Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tom Green, in memoriam

Tom Green died yesterday morning. Among many other accomplishments (see Tom was the “factotum” of the original PHILOSED listserv, from about 1988 to about 1994 (correct me if I’m wrong with the dates). I will remember the intense discussions we had on PHILOSED in those days with extreme fondness. It was, for many of us, the community of scholars that we craved. PHILOSED was the first serious use of technology for building community in the philosophy of education community. In that sense, it was the honored ancestor of this blog.

Tom's guidance and moderation (in both senses of the word) were critical in the formation of ways of thinking of a whole generation of philosophers of education (and their mentors, I think). He could be irascible, irreverent, impetuous. But he was also brilliant, and kind, and generous.

Tom’s book, Predicting the Behavior of the Educational System, (Syracuse University Press, 1980) was one of the most important books on education that I have ever read. The idea that the “expansion” of education to new audiences would likely cause a decrease in quality and/or valuation of the outcomes was revolutionary then, and still. His article, "The Formation of Conscience in an Age of Technology," American Journal of Education 94, no. 1 (1985): 1-32, was critical in the late-20th century turn from seeing morality as a special arena of life to understanding "conscience of craft" as the foundation of professional ethics for all.

By the way, PHILOSED continues to exist, with me as the titular "list owner," although it is not as critical a venue for discussion as it once was. For more information on the list or to join, see

A memorial service is tentatively planned for Jan. 4th in Syracuse.

Update (12/29/06: Arrangements are now complete for the memorial service for Professor Emeritus Thomas F. Green. The service will be held at Pebble Hill Presbyterian Church, 5299 Jamesville Road, Dewitt, NY at 2 p.m. on January 4, 2007.

Donations in lieu of lowers may be made to Pebble Hill Presbyterian Church or to the Syracuse University School of Education, 230 Huntington Hall, Syracuse, NY 13244-2340, Thomas F. Green Scholarship Fund.

Tom's obituary and a guest book for comments can be accessed at His obituary appeared on December 28th or the site can be searched by name.


Anonymous said...

His 1980 book on educational systems remains a critical reading for those looking at educational attainment. I wish I had found it earlier than I did, and boy was I glad when I finally came across it!

He was also unfailingly polite in our correspondence, as he challenged me to think carefully about schools as systems and the differential rewards to attainment as the system environment changed.

A. G. Rud said...

Craig, I don't recall seeing this comment by Sherman sent to those of us on the masthead. I know there were problems before with getting Sherman's comments. Did others see this comment on their email?

Anonymous said...

Memories of Tom Green

As with anyone, my knowledge of Tom is partial to the particular time
and context in which I came to know him. There is much about him that
I do not know or have forgotten, but in my own way, I knew him well.

I met Tom in 1988 when I interviewed at Syracuse University as an
applicant to the doctoral program in Foundations of Education. He was
more blunt than genial, though not unpleasant, and rather baldly told
me that a particular statement I had just made, which I thought rather
profound, was nonsense. I'm still not sure whether it is nonsense or
not, but I have thought about it more critically ever since. That is
one of the ways Tom has affected me. I respect his intelligence and
the care with which he thought about something, and thus I took
seriously what he said. Our many conversations reverberate to this
day, and my own thinking is inextricably influenced by my engagement
with Tom's thinking.

During the five years I spent at Syracuse, I took a number of classes
with Tom and spent a good deal of time with him. Our discussions and
shared readings and exchange of writing was almost continuous,
punctuated in intensity by the structure of a class. Although he
claimed to need the help, it was perhaps more out of pity at the
penurious state of my graduate student status that led Tom to hire me
to help him with odd chores around his house. Tom and his wife
Rosemary maintained beautiful gardens at their property in Pompey, NY.
Tom liked to sign his email "Philosopher in Residence, Pompey

Over a period of several years, I mowed lawn, raked leaves, gathered
apples, tilled the vegetable garden, weeded, harvested, cut wood, fixed
this or that, and generally helped out. We always found time to talk,
about his life or mine, about ideas of all sorts. Many times, we just
sat in his study. I read from his library while he worked on a
manuscript or caught up on email, or he gave me a draft of something he
was writing for comment. He loaned or gave me many books to read, some
works of philosophy, some of literature.

Two of Tom's favorite books were Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted
Bookshop both by Christopher Morley. They are whimsical novels and
quite different than most of what Tom read. I think they reveal a bit
of Tom's sensibility from his youth that was not always obvious to
those who knew him primarily professionally. We talked a lot of his
youth. He grew up in Nebraska during the depression. This helped form
his love for green spaces. He had a huge lawn which he loved to mow,
and which I repeatedly chided him about due to the waste of fuel, the
pollution from his mower, the problems of monoculture, pesticides,
herbicides, and concentrated fertilizer. As with many conversations
between us, we didn't necessarily agree, but we moved genially to
more abstract discussions of human motivation, aesthetics, and logic
and culture embedded in language.

Tom also grew sweet corn, a lot of it. His discussions of college and
graduate school moved from his growing sweet corn to make money at a
roadside stand to working with legendary figures like Max Black and
Wittgenstein when he was at Cornell to Rosemary and his family. Tom
loved Rosemary deeply and spoke frequently and fondly of his children.
Tom could be a difficult human being to have as a husband or father,
and, at some level, he knew that. We didn't dwell with introspection
or analysis on his family or youth, it wasn't that kind of
relationship, nor do I think Tom was that kind of a person. He told
stories, and those stories, often brief, touched on centers of wonder
in his life: the green of plant life, his wife and family, and his
life-long love affair with words, moral philosophy, and the
relationship between education and a moral life.

He was disenchanted with fiction, in part because he didn't see it
engaging moral questions in particularly insightful or interesting
ways. I tried to get him interested in John Gardner and other writers
who I thought might appeal to his sensibility. It didn't work.

Tom was a Presbyterian, and not casually. We often spoke of religion,
belief, and communities of belief. Once when Tom and I were discussing
belief in God, I told him that I didn't believe in God. He said
something about that not being a very interesting claim and one that
probably didn't make any sense. He wouldn't discuss belief in such
terms. He did think it worthwhile, however, to talk about what sort of
God one did or did not believe in. I've chewed that one over. I
can't say that he's right, but it is a more interesting way to
approach the question.

Tom was hired as a consultant to a Presbyterian congregation that was
searching for a new minister. He asked me to help. It was a
fascinating process, taking place over many months that included
surveys, focus groups, round table discussions, and whole congregation
discussions. As a process, it had incredible integrity. I developed a
deep respect for that congregation as well as for Tom's approach to
helping develop a moral community and for Presbyterians in general.
This was during the period in which he was writing Voices and Walls.

Tom retired from Syracuse during my time there. One of the last things
I helped him with was sorting out and organizing his library. I went
through piles of old manuscripts, drafts of articles, chapters, and
books. I saved some, he kept some, perhaps he gave some to others, the
rest we threw away. He also gave away many of his books. I know John
Covaleski received some, and I ended up with boxes of them. Through
many subsequent moves I have reduced my own library considerably, but I
can see on my shelves as I write this a dozen or so titles Tom gave me.

Tom cared not only about the ideas, but passionately about the quality
of the writing. He worked tirelessly on his own writing. This
conscience of craft (a phrase taken from a Dewey lecture he delivered)
may, ironically, have doomed much of his more recent works to tiny
audiences. He refined both his prose and his thoughts to the point where
you cannot read him quickly and easily. It isn't that he is hard to
read; it is that his words matter. They have been chosen carefully and
placed together like an Incan building Cuzco without mortar. They are
meant to fit tightly and to stand the test of time. To read him
quickly or without attending to the subtlety of the language is to fail
to grasp what is at issue. Few of us have such patience.

I last saw Tom when he came at my invitation to Green Mountain College,
where I am Dean of the Faculty, perhaps 5 years ago. He had been weak
and sick for a long time and was hooked to a portable oxygen tank.
Still, he drove himself here and gave a fine series of talks to
students and faculty. (Driving with Tom could be scary!) Our
correspondence trailed off, and I have not been in touch for the past
few years. Still, I think of Tom often. His books, both those he
wrote and those he gave, sit in front of me. I use his ideas in my
classes, and our conversations influence who I am as a scholar and as a

Two final anecdotes. Tom occasionally told me a story of how he
didn't publish much as a young academic until a senior colleague
accused him of arrogance for thinking his words had to be perfect
before they could be shared with a community of peers. Academic
discourse is more about the conversation than it is about isolated
individuals nailing truth to the church house door. As one who has
published little, myself, that story has particular poignancy.

The second anecdote has no particular point. Tom had convinced me to
submit something I'd written to a conference at Widener University.
The paper was accepted. Tom was also delivering a paper and he told me
we could drive from Syracuse together. I had an infant daughter at the
time and hadn't been getting much sleep. The day before we left I
got the flue and spent twenty-four hours getting closely acquainted
with the porcelain fixtures in our apartment. So, I hadn't slept
more than a few hours in the past several days, hadn't eaten in the
past twenty-four, and was dehydrated when Tom honked his horn early on
the appointed morning. It was one of the scariest rides of my life.
Tom carried on, mostly solo, a multi-hour disquisition on something or
other while I kept warning him to return to our lane, watch out for
this or that obstacle, brake, and the like. I didn't dare fall
asleep. Tom seemed contentedly oblivious or fearless. Then, at
Widener, when I got up to give my presentation, Tom left the room.
Afterwards, I asked him what had happened. He said watching me present
made him too nervous, he couldn't bear it. A colleague confirmed
that he had spent the session in the hallway listening at the door. I
drove on the way home.

For those of you who don't know Tom's work, I urge you to read
something of his. His words should not be lost. For those who know
Tom's work well, I hope I have provided a richer sense of Tom as I
knew him.

Eileen E. Schell said...

I became acquainted with Tom Green through a writing and reading group that I have been faciliating since 2000 at the Nottingham Senior Living Community in Jamesville, NY. Tom started living at the Nottingham during the last few years of his life as his health and his wife Rosemary's health worsened. So I only had the pleasure of knowing Tom for the last two years of his life. We were colleagues at Syracuse University, but, unfortunately, I never knew him while he was active on campus, although we often talked about our mutual duties at Syracuse.

Tom was a loyal participant in the Nottingham Writing group and often held court as we discussed writing memoirs and as we discussed group members' manuscripts in-progress. He made frequent references to his published books, and he even conducted a few sessions where he read from his work. Although frail and in a motorized chair, coughing frequently, Tom could still be a commanding presence. He often reprimanded me for my framing of particular ideas related to writing and the books we were reading. He also told wonderful stories and offered reflections. He was very involved in other's stories and expressed delight and wonder. At times, he could almost seem childlike when he was listening to other members' life stories. This was a contrast to some of his sharper moments!

Tom told many personal stories, and my favorites were of his boyhood in Lincoln, Nebraska. He always spoke highly of his mother who was an accomplished writer and a friend of the famous fiction writer Willa Cather. Tom spoke of growing up with an intellectual circle of Nebraska writers and thinkers. He loved the prairie and spoke of it often. I think he was rather homesick for it, although it had been many years. Tom also spoke of his brother who was killed in WWII in the Battle of the Bulge.

Tom's last few years at the Nottingham were not entirely happy, but he still found joy in conversation and intellectual exchange. His health was failing, and his beloved wife Rosemary was hospitalized multiple times before passing away last year. Tom told me he felt lost and that he was getting on from day-to-day. He sometimes went to the facility's happy hour after class and told me once that living a long time was overrated. He spoke of the book he was working on, though, and that seemed to give him some energy as did our discussions in the writing group.

Tom told me he hated reading novels, so when our group read "Kite Runner" this past fall through the SU Shared reading program, Tom was skeptical. At one session, one of the last ones I saw him at, he told me that he finally understood the importance of fiction because of something I said. Frankly, I don't remember exactly what I said, but Tom seemed to find it profound. He thanked me, and he even had tears in his eyes. I held his hand for a long time.

Shortly after that, I didn't see Tom at our sessions. He was hospitalized for illness, broke his hip and went to a rehab facility, and he came back to the facility to heal. I was planning on visiting him, but he died before I could see him again.

We all feel the loss of Tom's presence at our writing group meetings at the Nottingham. He was an engaged, thoughtful, generous, and demanding presence. He left a big hole in our group when he departed. We miss him sorely. I feel honored that I had a little time to get acquainted.

Eileen E. Schell
Associate Professor, The Writing Program, Syracuse University