Teaching Position: Director of the history of education program &Professor of Education and History, Steinhardt School of Education and Professor of history in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, New York University.
Area of Research: Twentieth Century History of Education, Democratic Community and Education, Immigration History, The influence of schools on development
Education: Ph.D., Department of History, Johns Hopkins University, 1993.
Major Publications: Zimmerman is the author of Innocents Abroad: American Teachers in the American Century (Harvard University Press, 2006); Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools (Harvard, 2002), and Distilling Democracy: Alcohol Education in America’s Public Schools, 1880-1925 (Kansas, 1999). He is currently working on Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory (forthcoming from Yale University Press, 2008).
Zimmerman has comtributed academic articles to the Journal of American History, the Teachers College Record, and History of Education Quarterly, and has also contributed book chapters to academic anthologies. Some titles include: “Where the Customer is King: American Textbooks Since 1945,” in A History of the Book in America, volume 5 (University of North Carolina Press, forthcoming in 2007); “Sex, Drugs, and Right ‘N’ Wrong: Or, the Passion of Joycelyn Elders, M.D,” in Donald Warren, ed. Moral and Civic Learning in America (Palgrave Press, 2006), 191-205; “Interchange: History in the Professional Schools,” Journal of American History 92 (September 2005), 553-576; “Brown-ing the American Textbook: History, Psychology, and the Origins of Modern Multiculturalism,” History of Education Quarterly 44 (Spring 2004), 45-69 (Special Edition on the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education); “Ethnics Against Ethnicity: European Immigrants and Foreign-Language Instruction, 1890-1940,” Journal of American History, 2002; “Each ‘Race’ Could Have its Heroes Sung': Ethnicity and the History Wars in the 1920s,” Journal of American History, 2000; “Beyond Double Consciousness: Black Peace Corps Volunteers in Africa, 1961-1971,” Journal of American History, 1995, among others.
Awards: Zimmerman is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
Distinguished Lecturer, Organization of American Historians, 2004-07;
Fulbright Senior Specialists Roster, Council for International Exchange of Scholars, 2005-present;
Honorable Mention, Best Article Award, History of Education Society, 2004, for “Ethnics Against Ethnicity: European Immigrants and Foreign Language Instruction, 1890-1940,” Journal of American History 88 (March 2002), 1383-1404;
Outstanding Book Award, History of Education Society, 2003, for Whose America?: presented to the author of the best book in the history of education;
Teaching Excellence Award, Steinhardt School of Education, New York University, 2003: presented to the outstanding teacher in the school;
New Scholar’s Award, American Educational Research Association (Division F), 2001, for Distilling Democracy: presented to the author of the best first book in the history of education;
National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship, 1999-2000;
Daniel R. Griffiths Research Award, School of Education, New York University, 1999: Presented to the faculty member who produces the best research;
Henry Barnard Prize, History of Education Society, 1991: Presented to the best graduate student essay in the history of education;
Jacob K. Javits Fellowship, U.S. Department of Education, 1988.
Zimmerman has comtributed over 150 oped pieces in popular newspapers and magazines, including: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, New Republic, U.S. News and World Report, Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, New York Daily News, and New York Post.
Formerly Assistant Professor of History, West Chester University, August 1992-May 1996; Social Studies Teacher, Southeast Middle School, Baltimore City Public Schools, 1987-1988; Social Studies Teacher, South Burlington School District, South Burlington, Vermont, 1986-1987, and English Teacher/ Teacher Trainer, U.S. Peace Corps, Nepal, 1983-1985.
I’m not a religious person, in the usual sense of the term, but I’ve come to believe in epiphanies. I had my first one about 15 years ago, when I was doing my doctoral research. As a former Peace Corps volunteer and public school teacher, I entered graduate school with the vague idea of writing a dissertation about education. Drug and alcohol instruction seemed like a good topic, because I knew-from my own experience-that it was mostly a failure. So I resolved to uncover the roots of this evil phenomenon, as historians are wont to do, and to explain How We Went So Very Wrong. Along the way, of course, I would also demonstrate How I Was So Very Right. Historians like to do that, too.
As I soon discovered, public school alcohol education was the brainchild of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. So I buried myself in WCTU journals and archives, exploring how these dedicated but misguided ladies (as I saw them) spread the good word about Demon Rum. Then, a few months into my research, I unearthed a letter from F. C. Atwell. Like me, Atwell was a career educator; even more, he was also a bitter critic of the WCTU. “If my child had scarlet fever, it would be the height of folly for me to call in a physician and demand that he cure him by the use of cod liver oil,” Atwell wrote, in an attack on “meddling” temperance women. “Those who have studied neither pedagogy nor psychology should be content to leave the details and the method of achieving the desired result to those who have.”
I squinted into the microfilm reader, struggling to decipher Atwell’s unwieldy handwriting. More than that, though, I struggled against myself. Denouncing the WCTU put me in league with F. C. Atwell, who simply did not believe that laypeople-and, especially, laywomen-should have any say in public school curricula. And that was not a place where I wanted to be. So I rethought the entire project and-eventually-my entire philosophy, about education and everything else.
That was my first epiphany. I’ve experienced others, too, in every book that I’ve written. The epiphany comes on suddenly, shocking you out of your smug self-assuredness. It humbles you with its force and its logic. And, most of all, it makes you surprised. In my second book, about debates over history and religion in the school curriculum, I was surprised to find that most advocates for “prayer in the public schools” before the 1960s were liberal or even radical Christians, not conservative or fundamentalist ones. In my third book, I was surprised to find that the “cultural sensitivity” of overseas American missionaries and teachers-including, at one time, myself-masked a profoundly arrogant set of assumptions about culture itself. And I was surprised, throughout my career, at how many of my questions and answers concerned matters of faith and God. Like I said, I’m not a religious person. But I’ve come to understand the immense role of luck and grace in my own life, especially in the history that I write. And that might be my biggest epiphany of all.
By Jonathan Zimmerman
About Jonathan Zimmerman