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About Aaron Harry Passow
Aaron Harry Passow (1978)
Ph.D., Teachers College, Columbia University, 1951 Jacob H. Schiff Professor Emeritus, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1991 Director, Division of Educational Institutes and Programs, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1975–1980 Chair, Department of Curriculum and Teaching, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1968–1977 President, World Council on Gifted and Talented Children
Author of Planning for Talented Youth: Considerations for Public School (1955); Developing a Curriculum for Modern Living (1957); Education of the Gifted (1958); Secondary Education for All: The English Approach (1961); Education in Depressed Areas Toward Creating a Model Urban School System: A Study of the Washington D.C. Public Schools (1967); Urban Education in the 1970s (1971); Secondary Education Reform: Retrospect and Prospect (1976); State Policies Regarding Education of the Gifted as Reflected in Legislation and Regulation (1993). Editor of The Gifted and the Talented: Their Education and Development, The Seventy-eighth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education (1979).
Nothing in Aaron Harry Passow's (9 December 1920–28 March 1996) youth foreshadowed the immense success he would later enjoy as one of the 20th century's most influential pioneers in the education of gifted and talented students and urban education. Born in Liberty, New York, Passow was the only son of Russian-Jewish immigrant parents Morris and Ida (Weiner) Passow. In high school, he was active in every nonsport, extra-curricular activity that was offered: debate, drama, journalism, band, and orchestra. He went out for freshman football but his mother made him quit the team when he broke his nose during the second week of practice.
By his own admission, as a child, he never expected to go to college. Nevertheless, his keen mental abilities did not go unnoticed by his teachers at Liberty High School. They encouraged him to continue his education and counseled him on applying for college. Of the 72 students who graduated from Liberty High School in 1938, he was the valedictorian.
Passow originally chose his college for financial reasons, but he came to respect its rigorous academic program. He received scholarships to both Cornell University and New York State College for Teachers in Albany (now the State University of New York). He chose the latter school because Cornell's scholarship did not cover his tuition and New York State College for Teachers only charged $25.
WWII broke out during the middle of Passow's senior year in college. When he returned to college after the winter vacation, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force Communications Program which allowed him to finish college and receive his bachelor’s degree. Upon graduation, Army officials told him that he would not be called to active duty for 22 months. He began his teaching career at Stony Point High School, at which he recalled were his most creative years as a teacher.
In August 1943—nine months earlier than the promised 22 months—the Army called Passow to active military duty. He was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant and served as a communications security officer in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific theatre of operations.
Following his discharge from the Army, Passow enrolled in an educational administration and guidance program for veterans at his college alma mater and completed his master’s degree. For the next two years, he taught science at Eden Central School. During this time, Passow had an exceptional student who became one of the 40 finalists in the 1948 Westinghouse Science Talent competition. This experience with a gifted student was a source of inspiration for Passow’s later interest in talented students.
In 1948, Passow accepted a position at the campus school of his alma mater supervising student teachers in mathematics. He was encouraged to continue his education and enroll in the doctoral program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Two years later he was granted a leave to complete his doctorate. During his residency, Passow served as a research assistant and worked on projects at the Horace Mann-Lincoln Institute of School Experimentation (HMLI). At the time, this institute was the only endowed institution in the nation charged with conducting research and experimentation cooperatively with public schools in an effort to improve American education.
In 1951, Passow earned his doctorate degree. Professor Hollis L. Caswell, Dean of Teachers College, advised him to accept a position as Curriculum Associate with the Teachers College's Citizenship Education Project (CEP), a large-scale effort initiated by Dwight Eisenhower to improve citizenship education in the nation's schools. Passow also was a research associate at the HMLI as well as an Assistant Professor at Teachers College.
In what proved to be a prophetic suggestion, Dean Caldwell then encouraged Passow to study gifted and talented students. From 1954–1965, Passow was director of the Talented Youth Project (TYP), one of the first projects studying gifted children, particularly in urban schools. In 1955, Passow wrote one of the first articles on the topic, “Are We Short-Changing the Gifted?” which became one of the most talked about and widely reprinted pieces of the era, particularly after Russia launched the Sputnik and Americans began to think about educating gifted students, particularly those showing promise in science and mathematic. Shortly thereafter, Passow, along with Miriam Goldberg, Will French, and Abraham Tannenbaum, authored Planning for Talented Youth: Considerations for Public School(1955) that outlined a framework for educating gifted and talented young people.
The last half of the 1950s involved a flurry of writing, planning, and traveling. Passow, along with Florence Stratemeyer and Margaret McKim, helped revise the classic curriculum book, Developing a Curriculum for Modern Living (1957). Passow chaired the committee that produced the 57th National Society for the Study of Education yearbook, Education of the Gifted (1958).
His work in this area led Passow into the field of international education. He began a sabbatical in London, England in 1958 and was awarded a Fellowship in International Education by Kappa Delta Pi to study England's provisions for gifted students that resulted in his report, Secondary Education for All: The English Approach (1961). He also served as a visiting professor and senior Fulbright lecturer at Stockholm University. In more recent years, Passow advised the Israeli Ministry of Education on the creation of the first school in that nation devoted exclusively to talented and gifted adolescents.
During the 1960s, Passow broadened his interests to include the special problems facing poor urban children. In 1962, before most educators had given any thought to the learning problems children in cities face, Passow led a two-week conference on curriculum and teaching in depressed urban areas. From this conference came Passow’s book Education in Depressed Areas (1963) which is considered the seminal work on teaching urban disadvantaged youth.
Early in 1966, Passow contracted with the Washington D.C. Public Schools to conduct a study “covering all aspects of public education in the District.” Toward Creating a Model Urban School System: A Study of the Washington D.C. Public Schools (1967), or the “Passow Report” as it came to be known, was recognized as an important document in the quest to improve urban school systems.
A grant from the New World Foundation in 1970 enabled Passow to develop a published lecture series, Urban Education in the 1970s (1971). In 1972, Passow was appointed the Jacob H. Schiff Professor of Education by Teachers College. In 1976, Passow launched the Julius and Rosa Sachs Memorial Lectures in Secondary Education, two of which were published as Secondary Education Reform: Retrospect and Prospect (1976).
When he retired in 1991, his colleagues, former students, and friends established the A. Harry Passow Scholarship, awarded to the doctoral student having the most outstanding certification exam/paper in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University. The A. Harry Passow Leadership Award is given by the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children to an individual who has international stature as a leader in gifted education and has significantly influenced policy and practices in the field.
Passow was a world-renowned expert on both the education of gifted students and urban education. According to Gubbins (1996, 1–2), “He was acutely aware of the importance of developing the talents of young people, studying the scholastic underachievement among bright students, determining the effects of ability grouping, and opening opportunities for disadvantaged learners before some of us even realized the importance of these issues. He knew and understood the educational milieu of advantaged and disadvantaged students in urban, suburban, and rural environments. His first-hand knowledge of schools and his communications with educators paid off tenfold as he wove his visions for schools into his many writings.”
Contributed by Brucie Bowman, University of Texas at Austin
References Columbia University Record Archives. 1996. Harry Passow, TC Education Professor, 75. New York: Columbia University. Available at: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/record/archives/vol21/vol21_iss22/record2122.32.html.
Gubbins, E. J. 1996. A. Harry Passow: Scholar and Friend. Storrs, Conn.: National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. Available at: http://www.sp.uconn.edu/~nrcgt/news/spring96/sprng962.html.
Milbank Memorial Library. 2001. A tribute to A. Harry Passow: Archival Collections. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University. Available at: http://lweb.tc.columbia.edu/exhibits/passow/archives.html.
Teachers College News Bureau. 1996. A Harry Passow, professor emeritus at Teachers College, dies at age 75. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University. Available at: http://www.tc.columbia.edu/newsburea/NEWS/passobit.htm.
Zumwalt, K. 2001. A tribute to A. Harry Passow: Obituary. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University. Available at: http://1web.tc.columbia.edu/exhibits/passow/obit.html.