School & District Management

Education Scholar Remembered as Giant in His Field

By Sarah D. Sparks — December 05, 2014 | Corrected: February 21, 2019 5 min read
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Corrected: An earlier version of this story misidentified the co-author of The Nongraded Elementary School. He is Robert H. Anderson.

John I. Goodlad, a pioneering teacher, researcher, and education reformer for much of the 20th century, died Nov. 29 in Seattle. He was 94.

Mr. Goodlad was “simply a giant in our field,” said Felice J. Levine, the executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based American Educational Research Association, which Mr. Goodlad led as president from 1967 to 1968.

“His scientific work on schools and schooling shaped the research of generations of students and scholars, and remains highly relevant,” Ms. Levine wrote in an email. “When many of today’s leaders in education research note the influence of John as a mentor, scholar, and colleague, we know we have been enriched by his presence and sadly diminished by this loss.”

Mr. Goodlad was among the last of a generation of nationally prominent scholars, born between the world wars, whose research and writing provided the intellectual grounding for a host of efforts—launched in and beyond the 1980s and ‘90s—to improve education policy and practice.

A Lifetime of Reflections

John I. Goodlad wrote dozens of books and articles over a long career in education, including several Commentary essays for Education Week. A sampling of that work follows:

The Nongraded Elementary School
1959, rerelease of 1963 edition in 1987, Teachers College Press

The rigid grade structure of traditional elementary schools does not accommodate the realities of child development, including that children make academic progress at their own pace, argue Mr. Goodlad and his co-author, Robert H. Anderson.

A Place Called School
1985, 20th-anniversary edition, 2004. McGraw-Hill Co.

In his classic work, Mr. Goodlad shares the results of a four-year study conducted in more than 1,000 classrooms across the country—the largest such study to date.

Teachers for Our Nation’s Schools
1990, Jossey-Bass

Colleges and universities should create separate “centers of pedagogy” dedicated to teacher education, with the same amount of autonomy and authority as law and medical schools, Mr. Goodlad argues in this book based on his study of 29 education schools.

In Praise of Education
1997, Teachers College Press

Mr. Goodlad explores the moral role of public education in fostering and sustaining a democratic society, and discusses home schooling, charter schools, and school choice.

Romances With Schools: A Life of
2004, McGraw-Hill Co.

The author offers an intellectual autobiography of his lifelong experiences with schooling in North America, and laments its evolution into “a well-oiled machine tool for fashioning children according to visions of economically productive adulthood.”


Beyond ‘Half an Education’
Published Feb. 19, 1992

Schools must pay more attention to teaching students the “value of making things,” writes Mr. Goodlad.

Producing Teachers Who Understand, Believe, and Care
Published Feb. 5, 1997

An overwhelming majority of those hired each year to teach in schools are the product of a misbegotten set of conditions that defy accurate pinpointing of accountability, the author writes in the first of a two-part set of Commentaries on teaching.

A Nation in Wait
Published April 23, 2003

Twenty years after the publication of the landmark report, A Nation at Risk, Mr. Goodlad reflects on its impact on American education—both good and bad.

He was best known for his 1984 book A Place Called School, published during a particularly rich period for education scholarship that also included the release of such books as High School, by Ernest L. Boyer, and Horace’s Compromise, by Theodore R. Sizer. (Mr. Boyer died in 1995, and Mr. Sizer in 2009.)

At the time of his death, Mr. Goodlad was a professor emeritus at the University of Washington’s college of education. He had also previously served on the faculty of Emory University in Atlanta, the University of Chicago, and the University of California, Los Angeles, where he was the dean of graduate education from 1963 to 1983.

His education career began in his home country of Canada, where he first taught in a one-room, eight-grade schoolhouse in British Columbia. In 1949, he earned a doctorate from the University of Chicago, and would later be awarded 20 honorary doctorates from colleges and universities in the United States and Canada.

Landmark Research

A Place Called School was based on “A Study of Schooling in the United States,” a landmark observational study of the daily life in a representative sample of more than 1,000 classrooms in seven states, serving more than 17,000 students. The study was among the first to include in-depth interviews with students, teachers, school principals, and community leaders to dig into similarities and differences in the nation’s schools.

It also pioneered in documenting the educational damage done by academic tracking, and it laid out many issues that are still being debated today, from the need for better teacher and principal preparation to critiques of curricula that lacked breadth and depth. The resulting book won international acclaim, including being named Outstanding Book of the Year by the AERA and Distinguished Book of the Year by Kappa Delta Pi for 1984.

No Tidy Formula

The project convinced Mr. Goodlad that education reformers cannot simply take a successful education innovation and “install” it in a new school, he told Education Week shortly after A Place Called School was published.

“Several years ago,” he said, “I gave a talk in Beverly Hills to a very sophisticated, bright audience. It was on the dynamics of educational change and the change processes. After it was all finished, the first question was, ‘All right, can you tell us what it is you’re supposed to do to bring about change?’

“And I’d just finished,” he continued. “This woman didn’t even begin to grasp the notion of what it’s like for people to empower others to make their own decisions, how that requires trust, and that people will do dumb things. What she was looking for was: Tell me, one-two-three, how to do it. And there are no one-two-threes.”

Yet he did work to both conduct high-quality research and translate it into ways to guide education practice.

At age 65, after completing work on A Place Called School, Mr. Goodlad and his family moved to a houseboat in Washington state, and he joined the faculty at the University of Washington. There, he founded the Center for Educational Renewal to study the links between teacher education and school renewal—a project that was to span more than 20 years of research and spawn several more books.

He also launched the independent Institute for Educational Inquiry in 1992 to apply research findings to school practice and to train education leaders in the practices.

“I think he liked the moral dimensions of teaching,” recalled Roger Soder, the current president of the institute and, as a research professor at the University of Washington, a colleague of Mr. Goodlad’s for more than 30 years.

“Maybe it was the notion of thinking of what schools were for, coming back to the basic issues and knowing you had to come back and have situations in which people could talk about these things,” Mr. Soder said.

And Mr. Goodlad never stopped studying, speaking, and writing. In all, he wrote, co-wrote, or edited more than 30 books on education and was the author of nearly 300 journal articles and book chapters during his career, including opinion essays for Education Week.

“I have an image of him surrounded by all these dozens of stacks of yellow legal pads filled with his almost illegible handwriting,” Mr. Soder said. “He’d hand it to several of us and say, ‘Well, go at it.’ He never wanted someone to say, ‘Oh, this is so lovely.’ He didn’t always take the feedback, but he always wanted it.”

The issues Mr. Goodlad raised—such as the need for teacher colleges to be as academically rigorous as other university departments—still echo in the debate over educator preparation.

Call for Discussion

Until the end of his life, Mr. Goodlad voiced concern that education debates had become polarized, and he regularly brought together teachers, policymakers, higher education leaders, and journalists to discuss ways to improve education within practical contexts.

“John Goodlad offered an alternative vision of what schooling should be, and inspired generations of teachers, principals, academics, politicians, and policymakers to find ways to make good on that vision,” David G. Imig, a professor of education practice at the University of Maryland, a former leader of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, and a longtime colleague of Mr. Goodlad’s, said in an obituary written by Mr. Soder and published by the institute.

Mr. Goodlad, he said, “was passionate in his beliefs about the role of schools in a free democratic society.”

Mr. Goodlad is survived by a daughter, Paula; a son, Stephen; and five grandsons.

The AERA plans to hold a symposium in Mr. Goodlad’s honor at its 2015 annual meeting in Chicago, the same city that hosted the meeting during his tenure as president.

A version of this article appeared in the December 10, 2014 edition of Education Week as Author of A Place Called School Remembered as Giant in His Field


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