John Goodlad's Learning Story


Learning is a lifetime necessity that is increasingly subtle with the aging process.
Behavioral scientist Ralph Tyler, one of my mentors, was chair of my doctoral committee at the University of Chicago. At that time, he was dean of the arts and sciences division, chair of the department of education, and university examiner. (By passing a comprehensive batch of tests, overseen by the university examiner, able students could secure the bachelor’s degree in less than the usual four years of study.) And, oh yes, he taught a course each quarter.
Tyler was much in demand to chair doctoral committees in spite of his heavy schedule at the University and his travels elsewhere a couple of days each week. Most weeks, he scheduled one hour for his students’ten minutes for each of six. Getting one of his ten-minute sessions was a precious accomplishment. One entered his office as Mr. Tyler was ushering out another. (I liked very much the then-University expectation of not addressing professors with the Ph.D. as ‘Doctor.’ I have tried to follow suit ever since whenever possible.) Needless to say, those of us who were his students frequently discussed the problem of limited access. However, we did discover that from time to time he enjoyed conversation with a group of students, if one chose to be in Judd Hall late into the normal dinner hour. Tyler appeared to have endless energy.I did not fully understand until years later the incredible learning embedded in the ten-minute seminar.
Whenever I thought I needed his advice, I spent considerable hours carefully deciding what to tell, ask, and discuss. As my predecessor departed into the hallway, Tyler was shaking my hand, smiling, and asking me how my wife and I were doing. Then we sat down, and I began talking, as he intently listened and occasionally asked me a question’rarely speaking anything else.Then I found myself walking to the door with him, exchanging pleasantries, and heading, relaxed, down the hall, now knowing precisely how I would get around the problem in my dissertation that had brought me to his office.
What a learning experience these short visits were, and Tyler only asked questions. Which one of us solved the problem each time? Did he? I never had ten-minute seminars with my doctoral students, but I always took pains to find out whether they had done their homework before making an appointment.