I cannot take full credit or blame for whatever of substance or spirit shows up on the pages of Science Education encore. That is because what I am professionally and what I have come to believe and value in science education are due in great part to the influence of many dozens of others over the years—as mentors, collaborators, and supporters.
In this photo, taken in my office at Harvard University in 1968, I am joined (from the left) by Fletcher Watson and Gerald Holton. No two individuals have been more important in shaping my professional competence. I wish that Andrew Ahlgren had been in that picture, for he was a long-time collaborator who was, informally, also my mentor. Long before that, however, Frank Gillette, my mentor at Stanford University, helped me develop a view of science education that influenced my thinking over the decades.
Frank Gillette. When I undertook a master’s program at Stanford University, professor Gillette was my advisor. Under his guidance, my master’s thesis—undertaken just three years after Hiroshima—was The status of atomic energy in the secondary schools of California; and with his urging I deliberately begin my teaching career in a school district in which a large fraction of the students were children of immigrants and came from poor and working-class families. Both of those experiences served me well.
Fletcher G. Watson. At the behest of James Conant the president of Harvard University, professor Watson, an astronomer there agreed to join the Graduate School of Education and build its strength in science education. Soon he became preeminent in the field and his doctoral students were highly sought after. Luckily, Fletcher took me on as a doctoral student, and while he was demanding and did not tolerate poorly thought out work, he also urged intellectual and professional risk-taking. Later, as a co-director of Harvard Project Physics along with physics professor Gerald Holton and me, my mentor became my collaborator. Thus I was in a position to gain from his deeply knowledgeable insights about the science education enterprise worldwide, including advances in teacher preparation, curricula, and research. It was because of him that I was prepared to take on the position of head of science and mathematics education at New York University.
Gerald Holton. When teaching high school and trying to develop a new kind of physics course, one drawing extensively on history and philosophy of science, I stole without conscience from professor Holton’s undergraduate textbook, Introduction to Concepts and Theories in Physical Science, copyright laws to the contrary not withstanding. Larceny, I finally realized, was not going to do the trick and that my course was not good enough to have a life beyond my own classroom—I needed to know more and I needed expert help. Fortunately, I secured a Ford Foundation Fellowship to study the history of science for a year at Harvard, and took advantage of that opportunity to introduce myself to Gerald Holton, the distinguished Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics who was also a professor of the history of science. Once we got to know each other, we agreed that I would continue to write the book and that he would provide expert oversight. In time, that partnership led to my appointment as assistant professor of education and to the creation of Harvard Project Physics, at which point we became collaborators. I learned from him the importance of conceptual coherence of science subject matter and how to draw usefully on the humanities. To this day I look to him for penetrating advice on whatever science education I am working on at the time.
Andrew Ahlgren. Before becoming professor of physics and education at the University of Minnesota, Chick Ahlgren worked with us on Project Physics, rising from student to invaluable collaborator. Of the many dozens of high school teachers, university professors, and graduate students who served on our staff at some part of the seven years of its existence, he was the most wide-ranging and endlessly inventive. He made significant contributions to the Project Physics student handbook, teacher resource book, films, and the editing of the textbook, and in the process he became a mentor as well as collaborator. Years later, when I started Project 2061, I shamelessly prevailed upon him to become my deputy director, giving up a tenured position for a risky one dependent on grants, accepting a lower salary and higher living expenses. Chick was not a manager, but he was my right hand on every creative aspect of the project and my toughest editor. On top of everything else, he designed the now-popular Atlas of Science Literacy and created most of the maps of the first volume. One of my happiest learning experiences came as he and I worked together for five years on the creation and writing of Designs for Science literacy.
Success depends mightily on opportunity. In particular, the opportunity to learn from experience and apply one’s ideas usually depends upon the decisions and support of others. For me, such key supporters included the following:
Sister Miriam David. I was enrolled in the seventh grade of St. Frances de Sales School in West Oakland, not for academic or religious reasons, but because my step-father somehow thought it would toughen me up, the better to hold my own in a very tough neighborhood. The seventh and eighth grades were in the same room, side by side, and Sister Miriam David was the teacher. She was also principal and hence out of the classroom often and overburdened. To cope, each year she appointed one eighth-grade student to be her English assistant and one her math assistant. I got the math job. I corrected seventh-graders homework and coached those having trouble. It is only then that I realized that I could excel in school work and that doing so was fun.
Citizens of South San Francisco, California. During my first year of teaching at the South City high school, some other teachers and myself spearheaded an effort against the wishes of the superintendent and school board to pass a local bond issue, the purpose of which was to equalize salaries between elementary and high school teachers, and hence between men and women. As president of the organization it fell to me to visit worker meetings at the steel mills and meet packing premises. What I learned was that if you explained in a straight-forward way the importance of education for their children at every grade level, and answered their questions about the schools without gloss, you could count on community support. They contributed money right then and they voted—and the bond passed. It was my education in dealing with parents.
Max Russell. After the Second World War, the towns around the Bay Area grew rapidly and building new schools flourished. The San Mateo High School District served several communities and in 1951 planned its first new high school. The property of a golf course (formerly the site of a Capuchin monastery) was selected and Max Russell chosen to be its principal. He was given the freedom to select the starting faculty from anywhere in the nation and charged with building the campus and curriculum a year at a time. I was one of the teachers selected. It gave me the rare opportunity to work with the architect in designing science facilities, as chair of the curriculum committee to examine how science might best relate to the entire curriculum, and as a member of the annual search committee to think about teacher qualifications. Had Max not selected me, it Is unlikely that I would ever have had such an opportunity.
The Teachers of the San Mateo High School District. In my third year in the district, the teachers elected me president of the teachers’ association (which was not associated with either the National Teachers Association or the American Federation of Teachers), and I served in that position for several years. This required me to represent the teachers before the school board frequently and hence gave me the opportunity to learn how community school boards really work, and it gave me practice, valuable in other contexts later, in presenting points-of-view to governing agencies.
Mary Budd Rowe. Professor Rowe was an extraordinary science education researcher. Her bent was not in the rapid production of academic papers but in the kind of research that was at once rigorous and down to earth. She served on the board of my NYU Project City Science, helping me to guide my doctoral students in good research practices. When I went to the National Science Foundation, I asked her to join me as research director and to build our capability to identify and support a vigorous, balanced portfolio of research. From Mary Budd I learned to extend my ideas on research to the concept of families of research.
Dr. Richard Atkinson, then director of the National Science Foundation, recommended to president Jimmie Carter that I be nominated to serve as assistant director of NSF for education. The president agreed. At my confirmation hearings, senators Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts and Jacob Javits of New York sponsored me, both knowing that I had refused to sign the “loyalty oath” required by California during the McCarthy frenzy. Then during my service at NSF, Dick Atkinson and his deputy director, Dr. George Pimentel, gave me unwavering support in my efforts to increase education funding, foster innovation, and press for more effective science education R & D. Again through their efforts, I became the assistant secretary of education in the newly-formed U.S. Department of Education. Without them, I would never have had these great opportunities to contribute to the improvement of science education in America.
It was William Carey, executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, who persuaded me to continue to work in the science education vineyards when, after the scuttling of the NSF education programs by the incoming Reagan administration, I was considering turning to some other occupation. He said that together we could bring science education to life again in the AAAS and in the nation. He was right. My 20 years there were productive, I believe, and led to the creation of Project 2061 as a culmination of my career.
It is the nature of the beast that major projects take major funding. The various projects I initiated over the years were only possible because of the generous support of the following organizations:
National Science Foundation
U.S. Office of Education
U.S. Department of Education
Carnegie Corporation of New York
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Robert N. Noyce Foundation
The Pew Charitable Trusts
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
American Association for the Advancement of Science
New York University
California State Department of Education
Texas Education Agency
Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
Moreover, I would never have gotten started down this path at all had it not been for the U.S. Government, namely the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, better known as the G.I. Bill of Rights. It made possible for me, after WWII, to complete my bachelor’s at U.C. Berkeley, then earn a master’s degree at Stanford and a doctorate at Harvard—licenses, as it were, for what was to follow.