Past President Philip Jackson Dies


August 2015

Philip W. Jackson, an AERA past president (1989–1990) and the David Lee Shillinglaw Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Education and Psychology at the University of Chicago, has died of complications from cancer. Jackson, 86, died at his home on July 21, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Jackson, a renowned educator and researcher, was born December 2, 1928, in Vineland, N.J. He graduated with a bachelor's degree from what is now Rowan University in 1951, a master's degree from Temple University in 1952, and a doctorate in developmental psychology from Columbia University in 1955. After a brief stint as a professor of educational psychology at Wayne State University, Jackson accepted a professorship of education at the University of Chicago. During his time at Chicago, he served as chair of the department of education, dean of the Graduate School of Education, and director of the university's Laboratory Schools. He retired from the university in 1998.

Jackson's influential scholarship focused on the practice of teaching and the ways children learn. His work shifted over time from the study of test scores and other data-driven achievement measures to a more holistic, qualitative approach. Though trained as a psychometrician, Jackson’s approach to education research expanded in the early 1960s, when he decided to incorporate observation, ethnography, and philosophy into his studies and writings. The quantitative underpinnings of his acclaimed book Creativity and Intelligence (1962, co-authored with J. W. Getzels), about the relationship between IQ and giftedness, were replaced by the mixed methods employed in his most successful work, Life in Classrooms (1968). This book reflects his year-long observations of a fourth-grade classroom. Jackson also became very interested in the intersections of education and morality, and in 1988 launched a multiyear study to explore how schools shape a child’s moral development. He and his co-authors observed 18 teachers from six public and private schools and invited the teachers to gather for dinner and discussion twice a month, their reflections culminating in the 1993 book The Moral Life of Schools.

Jackson also established himself as a curriculum scholar, authoring The Practice of Teaching in 1986 and editing AERA’s Handbook of Research on Curriculum in 1992.

Jackson was widely recognized as an expert on John Dewey, the founder of the University of Chicago’s Laboratory Schools, and served as president of the John Dewey Society from 1996 to 1997. He authored two books about Dewey’s writings and philosophies—John Dewey and the Lessons of Art and John Dewey and the Philosopher’s Task—and was especially interested in the relationships among Dewey’s writings about metaphysics, aesthetics, and education. In Jackson’s final book, What Is Education? (2012), he addressed a question posed by Dewey about the nature of education:

Education is a socially facilitated process of cultural transmission whose explicit goal is to effect an enduring change for the better in the character and psychological well-being (the personhood) of its recipients and, by indirection, in their broader social environment, which ultimately extends to the world at large. (p. 95)

In honor of Jackson’s tremendous contributions to the field, Teachers College and the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University hosted a conference called “Images of Teaching for the 21st Century” in 2003. Many of Jackson’s former students and colleagues—among them AERA past presidents Lee Shulman, Maxine Greene, Elliot Eisner, and Linda Darling-Hammond—reflected on his scholarship and impact on the field. Their addresses were collected into the edited volume A Life in Classrooms: Philip W. Jackson and the Practice of Education (2007).

AERA President Jeannie Oakes commented on Jackson’s personal and professional merits:

Phil was the discussant on my first AERA paper presentation in 1980. My terror at having this renowned scholar comment publicly on my dissertation research quickly turned into years of wise mentoring, colleagueship, and warm friendship. At this sad moment, we celebrate that Phil's intellect and quest for knowledge shaped our field, both substantively and methodologically, as he recognized and explained the intertwining of the technical and moral dimensions of learning and schooling. That contribution is huge. But we also celebrate Phil's incredible goodness as a human being and his deep caring for education, research, and those of us who were lucky enough to have known him.

To read Jackson's AERA presidential address, click here.

Note. This reflection on AERA Past President Philip Jackson benefited from the tributes “Beyond Poking the Chimp With a Stick: A Tribute to Philip W. Jackson (1928–2015),” by Craig A. Cunningham, and “Philip W. Jackson, Education Scholar Committed to Children’s Flourishing, 1928–2015,” by Mary Abowd.