Paul F-Brandwein (1912-1994)
Born in 1912, Paul F-Brandwein emigrated from Austria prior to WWII. Paul’s interest in science began quite early, partially owing to the time he had spent in hospitals as a young man for childhood arthritis. Though the condition cut short a career in piano, his love for the instrument remained strong throughout his life. PFB became an assistant at the Littnauer Pneumonia Research Laboratory in New York where he worked while completing his bachelor of science from New York University. This early start in original research had a great impact on the direction of his studies and philosophy on education. By 1940, upon completion of his masters and doctorate studies at NYU, PFB was secure in the belief that “the best way to encourage the young in science was to help them early to do original work”.
Paul’s experience as an educator began at George Washington High School. He moved on, through the 1940’s and into the mid 50’s, to serve as a member and later as chair of the science department at Forest Hills High School. Here he piloted a program encouraging students to do original work in science. It has been suggested that more of Paul’s students won the prestigious Westinghouse Science Talent Search that those of any other teacher.
An accomplished author, PFB began publishing science textbooks in 1946, revolutionizing the way science was taught throughout the country. Disappointed with lecture and textbook based teaching, Paul developed classroom materials based on investigation, research, and analysis. His widely used grade-specific series, Concepts in Science, pioneered the style of hands-on, investigative, science education that generations of children have come to experience as the norm. Even so, Paul remained aware of the limitations inherent in any textbook. To forward innovative education methods he joined with scientists and educators on the Sputnik science project. Additionally he served on the Steering Committee of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, as chair of its Gifted Student Committee, and as consultant to the Physical Science Study Committee. Through these committees, PFB strengthened the presence of programs designed to interest high school students in science through “originative” inquiry.
Always concerned with and committed to a vision of equity in education, PFB strived to improve education for the students he believed to be most neglected: the disadvantaged and the gifted. He once said, “We do pretty well for the 80 percent of the students in the middle. But the 10 percent at the top and the bottom: we grind them under our feet!” Based in his belief of equal access to opportunity, he promoted self-selection by interested students- rather than assignment based on testing.
Lifelong research and experience with education led Paul to develop the concept of an “ecology of achievement” whereby “the school-community ecosystem acts in mutualism with cultural and university ecosystems.” With this scientific analogy to the relationships of students, educators, scientists, and the community at large, PFB expresses the necessity for integrating education with life and community. Drawing a distinction between “schooling” and “education” PFB emphasized the impact of the community on the school rather than vice versa. Refusing to allow schools to shoulder the blame for society’s ills, he saw the quality of schools as symptomatic of the state of the community. “Specific communities get the kind of schools their economic and social conditions permit; it is simplism itself to blame schools for the plight of the community or of society.”
In addition to his involvement with primary and secondary education in America, PFB participated in many roles with graduate and undergraduate institutions throughout the world. He became education director and later co-director of the Pinchot Institute for Conservation Studies at Grey Towers in Milford, Pennsylvania. This position combined his interests in education and conservation. The property where he and his wife, Mary, made their home was also intended to realize this commitment to conservation. The Rutgers Creek Wildlife Conservancy established by Paul and Mary has been administered by the Brandwein-Morholt Trust since Paul’s death in 1994. In affiliation with the Pocono Environmental Education Center, the Conservancy serves as a site for educational programs and research. The Paul F-Brandwein Institute advances Paul’s intention for the land as a place of learning and discovery for students, teachers, scientists, and those interested in natural systems and the environment.
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