Starting this academic year Claude Steele, a distinguished scholar of social psychology and former provost at Columbia University, will be returning to Stanford to serve as Dean of the School of Education.
In addition to teaching at several prestigious institutions including the University of Michigan, he holds honorary degrees from the University of Chicago, Yale University, Princeton University, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
His previous affiliation with Stanford includes appointments as the Lucie Stern Professor in the Social Sciences, director of the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, and director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences.
In these capacities, his research led the field in social psychology centered around developmental psychology and classroom environments.
“I’ve done other research on addictive behaviors and so forth, but with a focus on its prevalence for education,” explained Steele.
Steele’s early research looked at “the self-image threat,” involving the role of self-affirmation among students with specific regard to drug and alcohol use, as well as on under-achieving minority groups. Steele’s stereotyping research at Stanford has been used widely to help improve test performance among minority groups.
“I have a real interest in how basic science can play a role in [education] policy and practice,” said Steele, “That’s the reason I’m so excited to be here at this point in my career.”
His extensive experience in social psychology fuels much of his vision for Stanford’s future as a leader in the education field, explaining that developmental psychology and the study of psychology in the classroom is a big department in the School of Education, one that continues to work cross-disciplinarily with Stanford’s psychology department.
“Part of my job [as Dean] is to help position the School of Education such that science and empirical research can form contemporary education policy.”
In addition to his focus on the School’s future direction and leadership in research, Dr. Steele is also focused on the controversy surrounding the discussion of education in the future.
“I’ve been saying to the donors that this is kind of the worst of times and the best of times in education,” explained Steele.
“It’s the worst of times in the sense that there’s so much controversy and polarization in education, it’s a time where the basic nature of traditional public education is up for discussion,” he stated, specifically referencing issues like funding America’s public education system and determining its relationship with teachers’ unions.
However, in lieu of the daunting controversy in education, Dr. Steele stills sees hope for the future of the profession. “The upside to the education discussion right now [in spite of politics] is that everyone, even intense adversaries, seem to agree, that education is important to our way of life,” he stated.
Steele even stated that the political controversy in education has gone so far as to shape a contemporary political landscape that pays unprecedented attention to the issue.
“This is an era where I think people appreciate the importance of education, maybe more than they have in a long time,” he mentioned, “so our question is, how does the [School of Education] contribute to that?”