Publishing, Family Style
In a business that's losing its personal touch, Teachers College Press doesn't just publish books-'"it convenes a community that brings them into the world
Gary Howard had not planned on writing a book about helping White students become more knowledgeable about diversity. In fact, the volume that has since become his calling card-'"We Can't Teach What We Don't Know: White Teachers, Multiracial Schools-'"was both inspired and suggested by his long-time mentor and friend, James Banks, editor of the Multicultural Education series at Teachers College Press (and Tisch Distinguished Visiting Professor at Teachers College during the fall 2007 term). It was Banks-'"who is Black and a pre-eminent figure in the world of multicultural education-'"who first enabled Howard-'"who is White-'"to see "how I could connect social justice issues with teaching
and how schools could be a vehicle for carrying on the message of the Civil Rights Movement." Since hearing Banks speak at the University of Florida in 1976, Howard has carved out a career working on diversity issues with school districts throughout the country. With inspiration from Banks' theoretical framework, he also founded the REACH Center (Respecting Ethnic and Cultural Heritage), a non-profit educational organization based in Washington state. In 1993, Banks edited a special issue of Phi Delta Kappan on multicultural education and invited Howard to contribute. A few years later, Banks asked Howard to put his experiences into a book.
"It was really kind of interesting, that an eminent African American scholar in the field would be trying to talk a White guy into writing his story because he feels that story needs to get out," Howard says. "So that's a very precious piece of my own personal history-'"that Jim reached out and encouraged me to do that."
Fostering collaborations like the one between Howard and Banks is the signature modus operandi of the 103-year-old Press, which occupies most of the bottom floor of Whittier, at TC's northeastern corner. Through a carefully cultivated network of writers and editors, as well as the continuing research and connections of its editors, the Press strives to represent the best "research-into-practice" in the field for educators, researchers, policymakers and a general-interest audience. Many of its publications that began as new, cutting-edge contributions to the field-'"The New Meaning of Educational Change by Michael Fullan, The Blue Guitar by Maxine Greene-'"have gone on to become classics.
"I guess everyone says this about their pride and joy, but we're sort of unusual," says Carole Saltz, the Press's current Director and only the eighth in its history. "We are a university press with a mission: to publish the best professional and scholarly materials in education and in this way, to support the work of Teachers College. We're selling to educators and people who are going to be educators and to those who are going to teach them. Our competition is, for the most part, for-profit publishers who also publish in the field of education. I believe that, because of the kinds of personal connections and close-knit sense of community we bring to the process, we're the best at what we do."
The Press has had many greatest hits, from works by John Dewey, James Earl Russell, Maxine Greene, Lawrence Cremin and other TC luminaries to practical assessment tools like the Environment Rating Scales by Thelma Harms, Richard Clifford and Debby Cryer, as well as a book of essays called Children's Rights, with a contribution by one Hillary Rodham. Its lean 22-member staff manages to turn out some 60 new titles per year. Yet the Press's bread and butter are its series, a total of 26 in all, including (among others) Multicultural Education, On School Reform, Early Childhood Education and Language and Literacy. The series editors are the nerve center of the Press's people network, not only seeking out the latest and most important books but also working their contacts to nudge promising authors into print.
"Sonia Nieto [another author in the Multicultural Education series] said to me, -'Jim's asking you to do a book for this series, and I really encourage you to do it,'" Gary Howard recalls of the process that finally led to him working with Jim Banks on We Can't Teach What We Don't Know. "So that was a collegial and friendship combination, and I think that's a key for TC Press. It's not just a publisher of books but also, in a sense, a facilitator of a community. They really encourage this community of writers and thinkers in getting their ideas out. And in the process, they further create the community they're encouraging."
That was how Celia Genishi, TC Professor of Education, came not only to the Press but to TC itself-'"and it was also how she, too, ended up authoring a book she hadn't planned on writing. In 1979, Genishi and her mentor, the late Millie Almy-'"a senior advisor to the Press's Early Childhood Education series-'"had written Ways of Studying Children: An Observation Manual for Early Childhood Teachers for the Press. Genishi herself was subsequently asked to join the series advisory board, and the upshot was that, in 1990, the series editor, Leslie Williams, a professor herself at Teachers College, helped to recruit Genishi to TC. Yet even before that, the new Language and Literacy series editor, Dorothy Strickland, had recruited Genishi as her own co-editor.
Meanwhile, in 1992, Genishi-'"who calls herself a "slow writer"-'"co-authored another book for the Press (again with Almy), Ways of Assessing Children and Curriculum: Stories of Childhood Practice. Then in 2002, the Press added a new sub-series to the Language and Literacy series, Approaches to Language and Literacy Research from the prestigious National Council on Research in Language and Literacy (NCRLL), and Genishi was recruited by the NCRLL series editors to co-author a title for them. Certainly the stars seemed aligned, as the lead writer on the project was to be Anne Dyson, Genishi's former student at the University of Texas. The book that emerged-'"On the Case: Approaches to Language and Literacy Research-'"was a departure for both writers, and (both agree) a product that was something more than the sum of its parts.
"It turned out to be a lot of fun because we did it differently from the way we've done other books," Genishi says. "So the whole story of it is a combination of serendipity and organicness."
On the Case is a primer that walks the researcher-'"whether graduate student or veteran academic-'"through the basics of study design and data collection and analysis, focusing on the literal details of classroom life: configurations of space, proximity of bathrooms, daily activity schedules, work roles and the social organization of different demographic groups. Yet the book is also a playful foray into the world of childhood experience, modeling its approach on the children's book Madlenka by Peter Sis, in which a little girl learns about the subjective nature of meaning. When Madlenka, the title character, tells the various denizens of her city block-'"each of whom hails from a different part of the world-'"about her loose tooth, each responds differently, bringing a unique cultural perspective to bear.
All of which makes On the Case "a window onto larger methodological issues about educational research," Genishi says. "It's an antidote to the current over-emphasis on -'scientific research' in education-'"because lots of people feel a need to look at children through social and cultural lenses and not just in terms of a test score. And what we're really asking is, -'What are other ways kids can do well? How can we get at the ways that learners from a variety of ethnic and racial groups navigate the world?'"
Independent and Innovative
To ask that question in the context of education today is, of course, something of a political act. "There are people who would say our approach is not real research," Genishi acknowledges. "It doesn't have numbers in it. But because the audience was mainly graduate students who might be learning about qualitative research, we really tried to bring it down to earth without leaving out the theory."
As Genishi sees it, On the Case is not atypical of where the Language and Literacy series often locates itself on the political spectrum. "It would be really unlikely for us to publish in the series something that had a foreword by the late Jerry Falwell, you know? I think in some ways we're middle-of-the-road, because we don't really swing out there and say everything has to be extremely liberal or radical, but still, in the grand scheme of things, most people would probably say we're pretty liberal."
For Carole Saltz, however, politics are beside the point. For one thing, all manuscripts published by the Press are carefully vetted by at least two outside readers. Business success is also an important part of the equation-'"all books have a detailed marketing plan drawn up for them before going before Saltz and the Press's Editorial Advisory Board, made up of faculty volunteers and ex-officio, the President and Vice Presidents of the College.
For another, the decisions that culminate in the publishing of each book are simply too complicated for anyone to exert a consistent political influence. The Editorial Advisory Board, series editors, reviewers, and series board members, all offer valuable advice on the merits of publishing books, but Saltz herself has the final say. In fact, Saltz says, to her knowledge, no TC president has ever pushed the Press to publish or not to publish or to give up its hold on its cherished independence, which, she believes, is critical to the integrity of a university press. TC Professor Emeritus Jonas Soltis, a series editor and Press author who is both a longtime board member and sometime Press consultant, says he was once hired by the College to spend a year trying to find ways to tie the Press more directly to the College. He was unsuccessful, he says, because, "to be able to publish, you don't want to have a giant looking over your shoulder."
Along those lines, the Press is not obliged to publish TC faculty nor are TC faculty obliged to publish with the Press; as a result, the Press is truly able to stand apart from the College and make independent publishing decisions. Given the College's influence on the field of education, however, it's not surprising that many TC faculty are included among the Press' publishing list.
The bottom line, Saltz says, is that "all of us at the Press have spent considerable time looking at the field and working with scholars, researchers, practitioners and even parents who have a tremendous commitment to education. We have a great respect for people who are doing this really important work. It's our job to differentiate between good work and not such good work and publish the best. As professionals and as human beings, we're committed to the ideals of educators."
Facilitators of Ideas
Indeed, if the series editors play the lead role in assembling the community that surrounds the Press, it is the staff that cements it together. Four of the top people-'"Saltz, Sales and Marketing and Assistant Director Leyli Shayegan, Executive Acquisitions Editor Brian Ellerbeck and Production Manager Peter Sieger-'"have been there for more than 20 years, and Saltz says even most of the freelancers have been around for at least a decade. This longevity gives the Press editors the legitimacy and heft to have a significant effect on the publishing process-'"not just as editors of the words but as active and respectful facilitators of the ideas.
That wasn't always the case. When its doors first opened, in 1904, the Press was known as the Bureau of Publications and operated essentially as the college's publishing unit, producing TC dissertations as well as other books. Rechristened Teachers College Press in 1965, it emerged in the '60s and '70s as a publisher of reading diagnostics such as the Gates-MacGinitie group-administered reading survey test before the test was sold to another publishing company and the staff reduced by nearly half. That was the low point in the Press's history, a time of fewer books and balance sheets in the red.
Saltz-'"who had cut her teeth at Springer Publishing under Ursula Springer (herself an Ed.D. in Comparative Education from TC)-'"came on board in 1984 with the expressed charge to make the Press both more outward-looking and more profitable. Tough challenges followed, including modernizing operations and a judicious pruning of the Press's illustrious backlist. Saltz also explored highlighting new areas for the Press, including Early Childhood Education, which was then "professionalizing," as she puts it, and in which the Press has since emerged as a field leader.
Saltz has also more recently overseen the addition of a growing number of general interest titles aimed at parents and non-educators, including New York City's Best Public High Schools by Clara Hemphill; Letters to the Next President: What We Can Do About the Real Crisis in Public Education, edited by Carl Glickman; and Forever After: New York City Teachers on 9/11-'"a book conceived of by Saltz herself.
"Forever After is really an important book because the Press dared to look at the most intimate work of those in the schools the morning after 9/11," says Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York, who has written four books for the Press and contributed a chapter to another. "In doing that, they really invested resources in getting teachers to write and making sure it was a diverse group of teachers, elementary, high school, even community organizers. It's a good example of how they're able to give birth to intellectual projects because they've got the pulse of the education field."
As a scholar herself, Fine says that whether her publishing goal is to reach "the next generation of teachers" or get her work in the hands of future researchers, "Teachers College Press is the place I am most hoping the volumes will go.
"They nurture you," Fine says. "They midwife your book. They introduce you to people you want to meet. They edit in all those highly useful and annoying ways that I would never want to have to do for myself. They worry about how to frame a book or give it a title, so that it will have the broadest reach in terms of audience. It's like working with a kaleidoscope. I bring all the marbles and then they turn it and make me rethink the frames that I'm going to bring to it."
What typically takes place is not merely line editing. "It's reading the whole," Saltz says. "Understanding the main ideas, figuring it out organizationally. It's not always true that something has to be done. But if something has to be done, we give an author models, pointing out the areas that need work. It can be understanding the importance of the organization within chapters and suggesting subheads or reorganizing them to go along with the text."
It's not always a process for the fainthearted. Gary Howard recalls that when he submitted his first three chapters, Jim Banks sat him down for a heart-to-heart. "He said, -'Gary, do you want White people to read this?' And I said, -'Yes, I mean, that's our audience. Not just White folks, but all educators.' And Jim said, -'I would suggest that if you want White educators to read this, you better change the tone.' And he was right. At first I resisted, but this book was going to be used by universities; it was going to be read by Susie from Des Moines. How is she going to stay with this? And that helped me as a writer. That really made the book."
It also cemented the friendship between Howard and Banks. Howard ultimately dedicated the book to his mentor, leaving Banks-'"in his own words-'""a bit embarrassed but also very touched."
In fact, Banks says that of the 30 books he has published in his series thus far, he is proudest of Howard's. "Nearly all these other people in the series would have written books anyway. They may not have written the books that I asked them to write, but they were writing books. Here's a book that I nurtured, that I helped birth."
Banks is continuing to mentor young writers-'"he says he has three he thinks are likely to produce books. And Howard's recent revision of his book, updating it to take into account NCLB and the Bush administration, has been well received.
Meanwhile, Howard says he recently received an email from Saltz asking him about his next project. Howard spends most of his time traveling from school district to school district to lecture, or as he calls it "following my book all over the country," so he doesn't have a lot of time to write. There are school districts that have ordered the book for all 5,000 of their teachers and administrators-'"significant success, certainly by university press standards.
So, he was asked, when's your next book?
"I'm definitely going to write," he says. "I have a couple of ideas that are percolating now."