Just seen on paper, Richard Lodish’s career in K-12 education is noteworthy indeed. His resume tracks his path from young teacher in inner-city Cleveland, to doctoral student at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, to associate headmaster and principal at the prestigious Sidwell Friends School in Washington. Brief stops were made along the way as a charter school founder in Oakland, Calif., an education advisor to local, state, national, and foreign government agencies, as well as published author in so many periodicals and books that he has lost count.
Despite his decades as an educator, it is Lodish’s experience as a collector that will define his legacy. Over the past 40 years, Lodish has amassed a collection of school artifacts and memorabilia that date from the 18th to early-20th centuries, and now jam his home in the Washington suburbs. With pieces acquired from flea markets, live and virtual auctions, private sales, and through word-of-mouth, the collection is so historically significant and complete that curators from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History now make twice-weekly visits to his home to catalogue and transport items for display in several of the museum’s divisions.
“You should have been here last week, there was so much more stuff!” exclaimed Lodish, a joyful 68, as he guided a photographer from Education Week through his home’s first floor. It’s packed tight with items ranging from huge wooden signs to delicate, centuries-old hand-embroidered samplers. Oil paintings depicting classroom scenes lean against models of school classrooms. Curriculum scrolls sit next to old slates, abacuses, and hand-painted, wooden pencil boxes. Delicate statuary and figurines sit in carefully packed, government-issued boxes next to stacks of educational games, hand-written lesson plans, and century-old teacher certificates and letters of correspondence.
While the Smithsonian will take away the most historically significant items, there are some pieces that Lodish will keep for himself. A wooden school sign from Staatsburg Union School, 10 feet wide, hangs in the family room, and will stay there. “I was the winning bidder on a phone auction for this,” explains Lodish. “And after the auction was over, the school principal called me, angry that I had outbid the school’s administrators for their own sign. I told him they should have offered more than the $90 I bid if they really wanted it!” And then there are the two life-sized cutouts of school crossing guards that stand sentry on his front porch. “When I first put them out here, the police would stop and ask me where I got them. They thought I’d stolen them!”
A version of this article first appeared in the Full Frame blog.