Ideas Born at GSE

Educating the world for 101 years and counting

GSE faculty and alumnae reflect on the School of Education’s influence within Stanford and around the world

Stanford’s global reach owes greatly to scholars at the Graduate School of Education who have honed education’s power as change agent both here and around the globe, said a panel of GSE faculty and alumnae reflecting on critical moments in the school’s 100-year history. 

Not only have GSE scholars seeded global research, policy and practice, but they also prototyped the interdisciplinary collaboration that is now a Stanford hallmark, panelists said at a March 13 event cosponsored by the Stanford Historical Society.

Education was a founding department when Stanford opened in 1891, and its elevation to a school a century ago expanded its mandate for service, said Dean Daniel Schwartz.

“We collaborate with all the other schools on campus. We reach out because education is important for every discipline,” Schwartz said. 

In the post-World War II era, education faculty also shaped Stanford’s growing role in U.S. and global affairs, said Professor Daniel McFarland, who has studied the history of the school. 

Professor Daniel McFarland's research delves into collaboration and social connection, whether among high-schoolers, business people or researchers at Stanford's BioX.
Sherry Tesler/LightFX Photo

Later, an influx of foundation money combined with civil rights activists’ drive for change furthered the school’s rise to eminence in social-science research, practitioner training, educational development and policy work, said McFarland, who moderated the discussion with Professor Martin Carnoy, Professor Emerita Rachel Lotan and alumna Rita Sanchez, former professor at San Diego State and professor emerita at Mesa College, San Diego.

“We’re a school at the crossroads of all these demands and concerns,” McFarland said. “We have humanities scholars, we have psychologists, we have social scientists. From era to era, they swing back and forth in terms of emphasis,” McFarland said. 

Encountering this depth of talent, many GSE students find themselves on unexpected paths.

Lotan, MA ’81, PhD ’85, came to Stanford in 1980 as an international master’s student teaching English as a second language in Israel to students of diverse levels and backgrounds. 

“Something really bugged me after 10 years of teaching,” Lotan said. “So I came here and learned not just how to un-track my classroom but why.”

She was one of many young scholars guided into an academic career by Professor Elizabeth Cohen, whose research helped change K-12 teaching by establishing the effectiveness of complex instruction. 

Cohen also enriched the field by mentoring scholars of color, Lotan said.

Earning her PhD in 1985, Lotan co-led, then led, the Program for Complex Instruction that Cohen founded. From 1999 to 2014, she directed the Stanford Teacher Education Program.

Future STEP director Rachel Lotan and her mentor Professor Elizabeth Cohen at Lotan's PhD conferral in 1985.
Photo courtesy Rachel Lotan

Lotan said that as a student, and later as a faculty member, she was aware of a tension inherent in schools of education between scholarship and training but that, "for me, that tension was resolved in really beautiful ways.

“Is our job to do research and publish, in the tradition of the social-science disciplines?  The answer is, ‘Yes, it is.’ Are we a professional school that prepares professionals? My answer is, ‘Yes, we are.’”

Sanchez, ’72, MA ’73 (STEP), MA ’74 (English), became a foundational Latina activist. Entering Stanford as a recently divorced mother of two, Sanchez said she had longed “to hole up in Escondido Village, read poetry and bake cookies. 

“It wasn’t that way, because of what was happening on campus,” Sanchez said. “Every day you’d hear about something that needed to be changed.  

“I noticed pretty soon that there was no Latin American literature in the curriculum we were teaching.”

While still a student, Sanchez developed and taught Stanford’s first course on Chicana studies and published its first Chicana journal.

Like today’s STEP students, Sanchez taught in local schools during the day and attended her School of Education classes at night: “grueling,” she said, “but amazing.

“My students in East San Jose were for the first time introduced to a brown teacher,” she said. “I took the students back home to Escondido Village. I took them to walks on campus, to Lake Lagunita, to anyplace I could that would help them see that they could have a different kind of life, that they, too, could go to college.

“It was so much a productive part of my [intellectual] growing up at Stanford that when students spoke up, people did listen and change did happen.”

Martin Carnoy, the Vida Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford, helped to make the Stanford International Development Education Center a pathbreaker in interdisciplinary education research. He expects to hood his 100th PhD student in 2018-19.
Sherry Tesler/LightFX Photo

Carnoy, a labor economist, was hired in 1968 for the school’s Stanford International Development and Education Center (SIDEC). This pathbreaking cross-disciplinary graduate-level center was founded by Education Professor Paul Hanna to train “scholar-doers” to spread democratic values worldwide. 

With its current successor program in International Comparative Education (ICE), it is the oldest extant program of its kind. Its graduates have founded or seeded at least 13 similar programs worldwide. Alumni also include the former heads of state of Peru, the Maldives and Guatemala.

“This is the real legacy of the GSE. The fact that we produce so many excellent teachers and policy people,” said Carnoy, who expects to hood his 100th PhD student in 2018-19. 

Carnoy said Hanna, whose role also included fundraising for the university in Washington, played a key role in bringing an international perspective to Stanford. 

“To go out and work as international students. Not just to populate Silicon Valley, but to go back out into the world, we do that probably more than any other department of the university. 

“We’re making sure that that continues.”

Watch the video of the event.

-- Barbara Wilcox

Top photo, from left: Rita Sanchez, Daniel McFarland, Martin Carnoy and GSE Dean Daniel Schwartz.   Sherry Tesler/LightFX Photo.