be a teacher like Barbara Bowman, AM’52. As a researcher,
advocate, and teacher of teachers, the president of the
Erikson Institute is out to make sure all children get
the care and education they deserve
|Photography by Lloyd Degrane
Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Barbara Bowman, AM'52,
learned at an early age that she had a responsibility to her city
and, more importantly, to its people. Her parents, Robert and Dorothy
Taylor, saw to that.
Her father, who chaired the Chicago Housing Authority from 1943
to 1950 and for whom the Robert Taylor Homesbuilt in the 1960s
and now, ironically, a national symbol of public housing's failuresare
named, would drive Barbara and her sister, Lauranita, through poor
neighborhoods and discuss the need for quality housing. Her mother,
who helped establish a community arts center, rolled bandages with
her daughters during World War II. The girls' grandmother took them
to do hospital volunteer work. The whole family would deliver baskets
of food at Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"I don't ever remember not being involved in something,"
Bowman recalls. "You were very much a part of the life of the
Her parentsDorothy was a teacher and Robert's father had
been vice president of Tuskegee Institutealso made sure their
daughters took part in the life of the mind.
The two sisters took their parents' words and example to heart.
Lauranita became a preschool teacher, as did Barbara, who began
her teaching career in the nursery school of the University of Chicago
Lab Schools while earning her master's in education at Chicago.
Finding herself hooked, she embarked on her life's work: understanding
child development and imparting her knowledge of those crucial early
years to the teachers of young children as well as to the rest of
us. It's work that's taken the 70-year-old Bowman from classrooms
to community centers, academic journals to editorial pages, federal
advisory boards to public podiums, Native American reservations
to African towns.
As chair of a National Research Council committee on early childhood
pedagogy, Bowman heads up a group of about 15 experts who started
meeting last May to filter through the latest research. By September
they will have convened eight to ten times, communicating between
meetings by e-mail as they write a book summarizing the freshest
and most useful knowledge. She just wrapped up service on a similar
committee studying one major area of childhood teachingliteracyand
has been speaking about the report, Preventing Reading Difficulties
in Young Children, to school districts and professional groups
around the nation. Other such duties include serving on both the
editorial board of Young Childrenthe research journal
of the National Association for the Education of Young Children,
of which Bowman was president in 198082and the editorial
advisory board of Teachers College Press.
After nearly 50 years in her field, Bowman still breaks out in
a smile almost every time she says the word "children."
If she's not smiling, it's probably becauseever the advocateshe's
earnestly discussing in her low, smooth voice a problem affecting
children. With her graying hair in an elegant bun and a warm demeanor
that invites conversation, it's easy to imagine her as your surrogate
grandmother or favorite aunt, assuming that your grandmother or
aunt is also the founder and president of an institution of higher
education. But that's probably not the case, as few women are.
Bowman and her onetime Lab Schools colleagues Maria Piers and
Lorraine Wallach, AB'50, AM'70, joined this elite group in 1966
when they established the Erikson Institute, a graduate school and
research center in Chicago that specializes in early childhood education.
Its mission is simply stated: "Knowledge in the service of
children." Starting with just 15 students and the three founders
as faculty, the institute has grown right along with the growing
body of knowledge about early childhood and now has eight full-time
and nine part-time faculty, 200 students, and 750 alumni. Graduates
hold high-level posts at LaRabida Children's Hospital in Chicago,
the Salvation Army, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction,
and the National Easter Seal Society.
During her time as a teacher, researcher, and mentor at Erikson,
Bowman has spent ten years as co-director of the institute, 15 as
director of graduate students, and one year as vice president for
academic programs. Until a few years ago, she preferred the freedom
to pursue projects, such as teaching on Indian reservations in Phoenix
and Minnesota or consulting for a New York school district, to being
head of the institute. But in 1994, when former institute president
James Garbarino stepped down, Bowman stepped up. No longer in its
infancy, the Erikson Institute needed a strong leader to guide it
into maturity without losing sight of its original vision. With
both Piers and Wallach in retirement, Bowman felt the institute
"It seemed important to have somebody taking leadership who
was very much aware of the past but also the needs of the future,"
As president, Bowman has doubled the student body, increased the
fund-raising efforts of the school and its board, brought computer
technology into the classrooms, established new research initiatives,
introduced additional continuing education classes, and expanded
public education and outreach.
"She has done a remarkable job of taking us to the next level,"
confirms Frances Stott, AB'63, AM'74, Erikson's dean of academic
programs. "Barbara not only understands the Erikson Institute,
she embodies it. We feel we're in our glory days right now."
Bowman didn't intend to be an educator. Leaving her middle-class
neighborhood, not far from where the Robert Taylor Homes would later
be built, she went to Sarah Lawrence College intending first to
be an artist, then to be a city planner. At age 19 she became engaged
to pathologist James Bowman, whom she'd first met over the winter
holidays during her last year at Northfield School in Massachusetts.
They planned to marry in June 1950 after she finished college, and
she knew she'd need a job while he completed his residency in Chicago.
At the time, teaching was one of the opportunities open to a woman,
so she tested the waters at Sarah Lawrence's nursery school, eventually
earning her bachelor's degree in liberal arts while taking a course
in teacher education and getting certified to teach nursery school
through third grade. Her inquiries at the Chicago Board of Education
led her to visit a kindergarten classroom, where, she says, she
realized that teaching a class of 50 children would require skills
and knowledge she didn't yet possess.
So she came to the U of C's school of education to acquire them.
While earning her master's degree, she taught in the Lab Schools
nursery school, becoming a head teacher after one year. Bowman also
taught a graduate course in observation at the nursery school. "It
was the first time that I had taught adults," she recalls,
"and I found that I enjoyed it almost as much as I enjoyed
working with the children."
With her degree and her husband's residency completed, their next
decade took a course neither could have expected. James enlisted
for the Korean War and was sent to Fitzsimmons Army Hospital in
Denver, where Barbara taught at Colorado Women's College. Then in
1955, an acquaintance offered James the chance to help establish
a hospital in southern Iran. Their planned two years in Iran turned
into six, during which their daughter, now Valerie Jarrett, chair
of the Chicago Transit Authority, was born. James was director of
pathology at Nemazee Hospital in Shiraz and also helped found a
medical school at the local university. Barbara taught social sciences
in the medical school and at the Nemazee School of Nursing.
Perhaps the most useful lesson she learned, Bowman says, was to
pay attention toand to valuecultural differences in
raising and educating children. "I became very much aware of
how, given another set of circumstances, people raise children in
quite different ways and those children turn out to be human, too,"
The family returned to Chicago in 1963, with James joining the
U of C faculty, where he taught and researched for 30 years and
remains a professor emeritus in the departments of pathology and
medicine, the College, the Committee on Genetics, and the Committee
on African and African-American Studies. Bowman began working with
emotionally disturbed children at the Chicago Child Care Society.
They continued to spend summers traveling the world as James did
genetic and blood research and Barbara visited schools and children's
Meanwhile, schools and children's programs in the U.S. were changing.
With President Lyndon Johnson's call for a "Great Society"
and a "war on poverty" came the advent of Operation Head
Start. Designed to put children from low-income families on an equal
footing with other children when they entered school, Head Start
would provide educational, health, and social services. The birth
of Head Start in 1965 gave Barbara Bowman's Lab Schools friend Maria
Piers an idea. After she brought Lorraine Wallach on board, the
two of them called Bowman. They were planning to start a school
that would teach preschool teachers how to work with children in
Head Start programs. They would emphasize relationship-based education,
giving their students not just formal knowledge but an understanding
of themselves and of others. Would Bowman help? She would.
"Most of the preschool teachers worked in nursery schools
and had almost no experience working with children at risk or poor
children and low-income families," Bowman explains. "It
was essential that either we retrain the nursery-school teachers
or recruit a whole new cadre of teachers who would be willing to
work with low-income children and families."
Named for Erik Erikson, an American psychoanalyst who proposed
that human development is divided into eight stagesand with
whom Piers had worked in Vienna in the 1930sthe Erikson Institute
opened its doors on Hyde Park's 53rd Street with the financial help
of U of C life trustee Irving B. Harris, now the Erikson Institute's
chairman emeritus. With Piers as dean, the school started as a non-degree-granting
institution with just 15 students. As the institute grew, it took
on community projects and began drawing applicants as diverse as
nurses, social workers, day-care directors, even ministers. Soon
the founders decided that their students needed and deserved a tangible
credential, so they affiliated with Loyola University Chicago and
began to offer a master's degree program in early childhood education.
The academic programs have grown enormously in the years since.
The master's program now includes the standard degree in child development,
plus three specializations: one for teacher certification, one for
working with infants, and one for students who want to be directors
or administrators. These programs take from one to three years,
depending on whether they're done full or part time, and require
a yearlong internship supervised by a faculty member. Then there's
the postbaccalaureate Irving B. Harris infant studies program and
a variety of professional development courses. Students with a more
academic bent can now enter the Ph.D. program in child development,
offered jointly with Loyola. And under Bowman, Erikson has just
added a B.A. program through Columbia College Chicago that offers
undergraduates a liberal-arts education, an area of concentration,
and teaching certification.
At the same time, the institute's outreach and research efforts
have broadened. Project Match, a welfare-to-work program run by
Erikson alumna Toby Herr, employs the parents of young children
at early childhood centers. "Most welfare-to-work programs
are focused on employment outcomes, on getting as many people off
the rolls as quickly as possible," Herr told Erikson/Chicago.
"But Erikson is about human development, and Project Match
takes that perspective. To us, leaving welfare isn't an event, it's
a process of personal growth."
Other projects take Erikson into the public schools, while still
others are more research-oriented. The Arts Integration project
works with public school teachers on using the fine arts to help
disadvantaged children with cognitive skills. The institute is also
involved with the city of Chicago's accreditation project, which
is trying to raise standards and get nursery schools and the like
accredited by a professional organization such as the National Association
for the Education of Young Children. The Project on Children and
Violence examines how children are affected by growing up in high-crime
areas, while the Faculty Development Project on the Brain focuses
on bringing new knowledge of the developing brain's workings to
higher-education curricula and inservice education programs. With
the U of C's Early Childhood Initiative, an interdisciplinary research
program that studies children's cognitive development, the Erikson
Institute sponsors "The Developing Child: Brain and Behavior"
symposium series, which sold out a winter program on language development.
"Our niche in the research world is not basic research,"
says Bowman. "What we're trying to do is to use research tools
to help community organizations and services improve the quality
of their serviceeither by getting better information about
their clients or by looking more carefully at the outcomes or by
looking at what they are actually doing and what they think they
ought to be doing."
Though the institute had been growing all along, the mid-1990s
seemed the time to make a concerted push to take it to the next
level. With a steadily increasing number of children's programs
and job opportunities, the school's waiting list had become as long
as the list of admitted students. Some people would see that as
a sign that the school could be more selective, more exclusive.
Bowman saw only that Erikson needed to expand to fulfill the demand
for its services.
She's managed to double the student body in the past few years,
making it a priority to recruit people who work in high-risk communities,
even those who may not be prepared for graduate school. Rather than
lower its academic standards, Erikson provides those students with
extra helptutors who can advise on everything from writing
papers to time management.
"You have to grow or risk remaining the same," comments
academic dean Fran Stott. "We have grown in productive ways
that maintain uniqueness and core mission, yet keep us vital and
current. Barbara does a fabulous job of balancing those."
Bowman has also stepped up the fund-raising efforts of the school
and its board. Part of the upshot is plainly visible in the institute's
newly renovated campusfeaturing a computer lab and "smart"
classroomlocated in the heart of the city at 400 N. Wabash.
Perhaps her toughest job is getting the word out about how important
it is to make sure people who work with children are well trained.
That task includes making speeches, writing letters to the editor,
and organizing lecture series. "People often say, 'Well, parents
don't have fancy educations and they raise perfectly nice children,'"
Bowman says. Acknowledging the truth of that argument, Bowman quickly
adds, "What I think people don't understand is that when you're
raising other people's children, it takes a great deal more sensitivity,
Bowman poses the same questions and makes the same arguments that
Head Start posed and made 30 years ago. Quality care and education
for childrenall children, not just those with well-off parentsis
still the biggest issue facing society, she says. Her battle is
not so easily won: "The general public has to recognize that
other people's children are their responsibility and that everybody
can't afford the quality of care and education that children need.
And if the public is not willing to pick up the price tag, we're
going to be stuck with increasing numbers of children who need to
be remediated in school and need to have additional services."
The price tag is not going to be a small one, she acknowledges.
Society will have to rearrange its priorities and make some sacrifices,
the same way an individual might cut back on eating in restaurants
to save money for the down payment on a house. "We can change
our priorities about how we support people who take care of our
children," she insists. "In the long run, it's cheaper
to feed it in on the early end and not spend it on the far end."
That kind of persistence is vintage Bowman, according to Stott,
who likes to tell a story about her colleague that took place 14
years ago, right after Stott found out that her 15-year-old son
needed heart surgery. Forgoing platitudes, Bowman followed Stott
around, asking her daily whether she'd chosen a surgeon yet, refusing
to let her ignore the decision that needed making. Finally, Bowman
came into the office one morning and told Stott that the U of C's
chief of pediatric cardiology was expecting her call at 10 a.m.
"That's who Barbara is," Stott says. "She gets people
to act on their own behalf." That's true of her as a leader
and teacher, too, Stott notes: "She is unrelenting, and she
expects everyone to rise to their best level. And they meet those
Despite her administrative duties and outside obligations, Bowman
remains dedicated to the classroom. She still teaches two classesa
fall one in the history and philosophy of early childhood care and
education, and a winter one in administrationsaving spring
for her travels to children's programs abroad. Under the tutorial
program that is part of the master's degree, she meets with two
students once a week during their final academic year to discuss
how to implement their classroom knowledge in their internships.
Yet she says her favorite moments as a teacher take place not in
classrooms, but in meetings.
"I look around the room and I count the number of Erikson
graduates there. It is the joy of my life," she says. "That
really thrills me, that so many of our graduates are in leadership
positions around the city, the nation, and in different countries."
This spring, another batch of Erikson Institute graduates will
gather in Bowman's Greenwood Avenue backyard for the commencement
ceremony, which has been held there since the first 10 students
graduated in 1967. Last year, the backyard overflowed with 35 students
and 200 guests. Stott will talk about each student for a few minutes
and Bowman will hand each master's student a yellow rose, each Ph.D.
a white one. A very Erikson waya very Bowman wayto pass
on the torch.