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"Living Up to the Legacy of Teachers College"


Fuhrman Exerpt

President Fuhrman

I am overjoyed beyond words to return to Teachers College. I defended my dissertation exactly 30 years ago this month. I still have to pinch myself to believe that I've made that journey.

 It's good to be home.

It is also good that we gather in this magnificent house of worship, where the sermons of Rev. James Forbes Sr. have raised spirits higher than the soaring belfry. There is a huge difference, Dr. Forbes reminds us, between "doing something" and "getting something done." 

Teachers College earned its reputation by getting a lot done. Dr. Harry Passow, an eminent TC professor who virtually founded the field of urban education, said ours "is a tradition of helping policymakers and practitioners acquire the knowledge, insights, skills, understandings and commitment to ask the right questions, to get beyond the rhetoric of the moment, and to make a difference in whatever kind of educative setting they function." 

Throughout our history, great thinkers have asked fundamental questions that indeed have taken us beyond the rhetoric of the moment-'"and their answers profoundly altered or even launched whole fields of inquiry. 

Any discussion of our legacy rightly begins with John Dewey. 

Dewey's ideas quite simply breathed life into American education by creating the modern American classroom. He asked fundamental questions about human perception and how children really learn. Dewey believed that education should build on the learning in every day life and foster creative problem solving. 

Teachers College created its own Lincoln Experimental School, modeled on Deweyan ideas. First graders at Lincoln studied community life by building a play city, complete with buildings, trains, electric lights, furniture and doll residents. The sixth grade learned how to make paper and books, and how to print and publish a magazine. Eighth graders explored the workings of a heating apparatus, and children staged their own musical productions-'"including, in one program, an excerpt from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony played on pan-pipes of their own making.

The Lincoln School's impact on the nation was monumental. The faculty published volumes; they developed curricula and field-tested them in cooperating public schools. They helped to overhaul school systems in Pittsburgh, Denver, Cleveland, Baltimore, Rochester, Chicago and St. Louis.  

Another path-breaking TC scholar, E.L. Thorndike, pioneered in bringing empirical experimentation to education-'"and provided a scientific basis for Dewey's intuitive understanding that learning occurs when the senses are engaged. Thorndike introduced the statistical method in education and psychology, invented a scale to measure quality of academic performance, and ultimately launched the achievement test movement.  

James Earl Russell, who became dean of Teachers College in 1898, argued that teachers should be prepared as professional experts on a par with doctors, lawyers and engineers, with a curriculum anchored by the four pillars of general culture, special scholarship, professional knowledge and technical skill. He shaped and effectively institutionalized the field of modern pedagogical instruction and, by linking research with practitioner preparation, set a course that Teachers College has followed ever since. 

Russell also introduced at TC America's first course in comparative education. From that time since, we have been the nation's leading exporter of educational theory and method, as well as a primary center for the study of other nations' education systems.

Professor Emeritus Morton Deutsch has sought to define the conditions that lead to constructive ways of resolving conflict between couples, in schools or cities, or among nations. Mort founded the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution. The Center has trained New York City students, parents and teachers in constructive conflict resolution. Mort's work also has influenced deliberations at the United Nations and American arms negotiations.

Edmund Gordon, one of the architects of the federal Head Start program, founded TC's Institute for Urban and Minority Education, which became the nucleus of the College's engagement with schools and community organizations in Harlem. Ed advanced the concept of supplementary education-'"the idea that children from deprived backgrounds must be supported by an extensive scaffolding of caring community that includes after-school programs, counseling services, education for parents, and much more.

Maxine Greene, our brilliant philosopher queen, is among the world's most widely read educational thinkers, a philosopher in residence at Lincoln Center, not to mention an inspiration to artists of every sort. Yet in the 1960s, interviewing for her position at Teachers College, she had to wait in the restroom because the Faculty Club admitted only men. 

Maxine's great quest is to make young people "wide awake" to art. Yet her goal is also to stimulate "wide awakeness" of a much broader kind. "There are, of course, young persons in the inner cities, the ones lashed by -'savage inequalities', the ones whose very schools are made sick by the social problems the young bring in from without," she writes. "Here, more frequently than not, are the real tests of -'teaching as possibility' in the face of what looks like an impossible social reality at a time when few adults seem to care."

What would it mean if we were to truly live up to our legacy at TC? What legacy would we, in turn, leave to those who follow us?

We will assure that our work always addresses the most important questions and seeks to produce definitive answers about the most pressing problems of education and social policy. 

By emphasizing health and psychology along with education, we must represent the interdisciplinary approaches that educational problems inherently demand. 

By strengthening the links between research and practitioner education, we can ensure that educators will benefit from the latest discoveries about student learning.

Building on our legacy also means that we would leave a legacy to our neighbors and our city. It's imperative that we apply new insights and approaches to educational improvement, especially close to home where there are great needs. 

We must take on more responsibility for improving local schools. We have an historic commitment to educational equity and excellence. There's no better place to demonstrate that commitment than here at home in our Harlem community.

We must assure that our research reaches relevant policy and practitioner audiences. We must dedicate ourselves to applying our work toward making a real difference and delivering measurable improvement in outcomes for children.

TC's international work will become more significant through our research on comparative education approaches; through our many exchanges that enable educators to study with the most groundbreaking scholars even if they reside across the globe; and through efforts to help other nations who request it to improve their educational systems and professional preparation programs.

The hallmark of our TC legacy is partnership. We will actively cultivate partners for our work-'"foremost among them our neighbor just to the south, Columbia University. So much of what we hope to do and can do can be achieved or improved upon through work with Columbia

Nearly 80 years ago, Dewey exhorted educators to "think in terms of Education itself rather than in terms of some -'ism' about education." For, he wrote, "in spite of itself, any movement that thinks and acts in terms of an -'ism' becomes so involved in reactions against other -'isms' that it is unwittingly controlled by them."  

Perfect advice for these ideologically fraught times. Only if we move beyond the "isms" to think about what truly works will we-'"as Harry Passow put it-'""prepare Americans for the 21st century and achieve the twin goals of equity and excellence beyond the current rhetoric level." 

Above all others, equity and excellence are the goals that I pledge to pursue as long as I serve Teachers College. I ask you, the faculty, students, staff, trustees, alumni and friends of Teachers College, to join me in making a real difference by getting a lot done. Just imagine: When TC's 20th president reflects on our legacy, she will refer to the early 21st century, when Teachers College became the most consequential institution of its kind. And she will feel the same pride and joy that I feel today.

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