I came to the GC with the hopes of working with Jean Anyon because, from reading her work, I felt that we saw the world similarly. I sought her out the way a fan might seek out a singer, following an imagined, yet nonetheless compelling, link between the words of the tune and one’s own life. I showed up at Jean’s doorstep a stranger and she took me in. It’s inexplicable to me, even now, why. But she invited me to sit across from her at that desk famously cluttered with books on just about everything, and she asked me to be her student and mentee. Jean validated me by having faith in my half-formed ideas. In her seminars, she walked me through areas that were beyond my depth. She grounded me here by connecting me with her students- a community of scholar/activist/educators who continue to inspire me. She even encouraged my work as a musician. Jean introduced me to OWS, and taught me that resistance meant using both your body and mind. Later, she shook me out of a deep weariness and got me writing again when I was ready to give up. Five days before she died, Jean advised me one last time. She was drinking ginger ale and eating saltines, and listening patiently as I told her of my latest dissertation struggle. She told me, “Trust yourself,” which I can do because she prepared me to, and because she’s gone and there’s so much work left to do around here.
When I met Jean Anyon, I was a disgruntled Social Worker in a dysfunctional marriage with public schools in the South Bronx. I was considering applying for the Urban Education program, but I was not entirely sure why. After a short meeting with Jean, my foggy idea about graduate school was suddenly a life path in high definition.
I had to learn from this woman.
On that first day meeting Jean, if pressed, I might have guessed that I would be taught new theoretical frameworks or unique perspectives on policy and pedagogy. I did learn these things. However, I couldn’t have imagined how differently I would see myself. I was infused with the confidence that comes from knowing Jean. She thought what I had to say mattered. She wanted to know what was happening in the Bronx and was more concerned with the content of my ideas as opposed to the gracefulness or eloquence of their delivery.
Because of Jean, my marriage with the Bronx feels more productive. I am a more understanding partner, and I feel armed with an arsenal of knowledge and direction that I did not have prior to meeting Jean Anyon. Every day, I am so thankful to have known her and carry her power, love and urgency with me, hopeful, that in a small way I am continuing her work.
Jean Anyon was a passionate educator and mentor. She wasn’t the type of professor who would passively listen to your ideas; instead, she always listened intently, questioning and challenging your thoughts in order to push your way of thinking. It was in Jean’s class where I found my dissertation topic, stumbling upon it because she provided legitimate interest in my first couple of ideas, both of which she kindly “shot down.” We were asked to come up with a paper topic about an issue in education. I came to class with an idea about leadership training programs for people to become principals, but after presenting my topic, which was vague, she pushed me for answers I couldn’t provide. Therefore, I decided to select a different topic. When I found my topic on classroom management, she was so supportive, while still pushing me to dig to the bottom of the issue; this became my dissertation. Jean was an educator through and through and it came out in the classroom and behind closed doors. She will be truly missed.
I knew I wanted to take one class with Jean Anyon before I completed my Ph.D. course work at the Graduate Center within the City University of New York. It was my last semester and I enrolled in her research seminar. She treated us as developing scholars. Jean structured this seminar as an opportunity to share our dissertation research and receive constructive feedback. I became stronger at research, thanks to her efforts. For a guest speaker she brought in a student who had completed and defended her dissertation. This student was engaged in turning her dissertation into a book. Her presentation was meaningful and practical. I was very fortunate to have had Jean as a professor. Thanks for pushing me to critically read, think and write. You are missed.
I arrived at Jean’s office for our first meeting in the winter of 2004, and her door was mostly open as she finished up a conversation with a student, to whom she warmly introduced me. As we started our meeting, I immediately felt like I was being heard—not something I or my colleagues often felt as we battled policy change after policy change as New York City public school teachers in the early 2000s. I clutched my (by then already heavily annotated and dog-eared) copy of Ghetto Schooling and started in: I wanted to work with someone who would help me figure out who controls what’s going on in schools. She said she could do that. I knew I’d found my teacher.
Nearly nine years later, I can only hope to do the same for my future students what she did for me as a teacher, mentor, friend and sometimes-parent: most importantly, she was there.
I reach for the phone still to text her this observation or that noticing about the latest in teacher certification tests, my new job as an assistant professor, or moving from the city to the country. I want to hear her laugh, or correct my use of “that” vs. “who,” or debate the direction of American schooling over drinks. I find myself wondering “What would Jean say?” about pretty much everything.
While there is no way to fill the gap left in her absence, we can—and must—build on what she taught us: “you can’t fix education in a vacuum” (class notes, Fall 2006).
Jean was unique and irreplaceable. The clarity of her theoretical position and her constancy and commitment to it certainly gave me courage as a junior scholar.
It is not easy saying that one is a Marxist in an academic setting where such a posture is outside of the norm. But it was precisely her Marxist standpoint (combined with her innate brilliance) that gave her critiques of the educational system their insight and power. She reminded us that we needed to consider “class” as a variable in our analysis. Nowhere else in the Urban Education Program did I hear the words “political economy” uttered other than in Jean’s classroom. It is not easy to remain true to one’s principles over the course of a lifetime, but Jean did. By openly embracing a Marxist critique, Jean’s scholarly work exposed the core injustices of education in a capitalist system in a way that liberal critiques could not. I am so much a richer scholar because she assigned C. Wright Mills, Antonio Gramsci,and Naomi Klein in her classes.
Whereas others dropped discussing political economy in their work because it was no longer in vogue, Jean never did analysis to be trendy or popular. At the beginning of her career, she took a big risk by doing straight Marxist critique of curriculum in her fabulous study, “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work.” And she stuck with political economy to the end.
Her professorial advice was always coupled with wonderful worldly lessons as well, as when she told the story of how she took a whole year off after her daughter was born so she could be with her and spend as much time as possible talking to her.
Jean, thank you for your example of integrity, of intellectualism and activism. For your courage to say “I am a Marxist,” and for being one not just in theory but in practice as well.
Thank you, Jean, for being a model of courage, constancy and transparency. And above all, thank you for believing in us. Estás con nosotros todavía, companera.
Where would the theoretical, research and activist core of the field of urban education be without Jean Anyon? It is even harder to imagine how we would be responding to and organizing against the corporate assault on public education were it not for the clarity of Jean’s insistence on radical possibilities. Yet, because of the many spokes in the wheel and centrifugal force that was Jean, I have all confidence that her legacy will bring possibilities we cannot yet imagine.
Jean didn’t just write about radical possibilities, she created and nurtured them throughout her career. Her classic piece, “Social Class and School Knowledge” written in 1981, set the stage for future generations of scholars to expose, as she did, how class relations are reproduced and resisted in schooling. She carried the field into an examination of the interconnections between the political economy and school policies, facilities, curriculum, teaching, and learning. Her characterization of government and business policies that severed urban populations from the economic, political, educational, and human resources they need to thrive – which she unapologetically termed ghettoization – shook people up and unsettled the more complacent academic terms of the time. Jean’s ability to theorize class, race, contradiction, and transformation was unsurpassed; and her public lectures, writings, and tireless classroom teaching were delivered with brilliance, humor and an unmistakable mischievous smile.
Jean lived her commitment to the power of public education, serving in two public institutions (Rutgers and the Graduate Center, CUNY) where she opened doors and minds, advancing both cross-disciplinary studies and cross-fertilized political action. She made it possible for students, activists, teachers, youth workers, scholars, film makers, and public intellectuals, to name a few, to come together to reimagine social and educational justice.
Seeking solace in the wake of our field’s great loss is knowing the dynamism of her progeny – the students she inspired and who inspired her. These are the radical possibilities to come.
Long before I became a doctoral student Jean Anyon was already my teacher, my mentor, my advocate—the kind of scholar-educator-activist that I aspired to be. Prior to becoming one of Jean’s doctoral students I was a New York City elementary school educator and an educational justice activist with the New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE). Jean was a big supporter of NYCoRE, so much so that she invited us to be on a panel at the CUNY-Graduate Center with Chalkdust, a similar educator-lead activist group from the 1970s. Even then she was inviting participants into an educational experience that centered on inquiry and action. During the panel and in the many years that followed, Jean taught me to develop a scholarly-activist lens that paid attention to the political economy and the multiscalar impact it had on structuring policy, teaching, and learning. She also emphasized the urgency that we must all have to act in response to structured dominance as well as the history of struggle we are inheriting and must continue on. I also came to recognize Jean’s teaching approach to be one where she decentered herself for the purposes of inspiring student-centered and discussion-rich educational experiences. The work was always about her students and about the struggle. Jean taught us so many things, but it was her way of seeing and acting, and her way of inspiring and listening to students, that are the lessons that I have held, and will continue to hold, the closest to my heart.
This is a love note for Jean Anyon, my favorite professor at Rutgers-Newark who taught me how to be a teacher twenty years ago. This is a love note for Jean Anyon, my advisor and committee chair who helped me earn a Ph.D. in 2009. This is a love note for the woman, the mother, the author, the professor, the guide, the deeply respected friend whose words–written and spoken–changed my life again and again, over the span of my adulthood.
Every good part of my professional life in schools bears Jean Anyon’s mark. Much of what I love most about teaching, learning, theory, and scholarship came from what I learned from Jean. Her authentic and unique ways of demanding rigor never compromised her capacity to communicate care, both of which–to my good fortune–she shared freely and frequently.
This isn’t my first love note to Jean; I’m glad to have told her of my gratitude and admiration many times over the years. My best teaching, activism, and future scholarship, however, are also my love notes to her, as her treasured teachings and writing are love notes to all of us.
Thank you for all of it, Jean, and more. I miss you.
At the root of being a mentor lies the ability to help students see in themselves what they cannot. They actively seek out potential, hold up a “mirror” for it to be seen, and through the mentoring relationship, they work tirelessly with students to ensure their potential is realized. Dr. Jean Anyon was a spirited mentor of this kind.
She and I met when I was a master’s student in sociology at Hunter College. After teaching first-grade for two years, I was compelled to specialize in the sociology of education, and enrolled in her educational policy course at The Graduate Center. I possessed little formal knowledge of urban education, and the profound influence of her scholarship interrogating race, political economy, and school reform. To be honest, I had no idea it was a doctoral-level course. Juggling research projects, a teaching assistantship, and consulting, I overlooked this part of the course description. Had I known, I am confident I would not have enrolled, petrified by the rigor. This was also my second master’s, and I had postponed employment long enough, especially given my low-income background. This oversight, along with Jean’s mentorship, literally changed my life.
Three weeks into the course, she asked if we could meet after class. I immediately braced myself. These conversations historically involved teachers bringing up a lagging skill, or being cajoled to speak more during class. She started by asking what I thought of the course. I naively blurted-out, “It’s a lot of work.” She unapologetically replied, “It’s a doctoral-level course Joseph.” Literally, in this moment, I learned the course was for doctoral students, and I made every effort to mask my shock. Surprisingly, she proceeded to ask if I had considered doctoral studies. Still in shock, I replied “no,” and spiraled into self-deprecating speech. She quickly interrupted, strongly suggested I pursue a Ph.D., and offered to help with my application.
This life-changing encounter marked the beginning of my five-year mentorship by Jean.
From helping with the design of my first syllabus, to advocating for program funds on my behalf, and visiting the classes I taught to discuss her scholarship, I am truly grateful.
A few weeks before Jean’s passing, and days before I defended my dissertation, we crossed paths in our program’s lobby. Her words, much like her persona, were strident and sincere, “I always knew you would graduate.”
Thanks for seeing the unforeseen, Jean
Femi S. Otulaja
Jean was a teacher and researcher with passion and sincere empathy for the marginalized. She didn’t just write about the structures that disadvantage “others” but sincerely wanted to dismantle those structures that keep many from maximizing their potentials. It is that passion and sincerity that separate Jean from many researchers. That is what I will remember and unfortunately miss about Jean. Jean was also so friendly; she treated us like she had known us for years. I remember visiting her home for wine and cheese with other students. We’ll miss you, Jean Anyon. Rest in Perpetual Peace. Good night, Jean; see you in the eternity morning in your usual welcoming smile. You will always be remembered.
The students, faculty, and staff of the CUNY Graduate Center and the Program in Urban Education lost one of our pillars with the death of Jean Anyon. Jean had been fighting cancer for about a year and succumbed to it on September 7th, 2013.
Jean had been on the Urban Education faculty since its beginnings and in every sense was critical to its development and success. Her thoughts, positions, and ideas added mightily to the vibrancy of our program. Her scholarship on political economy as a lens to examine public policy regarding urban neighborhoods and schools is respected throughout the professional education community. Her books, Radical Possibilities and Ghetto Schooling, are standard reading in every education program in the country.
She was incredibly loyal to and supportive of our students. She guided and helped them in any way she could. She taught them to be activists and led them on Occupy Wall Street marches. To do a dissertation under Jean’s tutelage was an experience that established a foundation for a scholar’s career and life’s work.
Jean was a friend from whom I sought advice and counsel. In addition to our regular conversations throughout the academic year, I especially enjoyed having dinner with her at the end of each semester. I used these occasions to help me reflect on the ups and downs of our program. Our discussions always turned to our students, both those who were succeeding as well as those needing more assistance. I inevitably found myself using her insights to guide me during the coming semester.
We will all miss her dearly.
When I think of Jean I see her greeting me with warmth; I see her greeting me as a prospective student at the Urban Education Open House, greeting my cohort at our very first doctoral class on Urban Pedagogy, greeting us at Foley Square for an Occupy protest, greeting us at an end-of-semester party swilling a glass of wine—I guess I don’t ever really think about her saying good-bye to us; only saying “hello” and “welcome.” It’s a picture that doesn’t exactly match the other image that I have of her: the version that is sharp-witted, that expertly challenged mainstream truths, and the version that would tell you if your interpretation was weak or just plain wrong.
Jean exposed us to new ideas and new ways of seeing the world—after a class with Jean you had to see the world differently because she had just spent a semester blowing apart the world you thought you knew. She pushed us toward activism, asked us to question the world as if we possessed none of the social and cultural capital that allows us to make sense of it. She asked us to “study up” to stay in the classroom, to focus on the work, to keep finding ways to talk about inequity and injustice with our colleagues at schools, with the high school and college students we teach, with anyone who would listen. She was focused on all of the things that we could do, all of the ways that we could affect the world. It was tremendously empowering to be her student.
Jean Anyon was a mentor to me in a very full sense– I learned from her words and actions, from watching her and from her advice to me. She really knew herself, and thus really was herself as our teacher. (She never was just my teacher, always our teacher, because she helped us to see how the small group of us that studied with her around the same time were connected to each other, and would be throughout our careers). Her way of synthesizing theories, arguments, data, and the impacts of policies into stories that were meaningful to everyday lives dazzled and inspired me. Her understanding of what her work was and wasn’t, who her work was for and for whom it wasn’t, was a contagious sort of ethic– she knew what could be leveraged on behalf of communities from within the academy, and did so without apology.
As I said in the acknowledgements of my first book (the book that came from my dissertation research conducted with Jean’s guidance), Jean taught me to write for an audience that does not think like me, and she made me brave as a theorist. As important as her work is to fields of education research, curriculum, and social theory, she was more important in the lives of her students because we had the pleasure of thinking alongside her.