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Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
July 17, 2007
DeKalb — The new chair of Northern Illinois University’s Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations brings a unique perspective to the efforts of the faculty.
Charles Howell will work closely with professors who are preparing the next generation of school principals and superintendents. He will support faculty research in developmental psychology and its application to student learning in schools and beyond. He will promote teaching and research in educational foundations, bringing historical, philosophical, and sociological perspectives to the study of learners, schools, and society.
And he likely will bring stories and examples from his home-schooled children: 16-year-old daughter Elizabeth, who is transferring to NIU, and 18-year-old son Nick, a math and physics major at the University of Minnesota.
“I introduced them to academic life early,” Howell says.
“Liz started kindergarten when I entered my Ph.D. program, and Liz and Nick were fixtures at departmental covered-dish dinners. On Halloween, Liz dressed up as a political philosopher and carried a copy of John Rawls’s ‘A Theory of Justice,’ ” he adds. “I took Nick out of school and began educating him at home the week after my dissertation defense, and Liz followed the year after. At 14, both started taking courses at the college where I taught. I continue to follow their coursework closely, though I confess to being a bit hazy on the details of quantum mechanics and nature imagery in Vietnamese literature.”
Howell comes to NIU from Minnesota State University-Moorhead, where he was chair of the School of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education and Human Services.
The former K-12 teacher in Maine and Georgia began his career in higher education in 1986 at Syracuse University. His earlier life also included teaching math and science at Carrabasset Valley Academy, a top skiing school for adolescents; he received part of his pay in the form of a season ski lift ticket at Sugarloaf Mountain, and one of his pupils went on to compete in the Olympics.
He holds a Ph.D. from Syracuse, a master of fine arts from the Writers Workshop at the University of Iowa, and a bachelor’s degree from Georgia State University.
“Charles has a good disposition. He seems to be a good listener, and he has the experience of working in a department like Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations,” says Lemuel Watson, dean of the NIU College of Education. “I’m expecting that he’ll bring his broader vision and work with the faculty to build bridges with the departments and externally with the public schools.”
Upon joining the faculty at Moorhead in 2002, Howell taught courses in social foundations, classroom assessment, issues in education and socio-cultural foundations.
He served for three years as secondary education coordinator, maintaining partnerships with departments in the humanities and natural sciences. He also led a task force on integration of technology in teacher education, and wrote the department’s manuals for secondary education advising and for new instructors.
As recently as June, he was serving as chair of NCATE’s Standard 6 subcommittee. The NIU College of Education is due for reaccreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education in 2009.
During his year-long tenure as chair, he launched or nurtured several partnerships with school districts and Native American student populations.
In October of 2000, he served as a delegate of the People to People Philosophy Delegation in the People’s Republic of China.
At NIU, Howell is looking forward to supporting plans to move the Ed.D. degree in educational psychology to a Ph.D. He hopes to explore opportunities for growth in research and graduate programs in Foundations and Educational Leadership as well.
He is enthusiastic about a Foundations faculty initiative to introduce philosophical discussion in P-12 schools. “Philosophy in the Schools fosters democratic attitudes for students and teachers,” he says. “It provides wonderful opportunities to encourage students to think critically about issues of ethics, knowledge, and meaning.”
Education initially attracted him as a potential lightning rod for change.
“I really thought that education was the key to a decent society. If everybody had the skills to advocate for themselves, we wouldn’t have a dispossessed class of people,” Howell explains. “People would have the resources to avoid being victimized.”
After becoming a teacher, however, he saw how school and community structures can block change and thwart students’ aspirations. “I certainly taught in some places where young teachers were discouraged from rocking the boat, and I had great difficulty in making an impact.”
That hasn’t been the case with his own children, however.
During the home-schooling days, Howell and Liz collaborated on a science project about electrical conductivity and read about another Liz, Dred Scott’s daughter, declared a slave by the Supreme Court even though she had been born in the free state of Ohio.
He and Nick built computers and tackled math problems as a team “until he outpaced me, which he did at about age 15.”
Mother, Carol, a writer of short stories who is working on a novel, also played a key role, teaching the children writing skills and reading “Moby Dick” aloud with Nick and “Grapes of Wrath” with Liz. “She’s looking forward to peace and quiet in DeKalb, and a climate that won’t kill tender perennials,” Howell says. “She’s hoping to find a circle of like-minded people who enjoy writing and want to serve as critics and readers for each other’s work.”
The Howell children also benefited from their father’s professional connections.
“There were great teachers at the campuses where I worked,” he says. “I’ve been able to steer them to the really exciting teachers they might not otherwise find. I hope to do that at NIU for Liz.”
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