A Party of Historic Proportions: Teachers College Celebrates 125 Years
Teachers College, Columbia University — the nation’s oldest and largest graduate school of education — is celebrating the 125th anniversary of its founding throughout 2013.
TC, as it is known, has been home to some of the biggest names in education and a host of related fields, from the philosophers John Dewey and Maxine Greene, to the historian Lawrence Cremin, to the psychologists Edward Lee Thorndike and Edmund Gordon, to the former Clinton administration cabinet member Donna Shalala to the nutrition educator Joan Dye Gussow. Its alumni have included the education commentator Diane Ravitch, former New Jersey Governor and 9/11 Commission Chair Thomas Kean, the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm (the first black candidate to seek major party nomination for the U.S. Presidency), the psychologists Carl Rogers and Albert Ellis, and many others. The College is widely known for its legacy of firsts — the fields of inquiry, ranging from comparative and international education and nursing education to conflict resolution and spirituality in psychology, launched within its walls — and TC faculty members also composed the song that became “Happy Birthday to You” and played a lead role in the creation of the now-ubiquitous yellow school bus. As Cremin — the College’s seventh president — wrote in 1952, “the history of Teachers College… is the history of American teacher education writ small … the College has been at the forefront off every major movement, issue and conflict in American education.”
Yet the institution that would become TC began as the humble Kitchen Garden Institution, founded in the early 1880s by the philanthropist Grace Hoadley Dodge to educate the many immigrant families entering New York City in “the domestic arts.”
That purpose changed quickly as Dodge realized that the well-intentioned society women who were volunteering as teachers needed extensive preparation, both in the art of teaching itself and to bridge the cultural divide with their students. By 1887, ensconced in new quarters on Morningside Heights, the organization had changed its name to the New York College for the Training of Teachers, and Dodge had persuaded Columbia University faculty member Nicholas Murray Butler to serve as president.
All of that history and much more has been reflected in the many events and displays orchestrated by the College since January 1 of this year.
On January 25 — 1/25 — the College raised the curtain on a special anniversary website (www.tc.edu/125) and a new weekly series, “Mini Moments with Big Thinkers.” The series features excerpts from videotaped interviews with leading TC alumni, current faculty, faculty emeriti and friends. (Those spotlighted have included Greene, Gordon, Shalala, Gussow and many others.)
In March, Teachers College was the focus of a month-long exhibition at the New-York Historical Society titled “Teachers College: Pioneering Education through Innovation,” curated by Judith Burton, TC Professor of Art and Art Education, and prodigiously researched by TC doctoral Research Fellow Jennifer Mitnick. On opening night, TC President Susan Fuhrman (Ph.D. ’77) told a gathering of top leaders in philanthropy, business, education, government and the arts, as well as many faculty members, trustees and others in the extended TC family, that she is “awed by the brilliance and insight of our founders and early leaders. Long before the concept of ‘teaching the whole child’ came into vogue, these education visionaries were building a remarkable institution that would address the intellectual, physical and psychological development of all learners. I know they would be proud to see TC standing tall as the oldest and largest school of education in the country, consistently ranked as one of the top education research institutions in the world.”
Keynote speaker Kenneth T. Jackson, Columbia University’s Jacques Barzun Professor of History, spoke about the Gilded Age in New York City as the birth-period of modern-day American philanthropy, when a group of leading families created a remarkable assortment of institutions that continue to drive the civic and cultural life of New York City. In addition to Teachers College, that list includes the New York Public Library, the New York Botanical Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, Grand Central Station, the Brooklyn Bridge, Barnard College and Union Theological Seminary. Representatives from all of those institutions were on hand, as were modern-day members of five of the families that founded many of those institutions, including Teachers College. Current-day Vanderbilts, Macys, Milbanks, Rockefellers and Dodges ascended the stage of the Historical Society’s theater to loud applause, accompanied by members of the Teachers College Student Senate.
Fuhrman paid particular tribute to Dodge scion and TC Board of Trustees Co-Chair William Dodge Rueckert. Fuhrman described Rueckert’s great aunt Grace Dodge as “the College’s guiding spirit through its formative years.” She then turned to Rueckert and his wife, Fleur, and thanked them for carrying on “the Dodge family tradition of unwavering support, guidance and leadership. “Bill and Fleur,” she said, amid boisterous cheers, “we hope there will always be a member of the Dodge family to serve as a guiding light for Teachers College.”
Also in March, TC posted a series of history-themed ads in bus shelters on New York City’s Upper West Side featuring eminent figures who either taught at or attended the College.
Then in April, the first in an ongoing series of banners celebrating the College’s many academic strengths and the power of its alumni appeared along Broadway, between 110th and 114th Streets and again between 118th and 120th Streets, and on 120th between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue.
If the New-York Historical Society exhibit shone a spotlight on TC’s past, the College’s fifth annual Academic Festival — its signature homecoming event, held in late mid-April drew connections to the future. Themed “Celebrating Our Traditions for Tomorrow” — which is also the tagline for the College’s entire 125th anniversary year — featured the presentation of TC’s President’s Medal to alumna Ellen Condliffe Lagemann, former Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and now a faculty member at Bard College, a keynote address by Lagemann on the legacy of Cremin, who was her adviser and mentor; panel discussions and presentations led by faculty, alumni and students, which ranged from the College’s ongoing work in other nations to its enduring presence in the arts; and the honoring of several other distinguished alumni.
Of Cremin, Lagemann said, “He placed education in the larger social context, and educational progressivism as one branch in progressivism writ large.” “He believed in alternative routes to education and versions of education,” she said, including practical and vocational education. “He challenged his colleagues to study education across the entire life cycle and in all its institutions.”
Among the day’s other honorees were:
Jody Gottfried Arnhold (M.A. ’73), Founding Director of the 92nd Street Y’s Dance Education Laboratory, Chairman of the Board of Ballet Hispanico, and former co-chair of the committee to draft the New York City Department of Education Curriculum Blueprint for Teaching & Learning in Dance. “Name a dance-related initiative and chances are Arnhold is involved in it,” Dance Teacher Magazine has written of Arnhold, who thanked TC for serving “as a bridge to my life’s work” and to her mission to install “a quality dance educator” in every public school in New York City.
Bobby Susser (M.A. ’87), composer of children’s songs, including the hit anti-drug hit “Once You Understand,” which sold 1.4 million records in the United States, reached the Top 5 in England and Germany, and has since been sampled by hip-hop artists such as Biz Markie, Acen, 4 Hero and De La Soul. Susser has recorded 25 albums aimed at the younger set, including “Bikewell Bear and St. Jude,” an anthem for the world-renowned St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
Sreyashi Jhumki Basu (Ph.D. ’06), a science educator who died of breast cancer at age 31 in 2008. As an undergraduate at Stanford, Basu interviewed homeless children on the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg for a thesis titled “Targeting Children in Crisis: The Health of Street Children in Urban, Post-Communist Russia.” She presented the work, which specifically highlighted the issue of educational access, to UNICEF in Geneva. After graduating, she co-founded Discover, a summer math and science program for under-privileged teenaged girls in Palo Alto. Through Physics on the Move, she also developed a physics curriculum for high schools in the Gauteng Province of South Africa.
Basu subsequently moved to New York City, where she earned her TC doctorate in 2006, joined the faculty of NYU, and helped found the School for Democratic Leadership, where she received a research fellowship from the Knowles Foundation to help new science teachers interpret and enact democratic science pedagogy. Her parents, who accepted Basu’s award at TC’s Academic Festival, have since created the Jhumki Basu Foundation, which promotes equity in science education through grants to science teachers, awards scholarships to children in urban school districts and brings together teachers to share ideas and best practices.
A 12-month-long birthday party might seem at risk for losing steam, but TC has lots more planned for its anniversary year. At its convocation ceremonies later this month, the College will honor speakers Thomas Friedman, the author and New York Times columnist; alumna and educator Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents; and alumnus Lee Sing Kong, who serves as Director of Singapore National Institute of Education.
In July, alumni around the world will celebrate Global Teachers College Day.
And in November, the College will top off its anniversary year with a special 125th Gala that, fittingly, will be held on 125th Street at the fabled Apollo Theater, where TC will honor an eminent philanthropist, a leading corporate CEO, and a superstar from the world of entertainment.
An anniversary is just a number, but it’s clear that at Teachers College, this celebration is about more than institutional longevity.
“There are so many fields that started here at TC — but the future is why we’re here today,” Susan Fuhrman said in her opening remarks at Academic Festival. “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 20th centuries, we’ll do so with the 21st.” #