Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot is the Emily Hargroves Fisher Professor of Education at Harvard University. She is a sociologist who examines the relationships among families, communities, and schools, the links between adult developmental themes and teachers’ work, and the dynamic between culture and learning styles. Her work is chronicled in her nine books: Worlds Apart: Relationships between Families and Schools (1978), Beyond Bias: Perspectives on Classrooms (1979), and The Good High School: Portraits of Character and Culture (1983), which received the 1984 Outstanding Book Award from the American Educational Research Association. Her book, Balm in Gilead: Journey of a Healer (1988), which won the 1988 Christopher Award, given for “literary merit and humanitarian achievement,” was followed by I’ve Known Rivers: Lives of Loss and Liberation (1994), and The Art and Science of Portraiture (1997), which documents her pioneering approach to social science methodology, one that bridges the realms of aesthetics and empiricism.
In Respect: An Exploration (1999), Lawrence-Lightfoot reaches deep into human experience to find the essence of the powerful quality of respect. The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers Can Learn from Each Other (2003), captures the crucial exchange that occurs between parents and teachers, a dialogue that is both mirror and metaphor for the cultural forces that shape the socialization of our children. In 2009, Lawrence-Lightfoot wrote The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50, which argues that the years between 50 and 75 offer new opportunities for self-fulfillment and change.
In 1984, Lawrence-Lightfoot was the recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Prize Award; in 1993 she was awarded Harvard’s George Ledlie Prize given for research that makes the “most valuable contribution to science” and “the benefit of mankind.” She has served on several Board of Directors, including the Berklee College of Music and the Atlantic Philanthropies. She has been the recipient of 26 honorary degrees. In 1993, the Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot Chair, an endowed professorship established at Swarthmore College, was named in her honor. And in 1998, she was the recipient of the Emily Hargroves Fisher Endowed Chair at Harvard University, which upon her retirement will become the Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot Endowed Chair, making her the first African-American woman in Harvard’s history to have an endowed professorship named in her honor.
Understanding the “Complex Good” rather than the “Narrowly Pathological”