Alan Shapiro, a leader in student-centered education and teacher-educator for almost half a century, died Friday, January 28, 2011 at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut after a short illness, at the age of 85. Shapiro, a long-time teacher in the New Rochelle (NY) City School District, a prolific writer on education, and a social activist for peace, leaves behind his wife Sue (nee Suzanne Harburger), brother Richard, children Ann and her husband Tom, and Paul and his wife Connie, three grandchildren, Eli, Emmett, and Lucas, and three great grandchildren, Oz, Maddie, and Ella.
Shapiro’s gifts and talents as a teacher began to move beyond his own classroom at Isaac E. Young Junior High School when he and a small group of others began the New Rochelle Federation of Teachers in the early 1960s, at a time when issues of poor teacher pay, minimal job security, and few opportunities for extended education in new practices intersected with the problems wrought by the first US Supreme Court school desegregation case in the north. The union Shapiro was central in building addressed this wide range of concerns, and pushed a reluctant school board forward. Changes spread through the district, from elementary open classrooms to differentiated choices in the high school which profoundly impacted the ability of an urban school district to meet the needs of a diverse student population.
In 1970 Shapiro collaborated with New York University professor Neil Postman to develop a completely new high school design. Their new alternative high school design, "The Program for Inquiry, Involvement, and Independent Study" (the 3I Program), provided a highly effective, but completely non-traditional path to high school graduation and academic success, and offered a model for other "schools without walls" throughout the northeastern United States.
Shapiro’s influences continued for progressive educators, globally, through his efforts in the founding of Educators for Social Responsibility - Metropolitan Area ("ESR-Metro"), now the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. He was the founding Board Chair of ESR-Metro and helped create that center’s teacher support website, TeachableMoment.org and became a major contributor, writing on rethinking classroom practice, developing critical thinking, and leading students toward social and academic responsibility. He also worked with in-service and pre-service teachers through the College of New Rochelle and other education programs.
Alan, the son of longtime Look Magazine Vice-President and Circulation Director S.O. Shapiro, was a World War II combat veteran of the European Theater, who turned his life toward the pursuit of both peace and what grew to be a radically new concept of public education, after attending the University of Illinois and receiving his Bachelors from Adelphi University and his Masters from Teachers College at Columbia University. His efforts to expand inquiry into society at every level reached from his role in New Rochelle’s Ethical Culture Society to universities and now web readers in every nation. He adopted new communications technologies continually in order to support social activism for peace in communities around the globe. The same energy he had brought to the injustices of the 1960s when his causes included civil and voting rights, and efforts to halt nuclear proliferation and the Vietnam War, he brought to his opposition to war and violence around the world in the 21st Century.
Shapiro, carrying on a tradition which had begun with friends and colleagues Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner, consistently challenged ideas relating to media and our understanding of information. His last two essays, published this year, were, "WikiLeaks: High-tech terrorists? Or journalists?" and, "Interpreting & Verifying the News in an Era of Info Overload."
After creating and participating in the "3I Program" at New Rochelle High School, Shapiro retired to writing and his commitment to global peace through continued civic engagement. Sue and Alan moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut from New Rochelle, where they were closer to the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren they loved so dearly. From there, he traveled widely, wrote copiously, and worked with groups of every kind which needed assistance in advancing the ideas which were important to him. He was working on these efforts up until his final weeks.
The family has requested that those wishing to honor Alan Shapiro’s life and legacy consider contributing to The Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, publishers of TeachableMoment.org:
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 550
New York, New York 10115
212.870.3318 | fax: 212.870.2464
and the address for condolences:
54 Florida Road
Ridgefield, CT 06877
Thanks to Paul Shapiro, Ira Socol, and Bob Flisser for all the information and support. Please e-mail Josh Karpf if you have information to share here. Appreciations and discussions of Alan may be found at: