Putting Great Ideas In Play | Teachers College Columbia University

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Putting Great Ideas In Play

Victor Hugo wrote that nothing is so powerful as an idea whose time has come. France’s great writer and social critic would be gratified that, here in the United States, we are finally recognizing our youngest children deserve the best educational and social resources.


As you’ll read in this issue, TC is spearheading new research demonstrating that preschool-age child-ren possess previously unguessed-at abilities to learn mathematics and languages and — equally important — skills for coping with stress, conflict and adversity.


As we apply this new information, we must strike the right balance for learners who need both freedom and structure. “There’s real power in teach­ers taking seriously what kids are doing when they play,” says Assistant Professor Haeny Yoon — and I say, “Amen to that.” Yet, as Professor Herb Ginsburg emphasizes, free play should be “supplemented by intentional, exciting instruction.” These are comple­mentary, not contrary, concerns that must be harmo­nized in all our efforts to serve our youngest students.


Of course, as TC alumna Ruth Lubic reminds us in this issue, to make the most of children’s devel­opment we must really begin before birth. Ruth has devoted her life to ensuring safe and healthy births for low- income women. A certified “living legend” in nursing, she earned her doctorate with TC’s great education anthropologist Lambros Comitas, who urged her to focus on the cultures of the families she was trying to reach. We are proud to claim Ruth as one of our own.


As with any new findings, the flood of discovery about early learning raises the question: How do researchers know what they know? How can they generalize from a single study to a larger population? How do they know why the effects they document display certain patterns?


As Professor Aaron Pallas says in this issue, re-search methodology at TC has always been shaped by questions rather than the other way around. Now, aided by enhanced computing power, our scholars in all fields are combining rich ethnographic techniques with new statistical methods that detect important pat-terns and relationships in vast amounts of data. Our story highlights this prowess and showcases more of the new talent we have added to our faculty.


Ideas require champions to fight for them, and TC has lost several in recent months. On page 62, you can read more about Tom Sobol, the courageous former New York State Commissioner of Education, who headed our superintendents’ pro­gram for many years; Roger Myers, a pioneer in counseling psychology; Frances Connor, a passionate advocate for inclusive education; WinthropAdkins, an innovative life skills educator; Ronald Tikofsky, an expert in treating language disorders; and Patricia McGovern Sweeting, longtime Director of TC’s Mysak Clinic for Com­munication Disorders. These diverse contributors shared an unwavering commitment to excellence and equity in education.


On a personal note: This past summer, I was honored to be asked to serve for three more years as TC’s President. Among ideas whose time has come, TC itself is born anew with each generation. You — the members of our extended community — are furthering that legacy through your support of our historic Campaign, Where the Future Comes First, which crossed the $200 million mark this summer. The benefits — for to­day’s children and for generations to come — lie beyond the ability of any method to quantify.




Published Wednesday, Nov 4, 2015