Reflections on Edmund Gordon

 Dr. Eleanor Armour-Thomas

“Gentle, generous, wise, learned, [and] compassionate”—Dr. Eleanor Armour-Thomas characterizes Dr. Edmund W. Gordon, her one-time professor who became a lifelong mentor, colleague, and friend, using these carefully selected adjectives. Conveying both his sense of humor and comedic abilities, Eleanor recounts Edmund’s entertaining imitation of the “happy walker,” his own mockery of someone’s attempt to walk uphill to a hotel room after having too much to drink. In addition to fostering a fulfilling personal life by spending time with family and friends, Eleanor cites Edmund’s professional contributions to educational research as profound—his most significant accomplishment, according to Eleanor, being his “interactionist perspective” which he used to “account for the relationship between human diversity, learning, and behavior.” This lens provided for a “new direction” for research, teaching, and assessment of diverse populations.

Dr. David Berliner

Dr. David Berliner summarized one of Dr. Edmund W. Gordon’s many pedagogical lessons, clearly stating: “the interaction between dozens of personalogical and dozens of environmental variables leads inexorably to the need for some form of adaptive education or differentiated instruction.” Rather than pose simple solutions to problems in our ailing educational system, Edmund characterizes the work undertaken by educators as complex. By emphasizing human diversity in his own scholarship, Edmund has profoundly impacted minority students and their communities, especially African-American children from working-class families, through the employment of “culturally responsive” pedagogy.  

 Dr. Wade Boykin

“A quintessential scholar activist”—Dr. Wade Boykin fondly characterizes Dr. Edmund W. Gordon, his “mentor, friend, and collaborator” of more than three decades, as demonstrating the “perfect blend of scholarship and activism.” Wade describes his mentor as “more than just a glorified academic advisor or a teacher.” Since first approaching him in 1975 at a conference, Wade has developed a close friendship with Edmund, sharing conversations that often “perseverate with [him] for days” in addition to the joy of working together. Citing Edmund’s most significant professional accomplishment as his open-mindedness, desire to grow intellectually, and willingness to alter his perspective with changing times, Wade credits these traits with keeping Edmund “on the cutting edge of issues even after an approximately sixty year career.” Kind-hearted and soft-spoken yet strong, Edmund possesses the ability to “speak with great power.” To Wade and others, Edmund has proven to be both “a role model [and] confidante.”

Dr. Ana Mari Cauce

As her dissertation and Ph.D. advisor when a graduate student at Yale, Dr. Ana Mari Cauce credits Dr. Edmund W. Gordon with guiding her intellectual and personal growth. Citing his personal and professional influence, Ana Mari recalls an incident with her own graduate students at the University of Washington where debate ensued over the origin of a simple gesture—folding hands on the top of one’s head.  A few months later, Ana Mari and her students were amused to observe Edmund at a professional meeting, exhibiting the same unique body language. With the mystery solved, Ana Mari highlights Edmund’s significant contributions “as a man, as a mentor, and as a professional.” In addition to his well-known work on the minority-majority achievement gap, Edmund’s earlier work on the “defiers of negative prediction” was most inspirational to Ana Mari who found solace in his cajoling and encouragement.  His “unwavering belief that one’s circumstances need not define one’s aspirations” inspired self-confidence in graduate students including Ana Mari. Exhibiting all the traits required by Ana Mari’s definition of a “good man,” she describes Edmund as “one of the world’s most thoroughly decent people I have ever met.”

Chris Gordon

Describing his relationship with his dad, Dr. Edmund W. Gordon, as one built on “love, respect, and admiration for each other as caring individuals,” Chris Gordon cites their common interests as including a “love for learning and…passion for serving the greater good.” According to Chris, his dad describes himself as a humanist, insisting that ‘it is the responsibility of those who have been privileged, to use the fruits of that privilege…to help those who are less well off.’ While Edmund truly lives a “life in the service of others,” his time spent with family and friends is equally important. Remembering an incident when his father, a perpetual bargain hunter, bought chicken in a can on a summer vacation to Maine because he believed the purchase to be a “good deal,” Chris recalls the pressured cooked contents of the can to be so old that they were hardly edible. Characterizing his father’s most significant professional accomplishment as his introduction “into the national dialogue the importance of understanding the learner’s frame of reference in the development of an educational plan of action,” Chris admires his father’s pairing of the nature of learning with the social context of the learner—the subsequent impact of this discussion on teaching influenced a whole generation of educators.

Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard

Fondly recalling her father’s influence throughout her life without ever remembering him losing his temper or raising his voice, Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard describes her relationship with both her parents, Dr. Edmund W. Gordon and Dr. Susan G. Gordon, as very close. Citing the profound impact on her professional growth of her first three summer jobs with her father as a research assistant at Teachers College, Columbia University, Jessica maintained an interest in education long after graduation. Eagerly sharing happy family memories gathered on trips, while playing games, and during social events with friends, Jessica quickly highlights her father’s dedication to his work which he “usually brought with him wherever he went, including [to] a dinner party with a neighbor.” Crediting her parents with the significant personal accomplishment of raising four “accomplished and lovely human beings who do good in this world,” Jessica also praises her father’s considerable professional achievements—particularly his efforts to “change how society understands and approaches the education of low status people.” Proud of her father, the “servant leader, activist scholar, and problem solver,” Jessica describes Edmund as “the most intellectual person [she] has ever met and one the most dedicated human beings” she knows. “A perfectionist”—her dad “puts huge amounts of thought and energy into everything he does, and usually excels at it.”

 Johanna S. Gordon

Johanna S. Gordon, the youngest of the four Gordon children and a healthcare provider, lovingly describes her father, Dr. Edmund W. Gordon as an individual with high expectations of both himself and others. Johanna recalls her father’s unwavering support of others, insisting “you can always count on him and he’s always there when you need him.” Revealing her father’s generosity towards strangers, Johanna remembers her father’s response to an elderly gentleman who approached him in at a New England dedication to W.E.B. DuBois (one of her father’s heroes). Introducing himself as “Mr. Lovejoy,” Edmund did not hesitate to offer the man a sandwich and cup of hot soup, both served with a calm smile. Although the stranger did not stay for the dedication, Edmund’s kind demeanor left a lasting impression on family members who witnessed the incident. Characterizing her father as “a great writer, teacher, family member, citizen, an incredible mind, very sensitive, always evolving, a great chef, a lover of beauty, and [one who] never gives up,” Johanna is always amazed when she meets a stranger who tells her how her dad has touched their life.

Dr. Carl Kaestle

Dr. Carl Kaestle, a longtime friend and colleague, has worked diligently alongside Dr. Edmund W. Gordon as a proponent for the legacy of W.E.B. DuBois in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, the location of the DuBois family farm. As a historian of education, Carl has taken significant interest in Ed having known DuBois personally. Through their joint efforts, the accomplishments of DuBois, “one of the greatest American thinkers about educational opportunity, about civil rights, and about diversity,” now enjoy more widespread acknowledgement. In working with Ed to achieve common professional goals, Carl recalls fond memories “of penetrating, important observations [Ed] has made in meetings, in lectures, and in debates, insights that turned the conversation around or cast it in a new light.” Describing Ed and his wife, Dr. Susan G. Gordon, as “great conversationalists,” Carl characterizes the Gordons as “an inspiring couple, so accomplished, and yet so friendly and caring.” Citing his work at the center of federal policy on Head Start, Title I, and national testing, Carl contributes Ed’s professional success to his “tone or urgency and grace, along with original ways of thinking about old and emerging problems.” Describing “his combination of passion with grace, of broad vision with clarity, of old questions posed in new, fruitful ways” as the hallmarks of Ed Gordon’s legacy, Carl insists that Ed’s “greatest accomplishment is to push an agenda of civil rights and equal opportunity that is at once activist and urgent and on the other hand, thoughtful and collegial.”

Dr. William Trent

Describing Dr. Edmund W. Gordon as a “friend, an intellectual and personal mentor, and a very dear colleague,” Dr. William Trent recalls that when sharing stories about their children, Ed enjoyed talking about his four children and their accomplishments. In fact, he “cheerfully mused about whether his influence as parent was what he intended or what they managed to select from it…[he discussed] the challenge of parenting bright and willful children.” When attempting to identify Ed’s significant personal and professional accomplishments, William insists that “there are too many of each” to name just a few. After careful consideration, William cites “the humanity in his scholarship which is [Ed’s] intellectual signature” as one aspect of his professional career that captures people. Ed’s “contemporariness” is his second major accomplishment, according to William.  Describing his scholarship and leadership as having been “at the center or cutting edge on core issues of race, ethnicity, education, race relations, [and] human development for well over 4 decades,” William compares Ed to Miles Davis who gained notoriety for “always learning and listening to the musical ideas of the era he was in, refusing to repeat work from his past.” In addition to these professional accomplishments, Ed “fundamentally believes that his most significant, valued, and treasured personal accomplishment is his family.” Described as “his badge of honor [and] coat of arms,” to Ed, his family is at the center of his obvious, engaging spirituality.

Dr. Ernest Washington

In the course of his thirty year friendship with Dr. Edmund W. Gordon, Dr. Ernest Washington characterizes Ed as “one of the brightest people [he] has ever met.” Commenting that he has met some pretty smart people, Ernie is convinced that Ed is very special.  Although humor “does not come to mind” when thinking of his friendship with Ed, Ernie identifies instead “ a kind of sweet irony in which Ed sees the contradictions but does hold it against us.” Comparing the magnitude of Ed’s contributions to educational research to legendary jazz artists, Ernie reflects “when I think of Ed I think of a comment Miles Davis made about Duke Ellington. He said that at least once a year every jazz musician should get down on his knees and thank God for Duke Ellington.” Regarding Ed’s often unreported contributions to education and psychology, Ernie insists, “I think that each of us in education should at least once a year get down on our knees and thank God for Edmund Gordon.”

  • Dr. Carol D. Lee

    One of my fondest memories of Dr. Gordon is when he visited one of our schools in Chicago – the Betty Shabazz International Charter School.  Among his wise comments to the children, he recalled how W.E.B. DuBois like to go to the movies in the afternoon.  Dr. Gordon has stood as a giant on so many fronts, from the pioneering work he and his beloved wife Dr. Susan Gordon did in terms of health care in Harlem, to his seminal work with regard to the education of children and the work with Head Start, to his most current efforts focusing on the role of what he calls supplementary education to equalize opportunity to learn among our families living in poverty. Dr. Gordon stands without question as one of the major educational researchers of our time. His work with the Educational Testing Service and his stewardship of the center in Harlem are further testimony to the breadth of his work and his commitment to using research to both advance fundamental knowledge and serve social justice ends.   Besides his friendships with the likes of DuBois and Paul Robeson, Dr. Gordon was also best friends with the magnificent artist Charles White.  He has dedicated a museum to the work of Charles White on the property next to his home.  I consider him a dear friend, an intellectual mentor, and a model husband and father.  Love you Ed!

    Carol D. Lee
    Edwina S. Tarry Professor of Education and Social Policy
    Northwestern University
    Former President, American Educational Research Association (2009-2010)

  • Dr. Carol D. Lee

    One of my fondest memories of Dr. Gordon is when he visited one of our schools in Chicago – the Betty Shabazz International Charter School. Among his wise comments to the children, he recalled how W.E.B. DuBois like to go to the movies in the afternoon. Dr. Gordon has stood as a giant on so many fronts, from the pioneering work he and his beloved wife Dr. Susan Gordon did in terms of health care in Harlem, to his seminal work with regard to the education of children and the work with Head Start, to his most current efforts focusing on the role of what he calls supplementary education to equalize opportunity to learn among our families living in poverty. Dr. Gordon stands without question as one of the major educational researchers of our time. His work with the Educational Testing Service and his stewardship of the center in Harlem are further testimony to the breadth of his work and his commitment to using research to both advance fundamental knowledge and serve social justice ends. Besides his friendships with the likes of DuBois and Paul Robeson, Dr. Gordon was also best friends with the magnificent artist Charles White. He has dedicated a museum to the work of Charles White on the property next to his home. I consider him a dear friend, an intellectual mentor, and a model husband and father. Love you Ed!

    Carol D. Lee
    Edwina S. Tarry Professor of Education and Social Policy
    Northwestern University
    Former President, American Educational Research Association (2009-2010)