Letter recommending full professor

| April 8, 2011

April 28, 1982

To Professor Lambros Comitas, Director, Division of Philosophy, the Social Sciences, and Education, Teachers College

Columbia University, New York, N.Y. 10027

Dear Professor Comitas,

I am pleased and honored to be asked by your committee to give an appraisal of Professor Robert McClintock’s capabilities as a teacher and advisor. Since I consider Professor McClintock to have had a formative influence on my adult life, I am glad to have the chance to articulate as well as I can the nature of his contribution to his students and to the intellectual life of Teachers College in general.

I begin the task with some trepidation, however, for it is difficult to put one’s finger on exactly what it is that makes someone a great teacher. In most cases it is not only his particular subject matter or viewpoint that is responsible for a teacher’s overall effectiveness, but also a more elusive capacity to move students to discover powers within themselves that they never knew they had before. While the former qualities can be judged by what students say about the content of the teacher’s courses, the latter quality — the teacher’s ability significantly to move his students’ minds — is something which each student must evaluate in more subjective terms.

In reflecting on the importance of Professor McClintock’s teaching, I first of all am reminded of the actual content of his courses. My interest in going to graduate school was sparked by overhearing, at a ski lodge in Vermont in the winter of 1975, that there was a terrific course at Teachers College on “Rousseau, Marx, and Freud.” At that moment something clicked and I knew that what that course would offer was just what my undergraduate education had lacked. I registered for the course and was immediately intrigued, and what began as a somewhat peripheral interest soon became a compelling commitment to the study of western educational thought, with Professor McClintock as my primary teacher and advisor.

A classmate at Teachers College once remarked that the amazing thing about Professor McClintock’s courses was that they are both broad and deep. In a course which included the reading of Plato’s Republic Professor McClintock was able to help us understand issues which ranged from the overall pedagogical intent of the book to the specifics of household economy and religious practices in ancient Greece; in a course on the history of classical republican ideals he was able to link the complex notion of civic virtue as it is found in Machiavelli’s Discourses to the controversies over schooling that took place in the American colonies in the 18th cen­tury. His ability to infuse historical information with meanings relevant to education always provided us with both a model and a challenge.

But to focus merely on the breadth and depth of Professor McClintock’s courses does not adequately convey the full importance that his teaching has for those who are seriously interested in basic educational questions. For overarching the range of Professor McClintock’s scholarship is a clear commitment to what might be called “radical humanism” — a tradition in pedagogy and politics that recognizes the complex and contradictory nature of human life but nevertheless insists on making the individual’s own experience of the world the starting point for any meaningful educational effort. Since such a view also carries with it a basic epistemological conviction that learning is a non-linear, open-ended process rather than a straightforward, predictable one, one of the corollaries of Professor McClintock’s teaching is that questions concerning education can not be confined within the narrow boundaries of the separate disciplines.

The rich and varied ways in which Professor McClintock explores his unifying themes continue to activate one’s mind long after one’s particular studies with him have been completed. In teaching a course called “Educa­tional Philosophies” which I was asked to help develop for an Associate of Arts degree program for the School for Continuing Education at N.Y.U., I have been continually reminded of Professor McClintock’s pedagogical insights. Most of what I teach (and the way I teach it) has been informed by what I have learned from him, and since several of the administrators in the degree programs are also Teachers College alumni who took courses with Professor McClintock, his teaching is very evident in the curricula that the programs offer and in our daily conversation.

While a teacher’s courses and viewpoints are frequently discussed among his students, the particular ways that those students are motivated to higher levels of intellectual effort are usually not discussed, probably because of the somewhat mysterious nature of the human interactions involved in such motivation. But at the risk of generalizing about an experience that may be purely individual, I would like to end this letter by speculating upon some of the personal qualities which may be responsible for Professor McClintock’s success as a teacher.

One of Professor McClintock’s most noticeable traits is the lack of ease with which he speaks. His characteristic tendency to leave pauses between his words is at first somewhat distracting; but when one has gotten used to him;.: and it becomes clear that these hesitations come not from any uncertainty but rather from a deep desire simply to avoid mistakes, then this idiosyncrasy becomes an important part of Professor McClintock’s effectiveness as a teacher. For on one level, the effort that he gives to communicating his subject matter immediately enhances its importance: the information becomes “charged” with the energy it takes him to transmit it. On another level, such a careful way of speaking confers trust: his listeners learn to know that everything he has to say will be both considerate and well-considered.

A third and perhaps most important effect of his way of speaking, at least as far as pedagogy is concerned, is that his pauses leave a vacuum for his students to fill up. It occurs to me, now in retrospect, that I have done some of my best thinking during those moments when I was trying to anticipate what Professor McClintock was about to say. Ironically, per­haps, it is this unintentional dynamic which, by giving his students the space to wrestle with questions on their own, brings Professor McClintock’s teaching closest to the teachings of the pedagogues he admires most.

I hope this letter serves its purpose and that Teachers College recognizes the unique contribution that Robert McClintock gives to his students and to the larger academic community.


Jinx Roosevelt