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Stanford Oral History Collections

Noddings, Nel.

purl.stanford.edu/ym046qv4846
Title:
Noddings, Nel.
Author:
Noddings, Nel and Rosenberg, Chelsea
Corporate Author:
Stanford Historical Society
Description:
Nel Noddings, the Lee Jacks Professor Emerita of Education at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, is a philosopher and educational researcher best known for her ethics of care theory which she described in her 1984 book, Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education. Her care theory and educational philosophy is informed both by her graduate studies at Stanford in the 1970s and her long career, beginning in 1949, as a teacher and school administrator. She returned to Stanford as an associate professor in 1979 where, in addition to teaching and her research, she ran the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) and filled in as acting dean of the Graduate School of Education in the mid 1990s. In this interview she speaks about her professional and research career, set against the backdrop of her life as a wife and mother of ten during a time of tremendous cultural shifts in the country. Noddings begins the interview describing her working-class upbringing in New Jersey during the Great Depression and World War II. She confides that as a seven-year-old, she identified more with her school than home, despite being raised in a loving and safe environment. She reminisces about her elementary and high school experiences, the classes she took, the school culture, and uses her academic training to assess how progressive they really were. She contrasts the substance of her high school education with the redundancy in her undergraduate education at Montclair State Teachers College. Noddings describes her relationship with her husband, James Noddings, whom she met in high school, their courtship that began after they graduated, and early marriage after he returned from military service in Korea. She explains the ease with which they became parents and the reasons, after having three biological children, that they chose to adopt several Korean-American children. Noddings describes the educational and professional compromises she had to make because of motherhood and her husband’s profession. To balance this out, she shares several examples when her children participated in the educational programs she administered, as well as recollections of when the family moved so she could pursue her career goals. She spends some time describing her first teaching position in Woodbury, New Jersey, where she spent three years with the same class of middle school students, and how this unique experience profoundly shaped her thinking on teaching, educational administration and academic research. She gives the example of how later, during the civil rights movement, if a protest or other incident affected the lives of her student, she’d take time off from her math lesson plan to help them understand and process the events. Noddings explains how she initially approached her graduate school at Rutgers and Stanford as a means to advance as a school administrator. While she found pursuing math at Rutgers frustrating because of gender imbalances in the department, she describes her time at Stanford as transformative. Noddings explains why she switched from the educational administration track to philosophy of education after taking two philosophy courses. She notes how the learning and collaborative environment at Stanford supported her research and focus. She discusses her thesis on constructivism in education and how her care theory became entwined with feminist theory. She expands on education theory, her frustration with the current emphasis on standardized testing, the pros and cons of high concept-based math programs like “new math,” the difficulties of teaching atheism, and the benefits of a more holistic approach to education. Noddings describes the jobs she held after graduating: an academic position at Penn State, consulting in the Menlo Park area, and directing the Laboratory School at the University of Chicago. She explains how she landed the position of associate professor at Stanford running the STEP program in 1983 and later the Upward Bound summer program. She gives her impression of these programs and the changes they underwent. She describes her roles in Stanford’s administration: serving as the first female acting dean of the School of Education (now Graduate School of Education), working on Stanford’s Institutional Review Board for human subject research and serving on the faculty senate. It was in this last position that she argued for leniency towards a group of students who had barricaded themselves in the Dean’s office, an episode for which she explains her reasoning and results of her efforts. She describes her work after leaving Stanford, serving as president for the Philosophy of Education Society and chairing the ethics committee for the American Educational Research Association. She closes the interview by discussing her life after returning to the East Coast and the direction of her current research.
Topic:
Nel Noddigns, Stanford Historical Society, oral histories, interviews, higher education, professors, pioneering women, caring--moral and ethical aspects, education--philosophy, ethics of care, feminist ethics, Stanford University--Graduate School of Education, Stanford University--Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP), teachers--training of, women college teachers, and women in higher education
Imprint:
May 3, 2016 - May 17, 2016
Collection:
Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program interviews, 1999-2012