Fred M. Hechinger, 1920-1995

Because of their early prominence in advocating partnerships between universities and schools in order to strengthen teaching and learning in schools, Fred M. Hechinger and Ernest L. Boyer were invited in 1984 by Yale President A. Bartlett Giamatti to become members of the National Advisory Committee for the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. From that time until their deaths last year, they assisted and brought wide attention to the Institute. They were personal friends. When Ernest Boyer delivered a eulogy at the memorial service for Fred Hechinger, he said:
More than any other journalist of our generation, Fred shaped the national education debate and helped all of us understand that it's in the classrooms of the nation where the battle for the future of America will be won or lost....Our challenge, Fred urgently reminded us, is to affirm the nation's schools and to continue the struggle to achieve excellence for all children, not just the most advantaged.
As early as 1981, Fred Hechinger wrote about the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute in his New York Times column, "About Education":
To critics who charge that higher education neglects the elementary and high schools, Mr. Giamatti replies by pointing to the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, expanded at his urging in 1978. It brings together university professors and local teachers as colleagues to study and improve the schools. While not on a level with the late Mr. Conant's nationwide school reform efforts, Mr. Giamatti feels that universities today can make their most useful contribution "to where we live."
Giamatti had, Hechinger wrote, "urged Education Secretary T. H. Bell to use those severely limited Federal funds to encourage local cooperation between colleges and schools because education is a continuous seamless web, or ought to be.'"

The next year, Yale, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and the Chief State School Officers planned a conference of the Chiefs and college and university presidents from all the states to address the role that higher education can and must play in strengthening teaching in public schools. In his column, Fred Hechinger wrote, "This signals the revrsal of a twenty-year breach between higher education and the schools." After the conference, he wrote that the "inspiring examples" of programs like the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute which were featured as case studies at the conference indicated that "the college-school connection many experts consider crucial to school reform is turning into a movement." He added:

An appeal by top university presidents is crucial. Most of the current university-initiated school improvement efforts emanate from only one sector of those institutions: their schools of education. This is not to belittle the schools of education, but their involvement with the public schools is part of their normal mission. If the universities are to have any impact on high school teachers who feel cut off from their academic disciplines, then professors from all academic departments must become involved.
Throughout the period from 1959, when he was hired as Education Editor of The New York Times , through 1990 when he retired from The Times, he often wrote, as he titled a 1986 column, that "To Unlock School Reform, Teachers are the Key." That year, commenting on the Institute's second national conference on "Strengthening Teaching through Collaboration," he said: "Largely unnoticed by the public, a new movement of collaboration between high school teachers and college professors has begun to stretch across the country subverting' the traditional separation between school and college." He added, "Yale was the host of the conference because the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, established in 1978, is one of the oldest and most successful of such collaborative programs." As he was retiring from The Times, in his penultimate column he wrote: "When the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund recently gave $2 million [as an endowment challenge grant] to the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, the relationship between colleges and local public schools entered a new era. This major underwriting of one of the earliest university-school compacts is expected to have a great impact in furthering such cooperation." During his illness late last year, it was gratifying to be able to tell him that the University had successfully completed that challenge.

It was our great good fortune that, on retiring from The Times and becoming Senior Advisor to the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Fred Hechinger agreed to continue to write a column that he entitled "About Partnership," which appeared in the first four numbers of On Common Ground. For Number 3, published in the fall of 1994, he wrote about the recent meeting of the National Advisory Committee of the Institute that he had attended:

What the Yale experience and the deliberations of the National Advisory Committee make clear is that university-school partnership cannot work unless it is taken seriously as a permanent academic enterprise, not as a minor dabbling in doing good works at the fringes....With these vital conditions now firmly in place, the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute is ready to serve as a model for other universities in other cities, and the many teachers waiting to be admitted to a truly professional partnership.

­ J. R. V.

Back to Table of Contents of the Spring 1996 Issue of On Common Ground

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