CDI: Reaching Out to Educators
Would the world be would a better place if more schools functioned like Sarah Lawrence? It’s hard to say, but the mission of the Child Development Institute (CDI) is to communicate SLC’s progressive educational ideology to the wider community and to provide a forum for discussion of issues in education.
Margery Franklin retired as a Psychology and Art of Teaching faculty member in 2002, but she wasn’t gone for long: She became the director of the Child Development Institute in 2003. During her long teaching career (she came to SLC in 1965), she was the Roy E. Larson Professor of Psychology, the president of the division of psychology and the arts of the American Psychological Association, and the co-editor of five books on child development. She holds a BA from Swarthmore College and an MA and PhD from Clark University.
CDI reaches out to teachers, parents, administrators and child-development professionals, focusing on people who work with elementary and pre-school children. “One of the important aspects of the Sarah Lawrence pedagogy is that it’s applicable to people of all ages,” said CDI director Margery Franklin. “It even works for two-year-olds.” Meaningful learning requires deep engagement with materials and ideas, Franklin said, a place for exploration and problem-solving, and active exchange with peers as well as teachers. “We have an encompassing, psychological view of children as intellectual, social, emotional and imaginative beings.”
This “whole child” approach plays an important role in the current educational debate over values in the school, Franklin added. “Values do not belong to any one ideology. Progressive education believes the school should embody the democratic, humanistic values that we hope for in the larger society. We see education as a fundamental instrument of democracy.”
One way CDI communicates these ideas is through its video series, “The Learning Child,” conceived by the CDI faculty and produced by Jonathan Diamond Associates. Airing on PBS, When a Child Pretends and From Pictures to Words have reached millions of teachers and parents, and the next film, Values Go to School: Exploring Ethics with Children, will identify how values like collaboration, cultural understanding, mutual respect, nonviolence, and a sense of hope and purpose are necessary for effective education. Values were also the focus of the 16th annual Empowering Teachers Summer Institute, Educational Values and Values Education: The Classroom as Community, sponsored by Mariela Cisneros and The Cisneros Family.
CDI will tackle several pressing issues in education at its Spring 2005 conference, Confronting the Crisis in Education, which will feature eminent educators like keynote speaker Jonathan Kozol, author of several best-selling books about race, poverty and education. During the year, CDI hosts two lectures bringing important figures to campus: the Cynthia Longfellow lecture, and the Thomas H. Wright lecture, funded by the Leon Lowenstein Foundation. CDI also publishes a series of occasional papers; a new, interactive web site with resources for teachers and parents is in process.
All this happens through close work with the Early Childhood Center, the psychology faculty and the graduate programs in Art of Teaching and Child Development. These groups share ideas—and people: CDI staff teach SLC courses, and members of the other departments and programs sit on the CDI board.
The CDI faculty, staff and board have also been active in raising funds both for their programs and for an endowment to ensure the long-term viability of the Institute. Thanks to a generous donation from Abigail Canfield ’66, chair of the CDI board, the endowment—originally established in 1995 through a challenge gift from The Virginia and Leonard Marx Foundation—is nearly complete. In just two years, CDI has raised close to a half million dollars.
The founding CDI faculty group comprised psychology faculty members Jan Drucker, Sara Wilford ’72 and Margery Franklin. The restructuring adds Barbara Schecter ’85, a psychology faculty member who is also director of the graduate program in child development, and Lorayne Carbon, who succeeded Wilford as director of the Early Childhood Center. Jane Fineberg ’02 is the new Coordinator.