2011 TC Pressroom
Teachers College, Columbia University
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President's Letter

Dewey or Don’t We?

When I was a Ph.D. student at TC during the 1970s my advisor Donna Shalala secured a tin shack on the roof of Dodge Hall where all her students would share offices and collaborate. I remember that rooftop shack fondly as a clubhouse where a fascinating mix of people gathered to share ideas and apply them to problems on the ground.

I returned to TC as President in 2006 with the memory of that clubhouse – and of the College itself – as a place where brilliant people of all backgrounds and talents could break bread together. Not long afterward, Provost Tom James and I decided to realize that vision by instituting a series of “domain dinners” – gatherings organized around issues such as globalization, policy, and creativity and the imagination – where faculty from all departments could meet, argue, learn and plant the seeds for future collaborations.

As you read this special 125th anniversary issue of TC Today, think of it as an extended domain dinner that bridges TC departments and disciplines and reaches across the decades to include the thinkers whose ideas continue to shape our work. At the table you will find our founder, Grace Dodge, earnestly conversing with our current great champion of

supplementary education, Edmund Gordon. Seated nearby is Patty Smith Hill, who helped found what is now the National Association for the Education of Young Children (and who co-wrote the song that became “Happy Birthday to You”), chatting with Sharon Lynn Kagan, Co-Director of our National Center for Children and Families, about what it would take to establish a full-fledged early childhood education system in this country. Joining them is Karen Froud, Director of our Neurocognition and Language Lab, who is planning a study of the impact of preschool on the brain development of young children. And right next to them, Margaret H’Doubler, who founded the field of dance education while she was a student at TC, and her fellow alumna Georgia O’Keeffe are listening intently as current faculty members Judith Burton (Art and Art Education) and Hal Abeles (Music Education) update them on the state of arts funding in today’s public schools.

Each of you always has a seat at this special domain dinner. Membership in the TC clubhouse includes our 90,000 alumni around the globe who put their TC education to work every day to make the world a better place – and then bring back new ideas and perspectives that inform our teaching and learning for future generations.

While that dynamic process of change is continuously at play throughout our history, the founding principles of TC endure. They include: the need to better understand how people learn so that we can provide more effective teaching; the belief that education really is the world’s great equalizer, and that all human beings deserve the same opportunities to learn and to achieve their fullest potential; the understanding that physical and emotional health profoundly influence learning, academic performance and life chances and cannot be treated separately from the educational process; and the recognition that the arts are valuable not only for how they reinforce other subjects but also because they are fundamental to the development of imagination, empathy and understanding of the human condition.

Perhaps the most prominent guest at our virtual dinner is John Dewey, whose name appears in nearly every story in this issue. Dewey’s writings are vast and complex, and by no means does TC, as either an institution or a collection of individuals, subscribe to his every thought. But the Deweyan concept that we learn from all that we do – and that learning must therefore be as broad and rich an experience as we can make it – informs our work at nearly every level.

In fact, as we stand at the threshold of the next great era in education – when a confluence of new technologies, ideas, research findings and educational practices promises to create learning experiences of incomparable richness – the question facing us is: Dewey or don’t we? Do we or don’t we want all our children to grow up with the tools to be educated, empowered, productive citizens? Do we or don’t we want the United States to regain its standing as the best-educated nation in the world? Do we or don’t we believe that education not only matters, but matters most of all?

The answer to all of these questions that rings loud and clear throughout these pages is that here at Teachers College, yes, we do. But don’t take my word for it. Enter the clubhouse, take your seat at the table and see for yourself. And by all means, feel free to join the conversation.

Susan Fuhrman (Ph.D. ’77)




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