Martha Maxwell.
Article Type:
In memoriam
Higbee, Jeanne L.
Pub Date:
Name: Journal of College Reading and Learning Publisher: College Reading and Learning Association Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Education Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 College Reading and Learning Association ISSN: 1079-0195
Date: Fall, 2009 Source Volume: 40 Source Issue: 1
Biographee: Maxwell, Martha (American educator)
Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States

Accession Number:
Full Text:
Many newer members of the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA) may know of Martha Maxwell as a pioneer in the field of learning assistance and developmental education, a champion of students who might otherwise not have had the opportunity to pursue postsecondary education, a reflective practitioner and thoughtful writer and editor who provided us with such notable works as Improving Student Learning Skills (1979, 1997), Evaluating Academic Skills Programs: A Source Book (1991, 1996), When Tutor Meets Student (1994), and From Access to Success: A Book of Readings on College Developmental Education and Learning Assistance Programs (1994). I feel privileged to have known Martha as a mentor as well.

Martha began her graduate work in Counseling at the University of Maryland in 1946, when most of her counseling clients were World War II veterans for whom the GI Bill opened new educational opportunities. Her first professional job was in Washington, DC in American University's counseling center, where one of her responsibilities was teaching a reading course for adult learners in the evening. Martha shared, "Although I had no courses in reading, I was told I had to teach it as part of my job" (Martha Maxwell: An Oral History, 2000). Martha later went on to found academic support programs at the University of Maryland and the University of California, Berkeley, where she "retired" in 1979. Our profession is fortunate that her retirement merely freed Martha's time to enrich her already significant contributions to the field through her writing, professional service, and mentoring activities.

Martha was very generous with her time, and shared her vast expertise with me and countless other professionals as well as graduate students. But perhaps what I admired most was Martha's genuine concern for students; she was the consummate student-centered professional. When Martha was critical of some policies and practices in developmental education and learning assistance, it was because she wanted to ensure that the "open door" did not become a "revolving door." Long before the American Psychological Association began promoting person-first language, Martha fought against applying labels like "at risk" to students and thus stereotyping and marginalizing them. She fought against the medical model of "remediation" and also pointed out issues with use of the term "developmental." Although the term was adopted for this work because of the application of student development theory, Martha feared that developmental education would be mistaken for developmental disabilities. The debate over terminology has continued for more than 20 years, but in the meantime many of us have realized that at the heart of any conversation is our concern for how powerful language can be and how labels can hurt students. I look back at some of the titles of my own publications and cringe, but at least I have become wiser because of Martha's influence.

Martha's caring guidance touched me in so many ways. Ours was a long-distance relationship (beginning in the days before the Internet), with occasional lunches at professional meetings. My own career in learning assistance began in 1974 when I, like Martha, began work on my Master's in Counseling and meanwhile served as coordinator of the Learning Skills Program at the counseling center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At the time my primary affiliations were with student affairs and higher education administration professional associations, and I was not aware of the network of resources available through organizations like CRLA. It was not until 1985, when I joined the faculty in the Division of Developmental Studies at the University of Georgia that I joined the National Association for Developmental Education (NADE), and later CRLA and the National College Learning Center Association (NCLCA). But I was still having difficulty finding my niche in a professional area that focused on reading, writing, and mathematics. Martha became aware of my collaborations with developmental math faculty to combat affective barriers to success, and she sought me out. It was through Martha that I realized that I did have a contribution to make to this field. Four years into the tenure track, it was Martha who convinced me to keep going against the odds. I owe so much of who I am to Martha.

I wish that Martha could know the impact she has had on so many lives--not just on those like mine that she touched on a very personal level, but the butterfly effect, the enduring impact of operationalizing what it means to be truly student-centered. As we were completing our work on Martha's oral history in 2000, Martha forwarded an e-mail from her granddaughter, Anne, and I cannot think of a better way to conclude:

Jeanne L. Higbee is a Professor in the Department of Postsecondary Teaching and Learning at the University of Minnesota.
Well, I hope your oral history went well. I have a comment to make.
   Mom said that you did not think that your life was very exciting or
   something to that extent. Well, I beg to differ! You did so many
   different and amazing things, and you still continue to do them.
   The Amazon and New Guinea? And Berkeley, growing up as a military
   daughter, playing the piano (very well, I might add), going to
   Russia, taking courses in college that you were not supposed to
   take, being an awesome grandmother, writing books, and many other
   exciting and interesting things, that I do not feel like typing.
   But most of all what makes your life extraordinary is that you have
   brought so much joy and laughter to many people (me being one of
   them). You go out of your way to make everyone feel like their life
   is special and extraordinary. You offer heartfelt advice and you
   are not afraid to speak your mind. So when you were interviewed, I
   hope that you talked about all of these wonderful things that you
   do and have done throughout your life.
Gale Copyright:
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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