Undergraduate Education in Psychology: United States

Brewer, Charles
Furman University,

In the United States, educators have debated the undergraduate curriculum since the founding of Harvard College in 1636. This address will briefly trace the historical development of undergraduate psychology curricula in the United States. It will highlight several studies, including participants’ reports from conferences that examined the curriculum and recommended various structures for undergraduate programs. An unswerving commitment in all these reports and recommendations is that psychology should be taught as a rigorous scientific discipline within the liberal arts tradition. Sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA) and held at St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 1991, the National Conference on Enhancing the Quality of Undergraduate Education in Psychology is the most recent such conference. The St. Mary’s Conference had the broadest representation of participants and the most comprehensive agenda than any previous one. Recommendations from this conference have influenced many changes in undergraduate programs. A few of these will be discussed in this talk (e.g., attention to human diversity, including cross-cultural foci; methodological competence; critical thinking; practical experience and application; communication skills, such as clarity, conciseness and felicity of expression; and ethical issues). Ongoing work of the APA’s Task Force on Undergraduate Education is an extension of work at the St. Mary’s Conference. Important aspects of this Task Force’s progress will be summarized to provide a picture of experts’ current thinking about undergraduate education in psychology. Increased recent attention to these and related matters may improve the quality of teaching and learning.

Professor Charles Brewer: Biographical notes

Charles Brewer is Kenan Professor of Psychology at the Furman University, USA. He received his BA degree in psychology from Hendrix College and his MA and PhD degrees in experimental psychology from the University of Arkansas. He also did graduate work at Indiana University and postdoctoral work at Harvard University and the University of Michigan.

After teaching at The College of Wooster in Ohio and Elmira College in New York, he joined the faculty at Furman University in 1967, was promoted to the rank of Professor in 1970, and was named the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Psychology in 1998. He received the first Meritorious Teaching Award at Furman in 1969 and served as chair of the Psychology Department from 1972 until 1984. He received the American Psychological Foundation's Distinguished Teaching Award in 1989, the American Psychological Association's (APA) Distinguished Career Contributions to Education and Training Award for 1995, and the South Carolina Psychological Association’s Outstanding Teacher Award in 2001.

He has been president of the Council of Undergraduate Psychology Departments, chair of the APA Committee on Undergraduate Education, president of Division 1 (General Psychology) and of Division 2 (Society for the Teaching of Psychology) of the APA, president of the Association of Heads of Departments of Psychology/Southeastern Psychological Association (SEPA), and member-at-large of the Executive Committee and president of SEPA. He has been a member of APA's Council of Representatives for Division 2, a member of APA's Board of Educational Affairs, and chair of APA's Membership Committee. A member of the APA’s Board of Directors (2001-2003), he is a Fellow of Divisions 1, 2, 26 (History), and 52 (International) of the APA and a Charter Fellow of the American Psychological Society.

During 1985-1996, he was Editor of Teaching of Psychology, the official journal of APA's Division 2, and was named Editor Emeritus in 1996. He is coeditor of Handbook for Teaching Introductory Psychology (Volume 1 and Volume 2), Handbook for Teaching Statistics and Research Methods (1st ed. and 2nd ed.), and Teaching Psychology in America: A History. He is the psychology editor for Encyclopaedia Britannica, and he has been an Advisory Editor for Contemporary Psychology. He has published numerous book chapters, articles, and reviews and is an editorial consultant for 15 publishers of psychology textbooks. Edited by Stephen F. Davis and William Buskist, The Teaching of Psychology: Essays in Honor of Wilbert J. McKeachie and Charles L. Brewer was published in 2002.

Instrumental in organizing and sustaining APA's Teachers of Psychology in Secondary Schools (TOPSS), he was a college faculty representative on that organization's Executive Board and served as editor for its unit plans and National Standards for the Teaching of High School Psychology. He is Chair of the Advanced Placement Psychology Test Development Committee (2001-2004).

A recognized authority on John Broadus Watson, the "father of behaviorism" who graduated from Furman University in 1899, Brewer has presented many lectures on Watson throughout North America. His chapter, "Perspectives on John B. Watson," appears in Portraits of Pioneers in Psychology.

He has presented numerous invited addresses on teaching at regional and national meetings, including a G. Stanley Hall Lecture, "Teaching Research Methods: Three Decades of Pleasure and Pain," at the 1990 APA convention. He served as chair of the Curriculum Group for the APA's National Conference on Enhancing the Quality of Undergraduate Education in Psychology at Saint Mary's College of Maryland in 1991 and wrote the "Curriculum" chapter in Handbook for Enhancing Undergraduate Education in Psychology, which summarizes that conference. He participated in the APA’s National Forum on Partnerships in1999 and the Education Leadership Conference in 2001. He has been a consultant on psychology curricula and on the teaching of psychology for many colleges and universities throughout the country.

He served on the Planning Committee for the inaugural Keystone Institute for Psychology organized by Project Kaleidoscope (PKAL) and funded by the National Science Foundation. He was co-leader of a workshop on “Reforming the Undergraduate Psychology Curriculum: Beyond the Saint Mary’s Recommendations” held in Keystone, Colorado during July 2000. He was on the Planning Committee for the PKAL Workshop, “Quality Undergraduate Psychology Programs,” and was co-leader of a session, “The APA’s Saint Mary’s Conference a Decade Later,” in Snowbird, Utah during July 2001.