times article, entitled “In Cities, Poor Families Are Dying of Crack,” captured that growing sense of hopelessness and despair: “Yet almost worse than the breakdown of the family are the isolation and sad acceptance expressed by so many people in the affected communities as if crack has become a final plague they cannot overcome.” A Philadelphia Inquirer article published on the same day sounded a similar note of pessimism, albeit from a very different source. Responding to a study that concluded that schools of medicine are failing to respond to some of our most pressing public health problems, the president of the Association of American Medical Colleges remarked, “Most of what [is] . . . suggested I agree with. But in many instances, there isn’t a hell of a lot that we can do about it.”


The noted University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman coined the term “learned helplessness” to describe passive and defeatist attitudes and behaviors that result from repeated failure. [1] It is a truism to state that overcoming feelings of learned helplessness among the poor and disadvantaged is crucial if their lives are to be made better. It should also be a truism that overcoming learned helplessness in our institutions of higher learning is essential for solving urban problems. That is, the learned helplessness of universities and colleges is a luxury they and society can no longer afford. It has and will increasingly become a matter of institutional necessity for urban universities to devote themselves to helping to solve the problems of the city.


It is generally recognized that universities have done precious little to help collapsing urban communities. They have, in general, behaved in a most short-sighted fashion, allowing urban pathologies to deepen and to grow around them. Failing public schools, devastated neighborhoods, high crime, and a fortress mentality do little to create a positive campus ambience. Moreover, given the condition of our cities, it is appropriate to question whether institutions of higher learning are fulfilling their civic responsibility. It is even reasonable to ask whether colleges and universities can legitimately and effectively foster a civic consciousness among students given their own disregard of their neighbors’ plight. At the very heart of genuine civic responsibility and social solidarity is the concept of neighborliness, the caring about and assisting of those living near to us. Exhortations to overcome self-centeredness and to develop an ethic of service will necessarily have little effect if institutional behavior belies those sentiments.


Universities have also been short-sighted because they have missed an extraordinary opportunity to work with their communities and to engage in better research, teaching, and service. In Greek mythology, Hercules defeated Antaeus by holding him in the air and depriving him of contact with his mother, the Earth. The separation of universities from society, their aloofness from real-world problems, has similarly deprived universities of contact with a necessary source of genuine creativity and academic vitality.[2] To put it another way, universities can make increasingly significant contributions to both the advancement of knowledge and the ‘improvement of human welfare if they direct their academic resources toward helping to solve the concrete, immediate, real-world problems of their local geographic communities.


There has been a growing recognition that universities should play a significant role in helping to reduce the multiple crises facing our cities. Universities and colleges are being increasingly pressured to act, but in order for them to act effectively, they must overcome the burdens of history and tradition. In particular, they need to overcome the fragmentation of disciplines, overspecialization, and division between the arts and sciences and professions that are characteristic of all major research universities. These departmental and disciplinary divisions have served to increase further the isolation of universities from society. A 1982 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) report entitled The University and the Community noted, “Communities have problems, universities have departments.” [3] Beyond being a criticism of universities, that statement neatly indicates why universities have not contributed as they should. Quite simply, their unintegrated, fragmented, internally conflictual structure and organization work against understanding and helping to solve highly complex human and societal problems.


In its most fundamental form, the fragmentation of the university is expressed in the separation of its three missions of research, teaching, and service. In nearly every admissions brochure, commencement address, and convocation exercise, reference is made to the significance of each of these missions. They are, moreover, presented as of a piece, a seamless web that exemplifies higher education’s noble purpose. Anyone associated with a university, of course, knows better. Only research really counts in tenure and promotion decisions, and a wide division exists among the three missions. That separation has had most unfortunate consequences. Among other things, it has resulted in less effective research, teaching, and service. All three missions have been impoverished by what might be termed a false trichotomization. For example, that false trichotomy has contributed to an enormous imbalance in the production of knowledge.


Dazzling advances have occurred in university-based research in science and technology. New ideas, concepts, technologies, approaches, and techniques are developed with ever increasing rapidity. Although designed to improve human welfare, the application of scientific advances too frequently results in new and more forbidding problems. The wondrous possibilities of new medical technologies, for example, have become distorted, helping to create a health care “system” unresponsive to the ‘low tech” preventive needs of the vast majority of citizens. How to make rational use of science and technology should be a primary focus of university research. It should be a primary focus because it is a primary problem facing human beings in the late twentieth century. If universities creatively applied good systems theory and had an integrated mission-a mission that creatively, dynamically, and systemically integrated research, teaching, and service-intellectual resources would be significantly devoted to developing humane applications of scientific knowledge to help those living in conditions of profound poverty and neglect. Given the hardening of disciplinary divisions, the institutionalization of fragmentation, and the narrow, discipline-based reward system of academia, it is much easier to call for change than to produce it. From recent experiences at the University of Pennsylvania it is clear, however, that change can occur. Our approach has been to advance academically based public service- service rooted in and intrinsically tied to teaching and research. Among other things, it is an approach that seeks to integrate the research, teaching, and service missions of the university, and to stimulate intellectual integration across the institution.[4]


We have found that the very nature of concrete, real-world problems, particularly the problems of the university’s immediate geographic community, encourage genuine interschool and interdisciplinary cooperation. No single component of the university can significantly help understand and reduce the complex, myriad interrelated problems of the urban poor. In combination, however, advances can be made, and that combination must go beyond the various components of the university. It necessarily must also include other institutions, including public schools, businesses, unions, community organizations, government, and voluntary associations.


What is being called for is, obviously, a radical reorientation of the American university to become, once again, a mission-oriented institution devoted to the use of reason to improve the human condition. That mission was the driving force behind the organization of the modern research university in the late nineteenth century. University presidents of that era worked to transform the American university into a major national institution capable of meeting the needs of a rapidly changing and increasingly complex society. Imbued with a boundless optimism and a belief that scientific and social scientific knowledge could change the world for the better, these captains of erudition saw universities as leading the way toward an effective and humane reorganization of society.


To a significant extent, research universities did function as leadership institutions from the 1880s until 1914. The buoyant optimism and faith in human progress and societal improvement that marked the so-called progressive era ended, however, with the brutality and horror of World War I. American academics were not immune to the general disillusion with progress. The disillusion led to a retreat into a narrow scientistic approach-an approach that increasingly separated scholarly research from the goal of helping to create a better society. [5]  The need for universities to function as leadership institutions, however, is greater than ever before. The interrelated complexity of today’s problems requires a broad, comprehensive view that transcends institutional particularism and avoids, as much as possible, confusing institutional with societal interest. Research universities, in principle, are the only modern institutions both designed to encompass the broad range of human experience and devoted to the use of reason to help deal with the enormous complexity of our society and world. As such, they are the closest approximation we have to a universal institution-an institution whose particular mission is the general mission of societal improvement and whose resources, when appropriately organized, enable it to contribute to achieving that general mission. Universities are, of course, a long way from realizing their professed goal. No matter how compelling the societal need, how pressing the problems that confront us, it will not be easy to reorient America’s research universities


Merely copying the strategies of our late nineteenth century predecessors will not do. Their task, although enormously difficult, was much simpler than ours. That is, the university they set out to change was much less developed; the institutional interests and bureaucracies they attempted to redirect were much less entrenched; and the two cultures of academic and practitioner they worked to bridge were much less distant and articulated. Moreover, their general problem, particularly the general problem of urban universities, was how to manage unprecedented growth and development. Devising effective strategies for urban revitalization in a period of decline necessitates a more fundamental reorientation. Given the severity of the problems before us and the institutional barriers that exist within the university, a massive and thorough change is the appropriate goal. Bold proclamations and minor tinkering will simply be overwhelmed by the forces of inertia and the status quo. Bold proclamations will also mean another false start-and false promise-for urban communities in need. A qualitative leap forward is required, a leap forward that harnesses the university’s broad array of academic resources to the task of contributing to the revitalization of our rapidly changing and deteriorating urban environment. No other institution has the prestige, intellectual resources, and stated mission to lead the way. Quite simply, it can no longer be university business as usual for the sake of our universities, cities, and nation.




Since the late 1980s, a growing number of American universities have sought to redefine their community roles and relationships. At the heart of this attempt has been a concentrated focus on local public schools and school districts as a locus of social improvement. Models to which advocates and critics alike frequently refer include the Boston University-City of Chelsea experiment, John Goodlad’s National Network for Educational Renewal, James Comer’s efforts in New Haven, and the work of the University of Pennsylvania with the West Philadelphia Improvement Corps. We will examine the participatory action model of the University of Pennsylvania/West Philadelphia Improvement Corps. This is not the place to describe or evaluate the variety of models of university-public school partnerships. It is worth noting, however, that the university control model embodied in the Boston University Chelsea experiment is the most sharply divergent approach to the participatory action model described in this article.


Readers are forewarned that we are not dispassionate observers. As faculty members at the University of Pennsylvania, we are currently involved in creating, sustaining, and extending the participatory action model in West Philadelphia, a disadvantaged area of the nation’s fifth largest city. Our writing is deeply embedded in direct engagement and first-hand knowledge of the potentials and constraints of building this model, which, notwithstanding nearly five years’ worth of project work, is still in an early, developing phase. By examining the theoretical and practical dimensions of our work, we hope to stimulate hard thinking about the hard question of how best to develop effective university-public school partnerships.




The 1987-1988 annual report of the University of Pennsylvania, entitled Penn and Philadelphia: Common Ground, focuses entirely on the dynamic, mutually beneficial interaction between Penn and its community. Since elite, private research universities tend to consider themselves in but not of their immediate geographic communities, that focus itself is highly significant. Even more significant is the recognition that Penn’s future and the future of Philadelphia are tied together. After summarizing some of the university’s efforts, university president Sheldon Hackney writes: “The picture that emerges is one of a relationship in which the University and the City are important to one another. We stand on common ground, our futures very much intertwined.” [6]


Implicit in Hackney’s statement is the recognition that Penn can ill afford to remain an island of affluence in a sea of despair. That recognition obviously leads to an institutional orientation that sees the problems of the community as simultaneously the problems of the university. Attempting to solve these problems, therefore, is no longer a minor matter of moral choice. It becomes instead an institutional imperative. What also distinguishes Hackney’s report from a mere proclamation is that it is reporting on actual developments that describe the increasingly serious commitment of a group of Penn faculty and students to the university’s neighbors. That is, the direction called for and the orientation proposed do not appear de novo in the annual report. They have been emerging over the past six years at the University of Pennsylvania.


As Hackney acknowledges, his call for a focus on the problems of the city and for the effective application of knowledge represents a rededication to a Penn tradition born at its founding 250 years ago by Benjamin Franklin, whose orientation stressed the development and application of knowledge to improve human welfare. That orientation has helped spur Penn at times to develop pioneering organizational innovations that have enabled it to respond effectively to societal problems. They include Franklin’s and Provost William Smith’s creation of a nonsectarian colonial college to educate youth for fields other than the ministry, the creation of America’s first medical school in 1765, the linking of the college and the medical school to create American’s first university in 1774, and the establishment of the Wharton School in 1881 to educate an elite capable of solving the problems of industrialization. [7]


The early Wharton School serves as the primary model for Penn’s current approach. Led by its first two directors, Edmund James and Simon Patten, the school focused its attention on the problems of the city. James and Patten both recognized that the school’s future was dependent on its successful involvement with local issues and real-world concerns. Wharton, therefore, developed into a school devoted to providing a social-scientific response to the problems of industrialization and urban growth. In the process, it also became arguably the premier center of American social science between 1900 and the outbreak of World War I.[8]


What differentiates the new Penn approach from the approach of James and Patten? First, current efforts attempt to be more comprehensive, involving students and faculty from across the university. Second, as Sheldon Hackney has noted, progressive-period academics pedestaled the expert and expert knowledge. The expert would change the world by introducing his approach, by improving efficiency and skill in governmental agencies, and by designing institutions that would-improve the quality of life for the urban poor and the immigrant. Although appropriate to its time, it had the same defects as all expert models: It was elitist, hierarchical, and uni-dimensional, founded on the assumption that the expert’s role was to study and assist, but not to learn from, the community. [9] Current efforts aim at building a collegial, participatory, cooperative, and democratic partnership of university researchers and community members. [10] Building on the participatory action research work of Kurt Lewin [11] and the more recent work of William Foote Whyte[12] and the Appalachian Alliance Task Force, [13] a segment of Penn faculty and students has emphasized the necessity of learning from and with the community, researching with and not on people, as well as having research contribute to solving genuine and significant community problems.[14] Penn’s renewed focus on the problems of the city, its efforts to comprehensively engage academic resources to help improve the quality of life in its immediate geographic community, and its efforts to create genuine, mutually beneficial partnerships with the community have been developing since Sheldon Hackney’s presidency began in 1981, In 1983 two organizations at the center of Penn’s new relationship with its neighbors were created: the West Philadelphia Partnership and the Office of Community-Oriented Policy Studies, the predecessor to the Penn Program for Public Service (PPPS). The partnership, in particular, represents an organizational innovation of broad applicability and significance. It is a vehicle that has freed the university from an operational role.


If the history of university-community relationships has taught us anything, it is that the role of operationalizing and managing community initiatives is a role that universities are ill-equipped to perform. C. P. Snow’s concept of two cultures could easily apply to the world of academics and practitioners. Different orientations, styles, approaches, and types dominate these different worlds. Effective linkages must be created, but attempts to alter the “dominant institutional-individual style” are to be avoided.


Not only are universities ill-equipped to perform operational roles in society, but it is inappropriate for them to do so. Stated directly, universities should be concerned with the production and transmission of knowledge. How well a university does both those-things is how a university should be evaluated. Community initiatives should be carried out by other institutions in society. Although these points apply to universities in general, they hold particularly for elite, private, research universities. Penn is neither a community college nor a community service station. Its contribution to society and to community well-being must necessarily flow from, be linked to, and enhance its missions of research and teaching.


The West Philadelphia Partnership is the organizational vehicle that has enabled Penn to be linked to and to learn from the community without directly implementing specific programs. The partnership was established in 1959, first as the West Philadelphia Corporation, to facilitate neighborhood improvement projects and to improve community relations. For much of its history, however, it was identified with institutional interests in West Philadelphia. In the mid-1960s and early 1970s the corporation’s leadership in the recruitment and development of the University City Science Center, a research park in a six-block urban renewal area along the northern fringe of the Penn campus (with Penn holding 48 percent of the stock), exacerbated racial tensions. Black leaders in the poverty-stricken ghetto of Mantua, several blocks north of the redevelopment area, argued that the corporation, in league with the City Planning Commission and Redevelopment Authority, was displacing poor blacks and community merchants in order to create a cordon sanitaire of elitist, white-dominated institutions surrounding the university campus.[15]


In the early 1980s a major reorientation began with the recasting of the corporation’s bylaws to provide an equal number of directors from local institutions, neighborhood organizations, and corporations active in community affairs in West Philadelphia. The term partnership was adopted to denote a new spirit of participation among the various elements of the community.[16] That spirit of partnership took hold among various elements of the community. As a mediating organization, the partnership has been able to form wide-ranging coalitions for specified purposes and activities. Since it is comprised of institutions and community organizations, it has a legitimacy among diverse populations that a more narrowly based organization could not have. Its composition has also enabled it to match community and institutional needs and resources. The partnership, therefore, significantly differentiates Penn’s approach from the series of failed attempts that have marked the history of American university-community interactions. The modified agricultural extension and the urban-center models of the 1960s, for example, foundered for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons was the lack of an integrating, mediating organization that simultaneously brought the university into a wider partnership and freed the university from an operational/managerial role.


The academic program that worked most closely with the West Philadelphia Partnership was the School of Arts and Sciences’ Office of Community-Oriented Policy Studies (OCOPS). Created in 1983, OCOPS was designed to bridge theoretical and applied knowledge and to orient the university toward the problems of the city. At the outset OCOPS cast a wide experiential net for Penn undergraduates, featuring interdisciplinary seminars, summer internships, and research affiliations with social service organizations throughout the Philadelphia area. The Penn students researched social problems targeted by the agencies and proposed alternative solutions; yet, given the geographic dispersion of these projects and the particularistic needs of individual sponsors, the students’ early efforts were disjunctive and lacked intellectual coherence. It was in the spring of 1985, however, when OCOPS specifically turned its attention to improving the quality of life in Penn’s immediate geographic community of West Philadelphia, that significant intellectual progress began to occur. It occurred even more rapidly after the creation of the West Philadelphia Improvement Corps (WEPIC).




WEPIC is a school-based neighborhood and school revitalization movement that is working with seven public schools in the economically and socially distressed area surrounding the University of Pennsylvania. Although initially focused on youth, WEPIC is now designed to produce staff controlled and managed, university-assisted, comprehensive community schools that involve, educate, serve, and activate all members of the community. The key assumption is that schools can be the strategic institutions for creating healthy urban communities. They can function as environment-changing institutions but only as they become centers of broad-based partnerships involving a variety of community organizations and institutions, including universities and colleges. Because they belong to all members of the community, public schools are particularly suited to be the catalytic hubs around which local partnerships are generated and formed. In this partnership role, schools can function as community institutions par excellence, providing a decentralized, community-based response to socially significant problems. [17]


The curriculum of the community school is to be both community-centered and action-oriented. By community-centered, we mean that the academic agenda is wedded to community history, culture, and socially significant problems. These broad thematic areas provide immediate contexts for reading, writing, reflection, and discussion related to the study of academic subject matter. As part of their academic studies, students are involved in ongoing, community-based project work. This strategy builds on the assumption that students’ interest in having their work come to fruition as highly visible products will suffuse the educational process with a desire to master and to apply the academic knowledge necessary to complete high-quality projects. (Foxfire, a constructive model for culturally appropriate, community-based education, has significantly influenced this conceptualization. [18]) In all its facets the curriculum expressly incorporates the motivational power of students’ immediate, real-world, out-of-school experiences. In short, learning is experiential and “hands-on,” related in every phase to community issues and concerns.


An inspiration, if not a model, for the action-oriented community school is Benjamin Franklin High School in East Harlem, New York City, directed by Leonard Covello from 1934 to 1956. Covello created a multi-service, integrative, community-oriented institution that linked the school’s academic curriculum to community revitalization, involving students in the study and resolution of community problems, first in East Harlem’s Italian neighborhoods and later, as the demographics changed, in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. [19] It is worth noting, however, that Covello failed to develop a comprehensive theory of the community school curriculum. The community component functioned mainly on an ad hoc basis; as socially significant problems reached crisis proportions, they were integrated into classroom activities. For all its strengths as an agent of community revitalization, and as perhaps the premier example of an urban community school, Benjamin Franklin High School lacked a systematic approach for infusing the entire curriculum with community resources on a daily basis.


WEPIC’s emphasis on the creation of community-centered, action-oriented schools should not be construed as advocacy for community control of public education. While WEPIC has advocated decentralization to the extent that community schools are indeed community schools, thoroughly infused with the life of the community, it has neither stated nor implied that these schools should be free of professional oversight. Therefore, WEPIC has expressly avoided the confrontational style of decentralization politics that fragmented the Ocean Hill-Brownsville district of New York City in 1967- 1968.[20] The phrase “staff controlled and managed community schools” captures the central role that teachers and principals play. The curriculum focus of WEPIC necessitates that professional educators be at the core and assume leadership of the entire effort.[21]


The WEPIC program emerged in the spring of 1985 from the research of Penn undergraduates in an OCOPS honors history seminar, “Urban Universities-community Relationships,” co-taught by Sheldon Hackney, history professor Lee Benson, and Ira Harkavy, vice dean of the School of Arts and Sciences and director of OCOPS. Each undergraduate in the seminar focused his or her research on a problem in the West Philadelphia community. Four students studied the issue of youth unemployment. That student research resulted in a proposal to create a better and less expensive youth corps-a youth corps that would utilize existing agencies and resources. The proposal received financial support, and a program involving fifty youths in live West Philadelphia neighborhoods was set to begin in July. The MOVE fire on Osage Avenue in West Philadelphia radically changed both the size and schedule of the program. Community leaders asked WEPIC to involve all of the young people affected by the fire and to begin the first week in June. Needless to say, the visibility of the program was significantly increased. WEPIC focused much of its activity around a neighborhood elementary school-the Bryant School. Murals were painted around the school building, trees were planted, and a general clean-up of the area occurred. From the positive reaction of the neighbors, Penn faculty and students began to see that public schools might function as centers of neighborhood revitalization. During the fall of 1985, WEPIC became an after-school program at Bryant. Some of the teachers, albeit in small ways, linked the after-school projects to their teaching during the day. The making of Christmas wreaths for the families affected by the MOVE fire became, for example, the focus for math lessons.[22]


From the elementary school, the project spread over the next four years to a large comprehensive high school, three middle schools, and two other elementary schools. WEPIC is currently a year-round program involving over 550 children, their parents, and community members in landscaping, housing rehabilitation, concert pipe organ repair, construction work, community studies, work with the elderly, graffiti and litter removal, mural painting, computer workshops, recreation, arts and crafts, drama and dance. Having built a sizable foundation of community interest and support through the operation of these after-school and weekend programs, WEPIC has begun to redirect its efforts toward curriculum development that permeates the school’s academic curriculum with the study of the culture, history, and socially significant problems of the West Philadelphia community.




After five years of operation, the framework of the Office of Community-Oriented Policy Studies, which had been the university’s organizational link to the WEPIC effort, could no longer adequately encompass the range of university-assisted community activities that had developed. OCOPS had been initially designed to engage undergraduates in research focused on helping agencies in the Philadelphia area to solve specified policy problems. The turn to a West Philadelphia focus and the growth and extension of WEPIC programs in the local schools attracted graduate students and faculty members from across the university. Seminars, studios, practicums, and research projects in the schools of Arts and Sciences, Education, Social Work, Fine Arts, Nursing, the Annenberg School of Communications, Dentistry, Wharton, and Medicine have been developed. Volunteer assistance has also been provided by faculty and students in these schools as well as Engineering and Law. To coordinate this expanded university-wide effort in WEPIC, the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences authorized the creation of the Penn Program for Public Service.[23]


The growth of WEPIC-focused creative volunteerism, a volunteerism that links the skills, talents, and abilities of Penn students, faculty, and staff to the express needs of West Philadelphia schools and their communities, has been one of the most significant developments to emerge from the university’s side of the WEPIC partnership. The concrete examples of the experience of one student and one faculty member may help to illustrate the natural connection between academically based public service and creative, mutually beneficial volunteerism.


During the 1988-1989 academic year, Julie Dressner, a student in a seminar on creating community schools, was working as a tutor at a center for WEPIC -the John P. Turner Middle School. Julie decided to tutor, in part to learn more about the school she was studying in the seminar. One day as Julie was leaving Turner, the art teacher commented on her “artsy” clothes and asked Julie if she was an art major. Julie responded that although she was not an art major, she was an artist of sorts-a potter. The art teacher, Leslye Clemmons, remarked that there was an entire pottery studio that was not in use because she lacked knowledge of the craft. Under Clemmons’s direction, Julie established a pottery studio and taught both sixth and eighth grade classes two days a week. She served as a volunteer on Saturdays, teaching pottery in Turner’s community school program; she also worked as an assistant and translator for a renowned potter who was the school’s artist-in-residence for a brief time. Moreover, Julie had access to the Turner pottery studio for her own work-Penn does not have ceramics facilities. Finally, Julie wrote a detailed thesis entitled “Towards a Multicultural Social Studies Curriculum for the Urban Community School: A Pottery and Cultural Studies Workshop at the Turner Middle School, as a Case Study.”


Julie’s experience has been mirrored by a number of Penn undergraduate and graduate students and faculty members during the 1989-1990 academic year. Students and faculty from Swarthmore College are also working at the school. Indeed, the Turner School’s development toward a comprehensive community school has inspired a joint Swarthmore-Penn faculty seminar on assessing different strategies of school reform. Among the programs currently in operation at Turner are a Saturday school involving over 200 students and adults; a Wednesday adult program with over 150 participants; after-school job training, enrichment, remediation, and homework programs; an early morning computer workshop; and a “school within a school,” involving five teachers and 140 students in the creation of a community-centered, action-oriented curriculum. A university-assisted, school-based community health facility, involving Penn faculty and students in Arts and Sciences, Dentistry, Medicine, Nursing, and Social Work, and a community day-care center are scheduled to begin in September 1990.


When John Puckett joined the Penn faculty in the fall of 1987, one of the explicit terms of his employment was to make the Philadelphia schools the primary focus of his research. Puckett’s initial idea, formulated in the winter of 1988, was to conduct an ethno-historical study of ethnic succession in an urban American high school. He selected West Philadelphia High School because it is over seventy-five years old and has witnessed three ethnic shifts (from Anglo-Protestant to Jewish to black) in its constituent neighborhoods. At the time Puckett held a conventional notion of research as something that academicians do to and on, not with, schools.


By the early fall of 1988, Puckett was having doubts about the social relevance and worth of his academic work. As he observed and experienced daily life in West Philadelphia-its poverty, community fragmentation, and physical disrepair he began to question previously unexamined assumptions about the purpose and nature of his research specifically and the social science research enterprise in general. Prompting this introspection was his growing realization that the University of Pennsylvania had done little to alleviate (indeed its expansionist policy may have exacerbated) the steadily increasing deterioration of the quality of life in West Philadelphia. This realization fully crystallized in the fall of 1988 as Puckett grew more familiar with the community and talked with interested colleagues in the Graduate School of Education and the Office of Community-Oriented Policy Studies.


Puckett’s immediate question was, “How can my research contribute, if only in a small way, to improving this situation? “specifically, “How can it contribute to the improvement of West Philadelphia High School?”[24]


In October 1988, Puckett shared his concerns with Lee Benson of Penn’s History Department, one of WEPIC’s founders. Benson directed Puckett to his papers on social science research and to William Foote Whyte’s writings on participatory action-research. Ira Harkavy invited Puckett to read numerous documents about the work of WEPIC, and the more he talked about community revitalization with Harkavy and other Penn faculty associated with WEPIC, the more he became convinced that if social science research is going to help change the world, it must move beyond passive analysis and interpretation to engaged action research. Since the fall of 1988, Puckett has been the coordinator of the West Philadelphia Student Research Apprenticeship Program, a university-assisted, urban Foxfire-style program designed to engage high school students in the collection and publication of community history and culture. Supported by a small grant from a private foundation, Puckett, with help from other WEPIC teachers, recruited a committee of seven teachers at West Philadelphia High School to plan the Research Apprenticeship Program. The committee met twice, in December 1988 and January 1989. The remaining seven meetings, held from February to May under foundation auspices, included participants from WEPIC, the Philadelphia School District, and the university faculty. The planning committee used these meetings to identify thematic areas related to the history, culture, and social structure of African-Americans in West Philadelphia and to brainstorm a series of relevant curriculum activities within each area.


During the planning period, Puckett also discussed the Research Apprenticeship Program with West Philadelphia High School students. He had originally intended to recruit a formal committee of approximately ten WEPIC students whose after-school work on the program would parallel teacher planning efforts. In late January, he found a more appropriate vehicle for involving students and for testing out new ideas as well. One of the teachers on the adult planning committee, Beverly Smith, taught a special class before school (7:40 A.M. to 8:30 A.M.) for academically gifted youngsters, grades 9-12. Smith and Puckett decided to use this small group, averaging between eight and twelve attending on a given day, as an informal student planning committee. Smith agreed to devote a few days each week to the project. Smith and Puckett tried out two preliminary ideas that the West students deemed only marginally interesting: reading and critiquing the draft of a handbook on student ethnography provided by Gerald Grant and Robert Bogdan, education professors at Syracuse University; reading and discussing with a black enthnographer an essay from Sara Lightfoot’s The Good High School. The most successful idea with the group, whose daily attendance was sporadic (the early meeting time was problematic), was the creation of the Western Newsletter, which featured an article on the history and restoration of the school’s fifty-five-year-old concert pipe organ as well as assorted editorials about the current high school (this was a sustained activity that gave students the opportunity to do something in an immediate, hands-on fashion).


In late April, Puckett accompanied the West Philadelphia High School principal, two teachers from the planning committee, and two WEPIC students on a fact-finding trip to Atlanta and Rabun County, Georgia, for meetings with Eliot Wigginton and teachers in the Foxfire Teacher Outreach Network. (Puckett has long-standing ties with Wigginton and his staff, having published an evaluation of Foxfire’s history and philosophy.) This trip, which included visits to Booker T. Washington High School and Henry W. Grady High School in Atlanta, as well as an overnight stay at Foxfire in the Georgia mountains, introduced teachers and students to the potentialities of cultural journalism and desktop publishing for restructuring the curriculum at West Philadelphia High School. The group returned to Philadelphia committed to making desktop publication of students’ community studies the bedrock of the Research Apprenticeship Program.


In mid-May, following the completion of the spring semester at Penn, Puckett began to assemble materials for drafting the curriculum guide/syllabus for the 1989-1990 pilot class at West. He also taught himself a desktop publishing program, with help from a WEPIC-affiliated faculty member in Penn’s Computer and Educational Technology Services. Given the total absence of any desktop capability at West (there were no hard-disk computers for student or faculty use), he had to design and print the Western Newsletter himself. While the West students provided the essays, photographs, and graphics, they were not involved in the final stage. At all events, Smith and Puckett were able to distribute the newsletter to students and faculty on the last day of school. Given that West did not even have a student newspaper at the time, this publication generated schoolwide excitement that was far disproportionate to the limited resources that were available for its production. In the early summer, Puckett wrote a draft of the curriculum guide, building in themes-and strategies agreed on by the teacher planning committee. Smith and Puckett decided to organize the pilot class as a daily writing workshop along the lines suggested by Nancy Atwell of the Boothbay (Maine) Writing Project. Their previous experience indicated that many of their students would have (at first) deficient writing skills; moreover, these students would lack confidence in their writing ability. Smith and Puckett also envisioned that in writing about topics that were immediately relevant to students’ out-of-classroom experiences (topics exclusively of their choosing), the students would hit on ideas that could be developed as significant articles for a community studies journal or cultural exhibit. Atwell’s recommended strategies for editing, record keeping, and frequent conferences with students augured well, in their view, for improving students’ composition skills and self-confidence. Of course, the community-studies focus and the publication of student-collected oral history and culture staples of the Foxfire learning concept-would be integral components of the class.


The pilot class for the West Philadelphia Student Research Apprenticeship Program, with thirty-three high school students enrolled, began in September 1989. Smith and Puckett co-teach the class, which meets daily from 9:03 A.M. to 9:53 A.M. They have assumed roughly equal responsibilities in planning and managing the first year of the program. They “share the load” of preparing teaching materials, conferencing with students, editing drafts of student writing, and keeping records. They confer daily about the class and meet periodically before school for longer planning sessions. Smith and Puckett are assisted by a student teacher from the Graduate School of Education and an undergraduate volunteer who teaches photography twice a week to small groups of students. WEPIC has supplied the initial writing supplies, tape recorders, and cameras for the class. Puckett has recently obtained a $107,000 private foundation grant (under the university’s aegis) for full computer support to operate the class (“Anthropology 143”) as a school and community publication center. This grant will also provide a part-time writing consultant from the Philadelphia School District to help develop the writing component.


A collaboration between the West students and Penn students in history professor Evelyn Brooks-Higginbotham’s undergraduate honors seminar, “The History and Social Structure of African-Americans in West Philadelphia,” is in the early planning stages. The short-range goal is to engage West students in collaborative, parallel research and mentor relationships with African-American students at Penn-the “apprenticeship” part of the program. This is a first step toward the long-range goal of engaging Penn faculty and students from other disciplines (e.g., Folklore, Anthropology, Urban Studies, Psychology) in the daily life of the high school and its constituent neighborhoods.


Teachers involved in a project sponsored by the Philadelphia School District to restructure the curriculum at West Philadelphia High School have solicited (and received) advice and assistance from Smith and Puckett in making the publication center and its pedagogy an integral component of an interdisciplinary, community-centered curriculum that will be instituted in 1990-1991. The West teachers have also enlisted Puckett and a colleague at the Graduate School of Education to help plan and conduct a summer institute related to the new community-centered curriculum. In 1990-1991, Puckett’s teaching role at the high school will be sharply curtailed as Smith and the writing consultant will take full charge of Anthropology 143. Puckett (again, with grant funds) will take leave from Penn in the fall semester to coordinate integration of the program into the school’s new community-centered curriculum and to conduct research and writing related to the project. [25] Puckett’s community service work has reshaped the scope and direction of his research. Over the next several years, as the program grows, he will involve Research Apprenticeship students as research assistants in his (now collaborative) study of ethnic succession at West Philadelphia High School, further extending the range and meaning of “research apprenticeship.” Puckett is also now engaged in archival and oral history research on Penn’s community relations in West Philadelphia over the past twenty-five years. Focal points for the study are the West Philadelphia Free School (1970-1978), which was sponsored in part by Penn, and WEPIC (1985-1990), including an ethnography and ongoing process analysis of both the Research Apprenticeship Program and the high school’s transition to a community-school curriculum.


The experiences of Julie Dressner (Penn undergraduate) and John Puckett (Penn faculty) highlight the expanded function and changed emphasis that produced the need for the Penn Program for Public Service. From a somewhat distant policy research perspective, PPPS research efforts (at the level of both students and faculty) have become increasingly focused and engaged. They are best characterized as action research and action teaching linked to a major project that has embedded ongoing, continuous research into its very functioning and operation. Natural organizational evolution and learning resulting from successful linkages between the university and the community are not the only reasons for the creation of the Penn Program for Public Service. As alluded to above, PPPS represents a serious commitment to harness the full range of university resources to solve the problems of the city. The term solve is particularly important. It is our conviction that it is no longer adequate merely to address the profound problems confronting America’s urban centers. The severity of the situation demands serious attempts to find solutions that will dramatically improve conditions. To put it another way, this is not the time for universities to exhibit a failure of nerve, half-heartedly addressing problems requiring full-hearted and full-minded attention. The strong emphasis on solution also connotes a change from our conceptualization at the time the Office of Community-Oriented Policy Studies was formed. We are now convinced that the university is not just a pivotal institution for transforming our cities. Rather we see it as the pivotal institution. The political system, for a variety of historical and structural reasons, will not lead the way. As the institution devoted to creating new knowledge and educating future leaders of society, the university must begin to function as a leadership institution by breaking out of old patterns and placing the solution of problems-of the city at the top of its agenda.[26]


The creation of PPPS signifies the attempt of a group of Penn faculty and students to do precisely that. It is designed to overcome half-hearted, half-minded attempts as well as the usual illusory incrementalism that merely results in problems continually outstripping actions. Housed in the core of the university, the School of Arts and Sciences, PPPS functions as a catalytic agency, stimulating every school and college at Penn to engage in serious thought and inquiry on this central question: Given the school’s or college’s specific mission, how can it most effectively solve the problems of the city in general and the problems of West Philadelphia in particular?




Coordinated by PPPS, the Penn Public Service Internship Program has been at the center of Penn’s development of academically based public service. This summer program has functioned as an agenda-setter and catalyst for academic integration across the institution. Faculty members in nine of the university’s schools have developed research projects, studios, seminars, and practicums that build on leads first pursued by the program.


The Penn Public Service Internship Program provides undergraduates with an academically meaningful avenue for engaging in public service. It seems that the majority of internship programs (indeed public service programs in general) tend not to link out-of-classroom experience to the academic enterprise. Students, in effect, leave their role as students as they work in soup kitchens or assist the homeless. While there is enormous benefit to the student and the community in that kind of service, we have found that an internship in an academic context is significantly more beneficial to both parties. The Penn program enables students to contribute as students, placing their education and effective service to the community as intrinsically linked goals.


In this program, undergraduate students participate in a seminar entitled “Toward Revitalizing Urban Schools and Their Communities: West Philadelphia as a Case Study”; meet and work with national, state, and community leaders and their organizations; study, research, and propose solutions to major problems affecting West Philadelphia’s schools and communities; and have a common living experience in a university residence. The main goal is for each undergraduate to produce a high-quality research paper that will contribute to knowledge and the improvement of the West Philadelphia community. Not only do the issues studied require interdisciplinary scholarship, but critical, value-oriented thinking, civic learning, and a moral approach to public concern are also developed in the process of examining and proposing solutions to real problems.


The forerunner to the internship program was the Student Political Participation Project begun in the spring of 1982 by students in a history seminar involving research with the community. The Political Participation Project was designed to increase the level of effective political participation among students at the University of Pennsylvania. The project continued over the summer with six students working on the project for twelve weeks. The students planned and organized a voter registration drive on the campus for the fall term and wrote a detailed report on the undergraduate curriculum, internship programs, and potential placements for Penn research interns in the Delaware Valley. The report’s major recommendation called for the creation of the Office of Community-Oriented Policy Studies.


The following summer, ten students from the University of Pennsylvania and one from Bryn Mawr College participated in the summer project. A seminar, “Historical and Comparative Analysis of Student Political Participation,” was conducted and each student was required to write a paper on some aspect of student political participation. Two students combined their course work with public service internships. Among the results of the project was the creation of the Political Participation Center, sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania. Another result was a student proposal for the establishment of a public service internship program, in which knowledge gained from a research affiliation or research project would be put into practice.


During the first two years, students largely functioned as educational innovators, developing ideas and programs (Office of Community-Oriented Policy Studies and the Political Participation Center) designed to have an impact on the university-in general and the undergraduate experience in particular. The summer of 1984 represented a transition to a program more concerned with integrating research, course work, and public service in the community. Eleven students (ten from Penn, one from Haverford College) participated, with seven students engaging in off-campus internships. Each summer intern had either a previous research affiliation with the agency he or she worked with or some prior experience in the field. Three students worked on issues related to the Political Participation Center, and one student was responsible for computer analysis for the project. As in past years, all students were housed together to increase interaction and to create a sense of community. The seminar “Politics and Public Service in Philadelphia” was given, and a computer workshop was offered as part of the seminar. Each student was required to write a paper on the problem on which his or her internship focused.


Student evaluations for the 1984 summer project disclosed the existence of two distinct groups- one working on campus, the other in the community-which prevented the formation of a fully unified student community. For this reason, as well as the particular enthusiasm generated by the off-campus group, it was decided that future summer programs would include only public service interns. Another issue that emerged was how to create a greater sense of community among the public service interns themselves. The project’s Philadelphia-area focus, as well as internships with different agencies with little overlap, also had the effect of hindering a sense of common purpose and direction among the students.


Following that summer, we found an excellent vehicle for minimizing this difficulty. We decided that the 1985 Public Service Internship Program would focus on a single community -West Philadelphia. More significant, the majority of students chosen for the program were to have had an academic experience in common- they would take a new undergraduate honors seminar, “Urban Universities-Community Relationships.” In this seminar, led by Sheldon Hackney, Lee Benson, and Ira Harkavy, each student would have a research affiliation with an organization interested in revitalizing the West Philadelphia community. Students in the Urban Universities seminar, offered in the spring of 1985, produced some outstanding papers and a series of research proposals for their summer work. Four students wrote a proposal for the establishment of a pilot summer youth corps. That proposal, funded by the UPS Foundation, Office of Employment Training, and Philadelphia’s Phil-A-Job Program, led to the establishment of the West Philadelphia Improvement Corps.


The 1985 Public Service Internship Program built on the work of the “Urban Universities” seminar. All nineteen student interns continued the research and work they had begun in the spring in local government offices, private agencies, and with members of Congress. Two students worked as administrators of WEPIC and helped direct its efforts toward the physical improvement of a neighborhood elementary school (the Bryant School, mentioned previously). A basic feature of the summer program was a seminar designed to provide a crucial link between the theoretical aspects of the project and the students’ internship experiences. In this seminar, “Toward Revitalizing Urban Schools and Their Communities: West Philadelphia as a Case Study,” ideas were developed that led to the establishment of WEPIC as an after-school program in West Philadelphia public schools.


Following the 1985 summer program, a series of developments made WEPIC an increasingly significant project at the University of Pennsylvania. Three courses were developed as a direct result of the internship program. Ira Harkavy changed his fall semester seminar to focus on the West Philadelphia community, and both a graduate and an undergraduate course were created that concerned developing communication campaigns in West Philadelphia. A crucial finding of the 1985 summer project and subsequent work during the 1985-1986 academic year was the core role of schools as institutions affecting not only students but entire neighborhoods. WEPIC increasingly became a school-based program; and through research and teaching that focused on WEPIC, we saw that schools can function as the strategic and catalytic agent for community transformation. Indeed, as the program developed, the research problem for students and faculty became both better defined and more general: How can schools effectively function as genuine community centers that lead to the organization, education, and transformation of an entire neighborhood?


It was this question and the specific issue of how to reconstruct West Philadelphia schools as community-centered schools that set the agenda for the 1986 internship program. Consciously smaller, more directed and focused than the 1985 version, the 1986 project functioned as an extraordinarily cohesive and communal intellectual community. The students, in close collaboration with Professors Harkavy and Benson, worked on designing the Youth Employment and Training Program, which would include housing rehabilitation, job training, education, and neighborhood improvement. The design of the program utilized the research of all the students in the project and resulted in a proposal to the U.S. Department of Labor. In 1987 that proposal received funding, and a national demonstration project was developed. (Subsequently funded in 1988 and 1989, it has resulted in the rehabilitation and sale of a Victorian row house by West Philadelphia High School students working in the area of the 1985 MOVE fire.)


Since 1987, the research papers and seminar work of the Public Service Summer Internship Program have led to proposal writing, funding, and staffing for WEPIC (former summer interns now serve as full-time WEPIC administrators); the creation of new WEPIC projects; planning and study tours of Europe for WEPIC teachers, administrators, and affiliated policymakers; and presentations at regional and national conferences. [27]


Among the most significant aspects of the Penn Public Service Internship Program has been its role as a center for positive black and white student interaction and cooperation. Over the past three summers, nearly half of the students in the summer program have been African-Americans. After a difficult beginning at the start of the 1987 program, students have worked exceedingly well together as they joined in a common effort to improve the community. A number of the minority students have continued their work with WEPIC during the school year and have taken WEPIC-linked seminars.[28]




Although our work is very much in its early stages and many of our findings are highly tentative, we are enthusiastic about the opportunities for further learning and project development. The participatory action model of university-community relations highlights, we believe, the possibilities of an approach that combines library-based and action-based research. Learning from actual demonstration projects that university research helps to develop, as well as from more general sources, may be necessary for an effective understanding and effective broad-based policy. This approach also encompasses issues of national, global, and theoretical significance. The key factor, in our judgment, is that academics no longer function as passive participant observers, but rather as active, contributing action-researchers who strive to change the world.


The participatory action model (as embodied in the Penn Program for Public Service and its work with the West Philadelphia Improvement Corps) has the potential to foster an integration of the university’s historic missions of research, teaching, and service-making university-assisted, school-based community revitalization the vehicle for better research and teaching. Indeed the model presupposes a renewed sense of university mission. Particularly since 1981 and the publication of Ernest Boyer and Fred Hechinger’s Higher Learning in the Nation’s Service, there has been a growing criticism that “higher education in America is suffering from a loss of overall direction, a nagging feeling that it is no longer at the vital center of the nation’s work.” [29]  As their title suggests, Boyer and Hechinger believe that learning in the nation’s service can provide a sense of direction and moral purpose to the university.


Learning in the nation’s service at this time in our nation’s history means learning that contributes to solving the problems of the American city in an increasingly interdependent “global village.” The future of our society and its universities depends on our ability to construct genuinely cosmopolitan and civilized cities and to make life significantly better for the scandalously large number of urban Americans living in conditions of poverty and neglect.




[1] On learned helplessness, see David K. Simkin, Jan P. Lederer, and Martin E. P. Seligman, “Learned Helplessness in Groups,” Behavior Research and Therapy 21 (1983): 613-22; Martin E. P. Seligman and G. Elder, “Learned Helplessness and Lifespan Development,” in Human Development and the Life Course: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, ed. Aage B. Sorenson, Franz T. Weinert, and Lonnie R. Sherrod (Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum, 1985), pp. 377-427; and Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Joan S. Girgus, and Martin E. P. Seligman, “Learned Helplessness in Children: A Longitudinal Study of Depression, Achievement, and Explanatory Style,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51 (1986): 435-42.


[2] In his studies of creativity, psychologist Howard E. Gruber has emphasized the connection between individual creativity and a desire to solve real-world problems. His concept of creative altruism, which we think has relevance for universities, highlights that connection with particular clarity: “We can envisage and identify cases of ‘creative altruism,’ in which a person displays extraordinary moral responsibility, devoting a significant portion of time and energy to some project transcending immediate need and experience. Creative altruism, when it goes the limit, strives to eliminate the cause of suffering, to change the world, to change the fate of the earth” (Howard E. Gruber, “Creativity and Human Survival,” in Creative People at Work, ed. Doris B. Wallace and Howard E. Gruber [New York: Oxford University Press, 1989]), pp. 278-87.


[3] Center for Educational Research and Innovation, The University and the Community: The Problems of Changing Relationships (Paris: Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 1982), p. 127. For other critiques of university-community relationships, see Derek Bok, Beyond the Ivory Tower: Social Responsibilities of the Modern University (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982); Sheldon Hackney, “The University and Its Community: Past and Present,” Annals of the American Academy 488 (1986): 135-47; Clark Kerr, The Uses of the University (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982); and Peter L. Szanton, Not Well Advised (New York: Russell Sage Foundation and Ford Foundation, 1981).


[4] The concept and the definition of academically based public service used in this article have been developed in a University of Pennsylvania undergraduate history seminar, “Urban Universities-Community Relationships,” co-taught since 1985 by Sheldon Hackney, president of Pennsylvania State University, Lee Benson of the Penn History Department, and Ira Harkavy. The earliest published statement of these ideas is Hackney’s “The University and Its Community.”


[5] See and cf. Hackney, “The University and Its Community,” p. 138. Historian Lee Benson has identified “radical defects in the gargantuan, extraordinarily complex, fragmented, unintegrated American social scientific ‘system.’ “A major reason for the “low level of development” of the social sciences, Benson asserts (and substantiates), is “the uncritical reliance of researchers upon mathematical and statistical methods appropriate (perhaps) for physical and biological scientists but radically inappropriate for social scientists.” Grounded in reductionist (Cartesian) epistemology, social science research problems tend to be atomistic and irrelevant to specific practical problems. (The quotations arc from The Mistransference Fallacy in Explanations of Human Behavior,” Historical Methods 17, no. 3 [1984]: 118-19, 121-22; see also “Changing Social Science to Change the World: A Discussion Paper,” Social Science History 2 [1978]: 427-41.)


[6] University of Pennsylvania, Annual Report 1987-1988, “Penn and Philadelphia: Common Ground” (President’s Report), p. 3.


[7] To engage in extravagant understatement, Penn has, by no means, always exemplified Franklin’s emphasis on knowledge for social improvement. Like American universities in general, it has all too frequently functioned as a self-contained, discipline-oriented institution, thereby limiting its potential to fulfill Franklin’s ideal.


[8] See Hackney, “The University and Its Community,” p. 138. For general histories of the University of Pennsylvania, see Edward P. Cheney, History of the University of Pennsylvania, 1740-1940 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1940); and Martin Meyerson and Dilys Pegler Winegrad, Gladly Learn and Gladly Teach: Franklin and His Heirs at the Universityof Pennsylvania1740-1976(Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978). For an excellent history of the Wharton School that describes it as a leading center of American social science at the turn of the twentieth century, see Steven A. Sass, The Pragmatic Imagination: A History of the WhartonSchool, 1881-1981 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982). Sass also describes how local elites were responsible for altering the Wharton School’s reform-oriented approach. University trustees fired Patten’s close friend and junior colleague, Scott Nearing, in 1915; and two years later refused to extend Patten’s tenure beyond the age of retirement, as was routinely done for distinguished faculty members. Sass writes: “In the aftermath of the Nearing affair and the disgrace of Patten, a stench lay over the university. The scandal prevented the Wharton School from attracting any first-rate, critical mind to replace Patten, and it raised serious questions about the future of the institution. In 1917 the school lost its intellectual, a man who lived for ideas. Thereafter, it had to make do with professionals who lived off ideas” (pp. 125-26). See also Rexford G. Tugwell, To the Lesser Heights of Morningside: A Memoir (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982), pp. 3-70, for discussion of the heady intellectual atmosphere of the early Wharton School as well as the impact of Nearing’s dismissal and the loss of Patten.


[9] Hackney, “The University and Its Community,” p. 145. Not all progressive-period academics shared the authoritative, elitist conception of the university’s role. Seth Low, president of Columbia Universityfrom 1890 through 1901, urged a decidedly democratic approach in dealing with New York Cityand its communities. Nicholas Murray Butler, Low’s successor (1901-1945), emphasized authority, expert knowledge, and autonomy as the appropriate stance for his and other elite universities. Given the conditions of the early twentieth century and America’s engagement-in what Robert A. Nisbet has termed a “Seventy-Five Years War” beginning in 1914, Low’s open, interactive, optimistic vision could not possibly have held sway (see Robert A. Nisbet, The Present Age: Progress and Anarchy in Modern America [New York: Harper & Row, 1988], pp. xi, l-39). Times have changed, however, and Low's model, we are convinced, will increasingly tend to characterize the American university. For a discussion of the different visions of Low and Butler and their significance for urban universities and their cities, see Thomas Bender, New York Intellect: A History of Intellectual Life in New York City from 1750 to the Beginnings of Our Time (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1987), pp. 265-93.


[10] Hackney stated this goal in “The University and Its Community,” p. 145. It is our assumption that genuinely collegial, participatory, cooperative, and democratic relationships among institutional partners arc essential for sustained systemic improvement in distressed urban communities and their public schools. The contribution of a democratic orientation to effective problem solving and institutional/inter-institutional functioning has been increasingly noted in accounts of teacher-centered_ reforms in education, participatory management in business, and professional-community partnerships in planning. For example, see Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century (Washington, D.C.: The Forum, 1986); Richard Walton, Innovating to Compete (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass,.Partnerships 579 1988); and Pierre Clavel, The Progressive City: Planning and Participation, 1969-1984 (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1986).


[11] Kurt Lewin, Resolving Social Conflicts: Selected Papers on Group Dynamics (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1948), pp. 201-16. See also Alfred J. Marrow, The Practical Theorist: The Life and Work of Kurt Lewin (New York: Basic Books, 1969), pp. ix-xv, 141-237; Eugene Stivers . and Susan Wheelan, eds., The Lewin Legacy: Field Theory in Current Practice (Berlin: Springer Verlag, 1986), esp. pp. 201-07.


[12] William Foote Whyte, Learning from the Field: A Guide from Experience (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1984), pp. 162-91; idem, “On the Uses of Social Science Research,” American Sociological Review 51 (1986): 555-63; idem, “Advancing Scientific Knowledge through Participatory Action Research,” Sociological Forum 4, no. 3 (1989): 367-85; also idem, Davydd J. Greenwood, and Peter Lazes, “Participatory Action Research: Through Practice to Science in Social Research,” American Behavioral Scientist 32, no. 5 (1989): 513-51. A brilliant critic of standard research models in the social sciences, Whyte argues that “one test of the scientific value of any set of research findings should be what can be done with them toward solving practical problems” (“Advancing Scientific Knowledge,” p. 369).


[13] Appalachian Alliance Task Force, Who Owns Appalachia: Landownership and Its Impact (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1983), arguably the largest participatory action research project ever undertaken. The task force, which included professional researchers and local citizens, conducted extensive court house research in eighty counties of six Southern Appalachian states. These researchers documented a pattern of absentee corporate political control and tax evasion in the coal counties of the region. In the tourist counties, they found that the beneficiaries of resort and recreation development have been outside developers and speculators, the mountain elite, and the federal government. Useful descriptions of the study may be found in John Gaventa and Bill Horton, “Digging the Facts,” Southern Exposure 10, no. 1 (1982): 34-39; and Patricia D. Beaver, “Participatory Research on Appalachia,” in Appalachia and America, ed. Allen Batteau (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1983), pp. 86-110.


[14] Lee Benson’s 1981 keynote address to the Organization of American Historians, “Doing History as Moral Philosophy and Public Advocacy: A Practical Strategy to Lessen the Crisis in American History” (Detroit, Mich., 1 April), played a particularly significant role in the development of action research and teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. In that paper, Benson called for linking American historians “effectively and durably to non-scholarly groups organized for action to solve specified societal problems” (p. 4). Another contribution is the work of Howard E. Mitchell, former director of the University of Pennsylvania Human Resources Center, who promoted action research in his edited volume The University and the Urban Crisis (New York: Behavioral Publications, 1975), pp. 35-68.


[15] For example, see Daily Pennsylvanian, 30 October 1968.


[16] See Hackney, “The University and Its Community,” p. 142.


[17] Our analysis is based on a study of the history of community schools as well as our own action-research projects. We have found the following works to be particularly useful: Lawrence A. Cremin, The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education, 1876-1957 (New York: Viking, 1962), pp. vii-89, 125-239; John Dewey and Evelyn Dewey, Schools of Tomorrow (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1915), pp. 60-102, 164-316; Eleanor Glueck, The Community Use of Schools (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkens, 1927); Samuel Everett, ed., The Community School (New York: D. Appleton-Century, 1938); Elsie Clapp, Community Schools in Action (New York: Viking, 1939); Nelson B. Henry, ed., The Fifty-Second Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, Part II: The Community School (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1953); Robert W. Peebles, Leonard Covello: A Study of an Immigrant’s Contribution to New York City (New York: Arno Press, 1980), pp. 188-282, Appendix I-V; William J. Reese, Power and the Promise of School Reform: Grassroots Movements during the Progressive Era (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), pp. 177-208; Harvard Educational Review, A Special Issue-Part I: Community Based Education 59, no. 4 (1989), esp. T. L. McCarty, “School as Community: The Rough Rock Demonstration,” pp. 484-503, and “On Transformation: From a Conversation with Mel King,” pp. 504-19.


[18] See Eliot Wigginton, Sometimes a Shining Moment: The Foxfire Experience (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1985); and idem, “Foxfire Grows Up,” Harvard Educational Review 59, no. 1 (1989). For discussion of the influence of John Dewey’s philosophy in the theory and practice of Foxfire, see John L. Puckett, Foxfire Reconsidered! A Twenty-Year Experiment in Progressive Education (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989), esp. chap. 8.


[19] See Peebles, Leonard Covello, pp. 188-282. Inexplicably, the major published source for the theory of community schools, the Fifty-second Yearbook of the National Society, for the Study of Education (NSSE, 1953), omits any discussion of Covello’s significant experiment.


[20] For an excellent analysis, see Diane Ravitch, The Great School Wars: A History of New York City Public Schools (New York; Basic Books, 1974, rev. 1988), chaps. 28-33. A confrontation reminiscent of Ocean Hill-Brownsville is beginning to play out in the streets of Chicago, where the state has delegated a large measure of authority and responsibility to 541 school-site councils, each composed of six parents, two teachers, two community representatives, and the school principal. At issue is the dismissal of principals by the parent-led councils: “Protests have disrupted class at half a dozen schools. Students have pulled fire alarms and walked out of classes, and teachers have joined picket lines. Hundreds of angry parents and teachers packed a Board of Education meeting . . . to protest dismissals they say were based on race or ethnicity” (New York Times, 2 March 1990). The extent of the conflict appears to increase with each passing week. A teacher at one of the affected schools remarked: “It’s absolutely destroying us. . . . It’s a fearful place to work now. The tension between the teachers is unbelievable” (New York Times, 9 March 1990).


[21] WEPIC’s approach is substantially different from New York State’s sixteen-site experiment with community schools a model that distinctly separates community-service activities from the regular day-school curriculum (“Evaluation of the Bruner Foundation/New York Community Schools Project: A Festival of Data,” Session 5.4, Eleventh Annual University of Pennsylvania Ethnography in Education Forum, 3 March 1990).


[22] See Hackney, “The University and Its Community,” pp. 145-46.


[23] In our judgment, a school-university partnership should be defined to include, on the university’s side, more than the school of education. The involvement of other schools and departments is essential for both genuine understanding and genuine advances in the improvement of school and community conditions. Stated directly, the complex-and community-embedded-problems of urban education demand unprecedented partnerships within universities as well as between universities and schools. See James Coleman and Thomas Hoffer, Public and PrivateHigh School: The Impact of Communities (New York: Basic Books, 1987), pp. 222-27; William J. Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), pp. 57-58, 138; and Center for Educational Research and Innovation, University and the Community, pp. 127-38.


[24] West Philadelphia High School is located in an economically and socially distressed area seven blocks from the University of Pennsylvania. It has a student population that is 99 percent African-American, with approximately 40 percent from families that live below the poverty level. In 1987-1988, the school had a dropout rate of approximately 60 percent. Failure rates for courses in English, science, and mathematics (grades 9 to 11) were 60 percent, 54 percent, and 50 percent, respectively. Thirty-three percent of the students were retained in grade from the previous academic year. For the 62 students who took the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the average scores were 306 for verbal (29 percent below the national average) and 328 for mathematics (31 percent below the national average).


[25] Critics may argue that Puckett’s actions in the development of the Research Apprenticeship Program are at heart hierarchical. After all, he broached the original idea to teachers and later drafted a curriculum for the program. This criticism, however, misses the point that academicians have appropriate roles to play in partnership activities. Certainly one of these roles is to introduce and lobby for innovative ideas. The critical factor is the opportunity for and willingness of all participants to negotiate ideas in an open forum and to obtain mutual agreement on a course of action. It is not inappropriate-although it may not be optimal-for academicians to get involved in program implementation in the short term (at West Philadelphia High School, this responsibility devolved on Puckett primarily because of his expertise in the theory and practice of Foxfire).


[26] A strikingly different position of a university’s capability to solve urban problems can be found in a recent statement by Yale University’s president, Benno C. Schmidt, Jr. In discussing a deal in which Yale agreed to pay New Haven $2.6 million for a series of services, President Schmidt noted: “Yale’s not the cause of New Haven’s problems. It’s not the solution” (New York Times, 3 April 1990). In our judgment, President Schmidt created a false relationship between being the cause of and the solution to a problem. We believe that regardless of their role in causing the urban crisis, universities do have the capacity, at the very least, to lead the way toward a solution to that crisis. Moreover, we believe that given the severity of the crisis and the deprivation and (inhuman) human suffering found in our cities, the capacity to solve implies a responsibility, at the very least, to work seriously to find a solution to the problems of the city.


[27] Some of the papers done during the summer project have been particularly useful to the further conceptualization of WEPIC and to the university’s efforts at developing effective academically based public service. Jacqueline Kraemer’s paper, “Towards an Interactive Problem-solving Model of Program Evaluation: Some Ideas for the Youth Employment and Training Program” (requested by colleagues at other universities), and Allen Weinberg’s paper, “Psychology and Community: Perspectives, Possibilities-and Proposals, West Philadelphia as a Case Study,” served as the core of the papers given at three regional and national conferences, including a spring 1988 research conference on Outstanding New Research in Urban Education at Long Island University. Kenny Shillingford’s “An Analysis of Motivational and Community Education Strategies as a Way to Revitalize the Curriculum: West Philadelphia as a Case Study” served as the curricular basis for a Pennsylvania Department of Education schoolwithin-a-school “construct our school and neighborhood curriculum” project at West Philadelphia High School (1988). Papers generated by the 1989 summer program that have contributed significant insights for current WEPIC planning include James Bessin and Michael Tidd, “The Urban University and the Surrounding Community: The University of Pennsylvania in the Last Fifty Years”; Ted Restelli, “Developing a Comprehensive Policy for University/Community Relations and Student Volunteerism: The University of Pennsylvania, Past, Present, and Future”; and Houd Qa’im-Magami, “Toward a Comprehensive Strategy for Reducing Crime in Distressed Urban Areas: A Proposal for School-Community Policy Initiatives in West Philadelphia.” Bessin’s work has been published as “The Modern Urban University,” in A Pennsylvania Album: Undergraduate Essays on the 250th Anniversary, ed. Richard S. Dunn and Mark F. Lloyd (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990), pp. 53-58, 62; Houd Qa’im-Magami and Theresa Simmonds, another participant in the 1989 summer project (and a 1990 Rhodes Scholar), presented their work as members of a panel entitled “Bridging the Gap: Strategies for Bringing Community and Classroom Together” at the meeting of ‘the Eastern Sociological Society, March 23-25, 1990.


[28] One student deserves particular mention. Richard Carter joined the 1987 summer project during his junior year. Richard, who was both vice chair of the Black Student League and chair of Penn’s minority-led tutorial group, decided to apply to Penn’s Graduate School of Education as a result of the summer project and his participation in the seminar “Theory and Practice of Community Schools: West Philadelphia as a Case Study.” He continued to work with WEPIC as a member of the summer project and graduated with an M.S. in August 1989. In September, he joined the faculty of the Turner Middle Schooland is one of the five teachers in a special project organizing the entire middle school curriculum around WEPIC-related activities.


[29] Ernest Boyer and Fred Hechinger, Higher Learning in the Nation’s Service (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1981), p. 3. See also Hackney, “The University and Its Community,” p. 143.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 92 Number 4, 1991, p. 556-581
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 336, Date Accessed: 5/20/2022 11:50:31 PM

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