Barbara Taylor passed away on January 6, 2012 — just five days after her 90th birthday. An impassioned educator and educational reformer, Barbara (or BT as so many called her) was a catalyst for the Institute’s work in education and youth development.
Barbara enjoyed a long career — first in Philadelphia, and then in New York — working as an elementary school teacher, reading specialist, assistant principal, principal and founder of a community school. She was an energetic spirit who, over many decades, helped several generations of poor children and young adults grow emotionally and develop as learners and leaders. Barbara was also a dance teacher for seniors (see: The New York Times photo essay on her Harlem “Steppers”), professor at Touro College, and member of various Harlem community organizations.
When in her 60s, Barbara was principal of the St. Thomas Community School in Harlem and frustrated in her efforts to support poor children to learn. She came to Fred Newman and Lois Holzman for help to become a more radical educator. With the Institute, Barbara founded the Barbara Taylor School as a community-based K-12 lab school. From 1985 to 1997, the School experimented with a play and performance pedagogy based in Newman and Holzman’s understanding of Lev Vygotsky’s psychology. (See Holzman’s Schools for Growth.) In 1993, Barbara and students traveled with Holzman to Moscow to showcase their school to educators at Eureka University. The Moscow visit included a warm meeting with Vygotsky’s daughter, Gita Vygodskaya. Says Holzman:
We learned an enormous amount about kids, schooling, learning, development, teaching, performance and play from the Barbara Taylor School. After we closed the school in 1997, Barbara remained active with the Institute, and continued to enthusiastically support the development community’s work in culture, psychology, youth development and politics, even as she became blind and infirm. She lived fully, died peacefully and will be missed.