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Dr. Robert H. Anderson | 1918-2010

Robert Anderson, pioneering educator, dies at 91

Dr. Robert H. Anderson, 91, first proposed “team teaching,” which has become standard in U.S. schools. He died June 3.

Special to the Times

Dr. Robert H. Anderson, 91, first proposed “team teaching,” which has become standard in U.S. schools. He died June 3.

CARROLLWOOD — Even today, Robert Anderson's vision of a new way to approach childhood education seems progressive. When he first proposed it more than a half-century ago, it was downright radical.

Dr. Anderson pioneered such concepts as team teaching, in which groups of teachers work together, and nongradedness, in which children of various ages are together in the same classroom.

Some of his ideas have become almost universally accepted and are part of the American educational landscape.

"If you're talking about team teaching, the number of people who accept that approach is something like 98, 99, percent," said John Mann, the director of leadership development and communication for the District School Board of Pasco County, and a longtime friend of Dr. Anderson's. "To me, that's universal acceptance."

Dr. Anderson, who came to prominence in the educational community when he proposed his ideas in 1959, died June 3 after several months of declining health. He was 91.

Although team teaching has been integrated into American schools, other changes, including his idea of grouping children together by their educational needs rather than a strict adherence to a grade system, haven't been so readily adopted.

"It's largely a problem of implementation," Mann said. "People say it's just too hard to do. And there are some people with a more conservative approach to education who just don't believe it's a good idea."

Still, he said Pasco County's public schools, and many public school systems and private schools around the country, have adopted at least some of Dr. Anderson's once-radical ideas.

Dr. Anderson was born in Milwaukee, attended Wisconsin University and began his teaching career while he continued post-graduate studies.

He worked as a teacher and administrator at schools around the country before he became a professor at Harvard University. It was during his tenure at Harvard that he first published his ideas about team-teaching and nongradedness.

Perhaps his most controversial idea was that children of different ages should be grouped together and taught according to their own needs, rather than being classified according to strict, but arbitrary, age and grade limitations. Older students would help younger children learn, and develop leadership qualities in the process.

He also pioneered the idea that children should be evaluated by written reports rather than letter grades.

"He believed that every child is perfect," said his stepdaughter, Kristen Snyder, who is also an educator.

Dr. Anderson later became professor and dean of the college of education at Texas Tech University. One of his graduate students was Karolyn Snyder, who would become his second wife.

"We connected intellectually. We connected professionally, and our hearts connected," she said.

They worked together in various educational endeavors for the rest of Dr. Anderson's life. They came to Tampa in the 1980s. Snyder became a professor at the University of South Florida, and Dr. Anderson, already in his late 60s, started working with Pasco County schools to implement some of his educational concepts.

"One thing Bob taught me," Kristen Snyder said, "was the importance of human connections, caring about human beings. That was very, very important to him. If he met you and you shook his hand, it didn't matter what was going on around him. You would be the most important thing in the world to him for that moment."

Besides his wife and his stepdaughter, Dr. Anderson is survived by his first wife, Mary J. Johnson and their children, Dean Anderson, Lynn Grant Major, Scott Anderson and Carol Anderson, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Marty Clear writes life stories about local residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at mclear@tampabay.rr.com.

Robert Anderson, pioneering educator, dies at 91 06/17/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 12:27pm]
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