Dear Members of the TC Community,
Teachers College joins educators and young readers worldwide in mourning the passing of alumnus Richard “Dick” Robinson, the chairman, president and CEO of Scholastic and the benefactor of TC’s endowed Robinson Chair in Children’s Literature. Mr. Robinson attended TC as a non-degree student in Educational Administration in 1963.
Mr. Robinson applied knowledge gained at TC to his leadership of Scholastic, which transformed under his direction into the largest publisher and distributor of children’s books in the world. There is no one who has done more to make great books available for children.
Founding Director of the Teachers College Reading & Writing Project Lucy Calkins, who has held the Robinson Chair in Children’s Literature since 2004, saluted Mr. Robinson as a “hero to all of us who care about putting books into the hands of kids.”
Professor Calkins said Mr. Robinson will be remembered as “an indefatigable worker, fueled by his passion to do right for kids and for his Scholastic family.” She added, “I so admired his deep love for his work and for all of us who share in that work. I’m blessed indeed to be the Robinson Professor in Children’s Literature, to carry his DNA with me as I work on behalf of the values that he championed.”
A native of Pittsburgh, Mr. Robinson graduated from Harvard College before beginning his career by teaching English at a suburban Chicago high school. He joined Scholastic, which his father had started as a classroom magazine in 1920, as an assistant magazine editor in 1962, becoming president in 1974, CEO in 1975, and board chair in 1982.
Under his leadership, the company became synonymous with R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps, Bruce Degen’s The Magic School Bus, Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants, Ann M. Martin’s The Baby Sitters Club, and other beloved series for young readers.
He broke new ground, and sales records, with The Hunger Games trilogy for young adults, and by acquiring the U.S. rights to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. The company’s trade publishing division has sold 180 million copies in the Harry Potter series since 1998.
Mr. Robinson also advocated for the importance of children’s literature as a means of educating about societal issues and subjects. In 2017, he received an honorary National Book Award for his contributions to the literary world. In 2019, his efforts on behalf of free expression earned Robinson accolades from PEN America. And speaking with the Associated Press in 2020, Mr. Robinson said, “We strongly believe our books and magazines need to address tough topics that are relevant, even if we get backlash or boycotted.”
The Scholastic Board of Directors in a statement issued to Publisher’s Weekly called Mr. Robinson “a true visionary in the world of children’s books and an unrelenting advocate for children’s literacy and education with a remarkable passion his entire life.”
In 2002, Teachers College honored Mr. Robinson with the Cleveland E. Dodge Medal for Distinguished Service to Education, the highest recognition the College accords to a non-educator. Upon accepting his award, Mr. Robinson cited the critical importance of reading that lets children explore the inner worlds of imagination. “It’s the wizards of words, like J.K. Rowling, who create the vision that beckon children to the wonderful world of reading,” he said.
Mr. Robinson never lost sight of his roots as an educator and TC student: “My experience as a teacher, as well as the time I spent at Teachers College with top thinkers in the education field, supported my approach to leading Scholastic,” he said in an interview for the 2013 TC Annual Report. “I have always viewed our staff as key to the success of the materials we produce and market to schools – just as the teacher is the key to the success of the child’s learning in the classroom.
“Every Scholastic staff member, from editors to people who are shipping books, views his or her mission and role as helping children to read and learn.”
Please join me in celebrating Mr. Robinson, his life, his contributions to Teachers College, and the joy of the written word he instilled – now and forever – in children everywhere.
President, Teachers College