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Emeritus Professor and Dean
Harold Noah (Ph.D., 1964), Teachers College Emeritus Professor and Dean, may not have invented the field of comparative education, but few scholars were as influential in shaping its direction in the latter half of the twentieth century. When Noah came on the scene in the 1960s, the field was dominated by historians and philosophers, some of whom harbored a thinly veiled distaste for things quantitative. For Noah, it was all too subjective. He was a numbers man, having earned a Ph.D. at Teachers College (his dissertation was entitled “Financing Schools in the Soviet Union”), and would emerge as a leader of a new wave of scholars who vigorously advocated the use of social science methods in comparative education research. “We wanted to draw on methods used in political science, economics, sociology,” recalls Noah, who served on the TC faculty from 1964 to 1987. “Not that we wanted to throw out history or philosophy—by no means. We were accused of that, however. We never persuaded our colleagues that we were not hostile to the humanistic approach. I’ll go to my grave being perceived as hostile.”
The seminal year was 1969. That was when Noah and his longtime colleague and co-author, Max Eckstein (they met as doctoral students at TC), published their most important contribution to the field, Toward a Science of Comparative Education. The book, which lays out how quantitative methods can be deployed in the service of com- paring educational systems, was a shot across the bow, setting off a vigorous debate in the field about the use of social science methods. What Noah and the others wanted was to move the field in the direction of explanation and prediction rather than identification and description. He was convinced that much could be learned about teaching and learning if scholars in the field could pose research questions and get at answers by using quantitative methods. It was an idea whose time had come.
Even as Noah and Eckstein were publishing Toward a Science, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA) had already conducted its first pilot cross-national study of 13-year-olds in 12 countries. IEA would go on to develop a series of influential cross-national studies on student achievement (Noah would participate in some of them), including the sprawling Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS), which tested elementary, middle and high school students from more than 60 countries. “In a sense, if one were to ask what the value of Noah and Eckstein was in terms of their work in ’69,” Noah says, “it might well be that we provided a framework for comparative education that could justify doing IEA-type work.”
Although echoes of the debate over social science methods still resonate in the field today, the issue largely has been settled, with quantitative approaches widely accepted and used. Not surprisingly, Toward a Science is generally regarded as one of the most important texts in the history of comparative education, and Noah one of its most influential figures. Noah, for his part, is not so certain how much his ideas have truly taken hold. He and Eckstein saw the field tilt toward post- modernist and Marxist theoretical perspectives late in their careers, stirring up once more questions about the value of the social sciences in comparative education.
“Eckstein and I did not see our own education as oppressive; we saw it as liberating,” Noah says. “Now, maybe, we just were naïve—had a false consciousness. That was the cant phrase that was used. Oh, well. That wasn’t my approach—and still isn’t. It’s a problem that [philosopher] Isaiah Berlin has described as the hedgehog and the fox. The hedgehog likes to surround himself with lots of facts and tries to disentangle some meaning from that bunch of facts. The fox has a very few principles and uses those principles to try to understand the world. I was, and will always be, in the second camp.”
(excerpt from the Spring 2009 Special Education Issue of TC Today).
Jo Anne Kleifgen
She came to the College in 1986 to help manage an expanding doctoral program in Applied Linguistics. We soon discovered that the best way to manage a heavy load of doctoral advisement was to run a joint seminar in which students would first present their proposals and then the various chapters as their dissertations evolved. I was able to observe firsthand that she was a consummate professional: rigorous in standards, yet empathetic in interaction.
Jo Anne was especially skilled in guiding students toward research that would be valuable in their future careers. Here her own research with digital technologies was especially relevant, and she was gifted at helping students develop projects that emphasize social interaction around computers. In the case of international students, she often encouraged them to pursue research that would be responsive to new developments in their home countries. Her own international experience had taught her that in many countries students had to adapt their research to fit into a relatively low-tech environment.
Jo Anne was also concerned that students undertake feasible projects. She often helped them to limit the scope of their research so that it could be completed in a timely manner; but she made sure that they maintained rigorous methods. In research that involved social interaction, for example, she taught them the importance of building reliable databases. In the case of international students, she made sure that their dissertations included detailed transcripts in the original language, so that scholars in their home countries could evaluate the research. She kept her eye on what would be most beneficial in developing effective research and good practice on the home front.
Once students were well underway with their doctoral research, Jo Anne encouraged them to make presentations at academic conferences. She was skilled in providing insightful feedback as they rehearsed their presentations at the doctoral seminar. Once their doctoral research was fully developed, she encouraged them to prepare articles for academic journals. She helped them not only identify appropriate journals but also produce carefully tailored work with the result that many of our students began their publishing careers while still at the College. Jo Anne was exemplary in her own time management. Students were able to observe firsthand how a faculty member can maintain her own research, teach courses that provide substantial feedback to students, be active in the larger profession and at the local institution, and still find time to responsibly direct many dissertations.
(excerpt from Spring 2013 Global Update Newsletter, written by Clifford Hill is the Arthur I. Gates Professor of Language and Education Emeritus at Teachers College Columbia University, where he served as the founding chair of the Department of International and Transcultural Studies.)