In One College's History, The Story of American EducationTeachers College, Columbia University - celebrating the 125th anniversary of its founding - is the focus of an exhibit at the New-York Historical Society.
A track record of “firsts,” ranging from nutrition education to spirituality in psychology, is featured from March 5th through March 31st
“Since its founding in 1887… Teachers College has been in the forefront of every major movement, issue and conflict in American education.” Lawrence Cremin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning education historian who served as the College’s seventh president, wrote those words in 1952. Now the continuing story of Teachers College – covering not only its work in teacher education but also its many ground-breaking contributions in health, psychology, nutrition and other fields – will be the focus of a new exhibit at the New-York Historical Society. Curated by TC Professor of Art Education Judith Burton (a faculty member in the department of Arts and Humanities) and titled “Teachers College: Pioneering Education, Celebrating 125 Years of Innovation in Learning,” the exhibit of photographs, documents and artifacts will run from March 5th through March 31st at the Society’s Museum and Library, located in Manhattan at 170 Central Park West, between 76th and 77th Streets.
TC was created at a time when the world faced challenges much like those of today. Industrialization and technology were creating vast wealth and deep economic uncertainty. A new influx of people was pouring into U.S. cities from rural areas and from other nations around the world. Communities were grappling with complex new problems of health, race relations, education and crime.
Reflecting the consciousness of the era’s leading scholars and social reformers, as well as of a remarkable group of philanthropic families who funded the creation of many other enduring New York City cultural and civic institutions, Teachers College was conceived to meet all of these challenges. The result was an institution that, through the dynamic linking of theory and practice, not only met but also anticipated the needs of subsequent eras, serving as an ongoing and trusted source of solutions to which the nation has turned time and again. “Teachers College: Pioneering Education, Celebrating 125 Years of Innovation in Learning” recaps the College’s humble beginnings as Grace Dodge’s Kitchen Garden Association, through which “lady volunteer” instructors taught cooking, sewing and other fundamental domestic skills to immigrant women and their children. It traces the Association’s change in focus to teaching teachers, prompted by the recognition that instruction of people from other cultures and societies required a range of skills and perspectives that were largely absent in American schools.From there, the viewer meets a succession of the College’s legendary thinkers – visionaries such as John Dewey, who championed experiential, hands-on learning; E.L. Thorndike, who founded the field of education psychology; James Earl Russell, who incorporated health-related fields into the college’s curriculum and also fathered the field of comparative and international education; Mary Adelaide Nutting, who created the field of nursing education; Mary Swartz Rose, who created the field of nutrition education; Elizabeth Farrell, who created the field of special education; and Harold Rugg, who established the serial textbook model of publishing with his innovative social studies pamphlets. The exhibit gives equal weight to more recent luminaries at the College, who have pioneered new fields, including urban education, the study of gifted children, conflict resolution, and spirituality in psychology.
The viewer meets a wide-ranging and often surprising cast of famous Teachers College alumni that includes Shirley Chisholm, the nation’s first black Congresswoman and first black woman to seek a major party’s presidential nomination; Carl Rogers, considered the preeminent American psychologist of the 20th century; Tao Xingzhi, the great Chinese education reformer; Thomas Kean, the former New Jersey governor who chaired the 9/11 Commission; Joan Gussow, a leader in the organic food movement who went on to teach for many years at the College; and Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the sex therapist and media personality.
The College’s focus on educational equity is also a theme that runs throughout the exhibit, from TC’s historic role in preparing black teachers from the South who were denied admission to southern education schools during the era of Jim Crow, to Lawrence Cremin’s vision of education as a process that extends beyond classrooms to include families, religious institutions, communities, museums and the media.
The exhibit concludes with a look at the College’s current-day efforts to shape a new “Century of the Learner” that harnesses new findings from cognitive and neuroscience about how people learn and how teaching can be tailored to meet individual strengths and weaknesses. Much of that work has been conducted by the College’s own faculty members, and is also playing out at TC through work to strengthen neighborhoods – including through the new Teachers College Community School – and through policy recommendations advanced by the College’s new department of Education Policy and Social Analysis.
To learn more about “Teachers College: Pioneering Education Through Innovation,” visit the New-York Historical Society website.