Honoring a Legacy for Generations to Come
Academic Festival reporting and writing by Patricia Lamiell, Joe Levine and Siddhartha Mitter. All photography courtesy of the Columbia University Photo Services bureau (Barbara Alper, Bruce Gilbert).
Lawrence Cremin didn’t actually appear at TC’s 2013 Academic Festival, but there was an almost palpable sense that, as the late TC president himself would have put it, he was watching from “that great faculty club in the sky.” On a day in which the intellectual fare ranged from “Psychology Without Borders: Providing Hope and Healing in the Face of Adversity” to “There’s a New TA in Town: Learning with Robots & Avatars,” to “The Use and Abuse of Data in Educational Planning in Developing Countries,” it seemed probable that Cremin, who championed the notion of education as a process that extended far beyond classrooms, was nodding his approval.
The fifth annual iteration of the College’s signature homecoming event – themed “Celebrating a Tradition for Tomorrow” in recognition of TC’s 125th anniversary – was designed to “reflect our goal to honor and advance the TC legacy for generations to come,” said TC President Susan Fuhrman in her opening remarks. “There are so many fields that started here at TC – but the future is why we’re here today. As we reflect on TC’s ‘legacy of firsts’, we also look ahead to how TC will continue to lead in the 21st century. Our goal is to do nothing less than invent the future. Just as we helped shaped the 19th and 21st centuries, we’ll do so with the 21st.”
Toward that end, Fuhrman said, Cremin’s broad and pluralistic approach to education continues to drive TC. “His vision informs all our work today. It is the foundation on which we are building TC for the 21st century.”
Fuhrman led a round of applause for alumna Charlotte Cremin, the historian’s wife, who had flown in from California to be present. Attention then turned to Cremin’s former protégé, Ellen Condliffe Lagemann (Ph.D. ’78), Levy Research Professor, Bard College, who was receiving TC’s 2013 President’s Medal of Excellence.
“As a historian, you have repeatedly reminded us that, as you have put it, history is ‘essential to an appreciation of how different social forces have melded to create the present,’” Provost Thomas James told Lagemann, whose resume includes stints as Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education (and Charles Warren Professor of the History of American Education) and President of the Spencer Foundation, but whose current passion is teaching in local prisons around Bard through the student-founded Bard Prison Initiative. James praised Lagemann for preaching “a gospel of education as means to achieving social justice” and for advancing the vision of Cremin and his mentor, the TC education sociologist George Counts, by arguing that “education research and policy must be made both accessible and relevant to teachers working on the front lines.”
Lagemann, delivering the day’s keynote address, then spoke on the legacy of Cremin, who served as her thesis advisor during her student days at TC.
education in the larger social context, and educational progressivism as one
branch in progressivism writ large,” Lagemann said. “He believed in alternative
routes to education and versions of education,” she said, including practical
and vocational education, in an echo of TC’s roots in Grace Dodge’s Kitchen
Garden Association and Industrial Education Association. “He challenged his
colleagues to study education across the entire life cycle and in all its
Following Lagemann’s address, Robbie McClintock (Ph.D. ’68), Emeritus Professor in the Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Education, Amy Stuart Wells (Ph.D. ’92), Professor of Sociology and Education, and Edmund Gordon, Jr. (Ed.D. ’57), Richard March Hoe Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Education, joined Lagemann in a panel discussion, moderated by James, of Cremin’s personal influence on their lives and work.
“It was Larry Cremin who gave me my sociological imagination,” said Wells, who was not an advisee of Cremin’s, but spoke often with him in TC’s hallways and now teaches a course titled after one of his own. Wells said she had come to TC with a background in journalism, a field that many scholars typically look down on compared to academia. Not so Cremin. “He valued my efforts to communicate with the broader public. A lot of people didn’t respect journalism, but as a senior scholar, he did. He supported me and inspired me.”
Other highlights of the day, which drew more than 600 alumni, friends, faculty, staff, and current and newly admitted students, included:
- An afternoon plenary session, titled Teachers College:
The Next Generation, featuring four faculty members doing cutting-edge work. Christopher Emdin, Assistant Professor of Science Education,
spoke about the importance of hip-hop as a tool for teaching urban youth about
Froud, Associate Professor of Speech & Language Pathology, spoke
about the power of neuroscience research to illuminate how people learn.
Joey Lee, Assistant Professor of
Technology and Education, spoke about “gamification” strategies to teach
environmental awareness. And Lisa
Miller, Professor of Psychology and Education and Director of Clinical
Psychology, spoke about protect psychological power of faith.
A full slate of
morning and afternoon panel discussions that, in addition to the sessions mentioned
above, included a talk by alumna Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the sex therapist and
media personality, about her escape as a child from Nazi Germany and her
subsequent early years in Switzerland and Israel; a conversation with alumnae
Alice Wilder and Angela Santomero, the creators of the hit children’s
television show “Blue’s Clues”; and a class on watercolor painting.
[Editor’s note: Our coverage includes write-ups and videos of only some of the sessions at Academic Festival. More will be posted soon.]
Posthumous presentation of an
Early Career Award to the science educator Sreyashi Jhumki Basu, (Ph.D. ’06), who died of breast cancer in
2008 at the age of 31. Basu’s parents accepted the award on her behalf.
- Presentation of the College’s other Distinguished Alumni and Early Career Awards to a diverse cast that included Jody Gottfried Arnhold, the founder of Dance Education Lab at New York City’s 92nd Street Y; Susan Jay Spungin,’75, President, Blind Biz (and retired Vice President for the American Foundation for the Blind); and Bobby Susser,’87, renowned children’s songwriter, performer and record producer.
It was, as one audience member was overheard to say, “pretty amazing that all of this could go on at one college.” Lawrence Cremin wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Published Tuesday, Apr. 23, 2013