Ted Chittenden Died…

…a few days ago, from a heart attack, thus breaking a lot of hearts this holiday season. He was one of the earliest allies we had in our critique of standardized testing–especially useful since he also worked at ETS–although not on tests. To everyone who knew Ted–including the many many children in the schools he worked with over the years (like CPE) he was their imagined godfather–patient, humorous, appreciative, gentle and insightful. He listened so carefully to others, including 4 and 5 year olds (probably 2-3 year olds too) with the utmost respect and interest–he actually wanted to know. I went to meetings with him around testing issues–and always sat next to him because he promised to let me know if I was saying anything assinine (since I was just learning about standardized tests). He gave me courage to speak bluntly–they are the naked emperor. He was also such fun to be with–with widespread interests like gardening, horse track racing (for money), opera, and much more. He contributed more than many of us were even aware of to science education through his studies of what children thought–like how did they think those little weeds and flowers came up in the cracks in the sidewalk.

He was one of the founders of the North Dakota Study Group and in its early years was enormously important to our survival. He was a mentor-friend to so many..

I could go on and on.

I’m sitting here, and lo and behold, on my desk is the revised edition of his most mammoth piece of work, Inquiry Into Meaning, which he wrote with Marianne Amarel and Anne Bussis, The revised edition published in 2001 (with Terry Salinger), is half the size of the original. I mourned every left out page. Both editions though are filled with detailed and delightful longitudinal studies of children learning to read–not instruction (and the kids came from teachers with many different methods). I return to it whenever I get too impatient at all the technical educational articles I read. And how often they ignore what the children ar doing with our instruction, in ways unique to them. He was that rare intellectual in the field of eduction who could imagine how to systematically study something so idiosyncratic–and capture both the larger meaning and its individuality.

I know some of those children and the descriptions bring tears of joy to my eyes as I recall them working diligently away puzzling their way through the text.. You can actually feel the affection of the researchers as you read the children’s words.

I imagine over the next few years I will be writing about others whose death will hurt, but there is something about imagining the world without Ted that seems especially unfair to us, the living. But, in another way, I remind myself that we were very lucky to be his friends. I

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