Dwight Allen, Cosby will co-author book on educational reform
BY ELIZABETH COOPER
As the dean of the School of Education at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Dwight W. Allen developed innovative programs, positioned the school as a research leader and recruited numerous nontraditional graduate students, including a young comedian named Bill Cosby.
The two have stayed in touch over the years, and it was announced this week that Allen, eminent professor of educational reform at Old Dominion, and Cosby will collaborate on a new book about educational reform. The working title is "Making a Difference in Education: Try Money."
Making changes in education is both hard and expensive, Allen declares. In the book, he and Cosby will point out how foolish it is not to invest 5 to 10 percent of the cost of education in systematic experimentation.
"We have to be willing to try new approaches and pay for them," Allen said. "We have to be willing to make mistakes and learn from them. We have to be willing to reward those who are willing to take the risks and be the pioneers, and cheer them on, even when they fail." The book should be out sometime next year.
According to Allen, aspects of education in this country have been renamed and redesigned many times, but little positive reform has actually been accomplished. "Basically, all we've done so far is stir the frosting," he said.
Allen served as dean at UMass from 1968 to 1975 before coming to Old Dominion in 1978. In the early 1970s, one of his students worked with Cosby and told Allen of the comedian's interest in education. Although Cosby was still pursuing his bachelor's degree at Temple University, Allen had implemented a graduate program that accepted students who had not completed their baccalaureate degrees, but who had impacted society through their careers and community service. Cosby fit that description perfectly, according to Allen.
"Even at that time, the work that he did had a lot of connotations to education," Allen recalled. "He was very interested in social issues, and his comedy always had a moral point." Allen's student arranged for him to meet with Cosby in New York, and their discussion sparked the comedian's interest in graduate education. "I don't think he had planned to pursue graduate work, but we worked out an individual program with him."
Cosby spent five years at the university, during which he earned his master's degree in 1972 and his doctorate in 1977. His dissertation was titled "The Integration of Visual Media Via Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids Into the Elementary Schools Culminating as a Teacher Aid to Achieve Increased Learning." Cosby's Old Dominion connection to the University of Massachusetts doesn't end with Allen. Lenora H. Thompson, director of the Counseling Center, earned both her master's in urban education and her doctorate in counseling from UMass, while Garrett McAuliffe, associate professor of educational leadership and counseling, earned his Ph.D. in counseling there.
McAuliffe noted that many national leaders in education and other fields also were enrolled in the School of Education at this time and recalled Allen's role in making the school a center for social change and social action. "Dwight Allen brought in progressive thinkers to change education," he said. "Bill Cosby was part of that."
Contending that the status quo was no longer working in education, Allen revolutionized the school with programs that allowed students to create their own classes, combated institutional racism and abolished grading systems, McAuliffe said. "He changed all the rules."
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