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Obituary : Madeline Hunter; Revolutionary Educator


Madeline C. Hunter, the maverick educator and psychologist who was recognized worldwide for her research demonstrating that teachers--not heredity and environment--were the primary influences on learning skills, is dead.

The UCLA professor--whose workshops attracted thousands of educators over the years--was 78. She died Thursday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

A UCLA spokeswoman said she had recently suffered several strokes.

Known as the founder of what is called the "clinical teaching method," Mrs. Hunter held four degrees in education and psychology, her last a doctorate in education from UCLA in 1966.

Her career beginnings were ordinary but in distinctly disparate locations: Clinical psychologist at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Juvenile Hall, school psychologist and then principal at public schools ranging from Watts to Bel-Air.

She had been affiliated with John Goodlad, scholar and onetime director of UCLA's University Elementary School. He named her principal of the school in 1963, a post she held for nearly 20 years.

It was there she became aware of research that challenged longstanding beliefs that poor learners came from poor and broken homes, that low incomes produced low IQs. Instead, she discovered that teaching methods alone can make the difference.

"We have yet to find a student who won't learn (when taught properly)," she said in a Los Angeles Times interview in 1986.

She also made partners of her student's parents and urged them to encourage the self-respect she was trying to instill in the children.

Despite her burgeoning reputation and the consequent demands on her schedule, she made time each day to spend with her students at the experimental university school.

UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young, whose two children attended University Elementary School while Mrs. Hunter was there, said upon learning of her death that "the worldwide community of educators has lost a true pioneer who changed the face of elementary education for all time."

What she studied and then taught for three decades brought throngs of frustrated teachers to her seminars--teachers battling declining test scores, teachers fighting rising dropout rates, teachers in conflict with parents who either did not understand or did not trust those they had charged with their children's education.

"I used to think teachers were born, not made," Mrs. Hunter said in 1990. "But I know better now. I've seen bumblers turned into geniuses while charismatic characters turned out happy illiterates."

Her tools involved a language all her own: modeling was demonstration; dip-sticking meant that the teacher was checking for understanding, and anticipatory set meant review.

"Disciplining with dignity" involved an approach she called "skillful manipulation."

And she also invented characters.

Poverty Johnny had a mother who constantly told him to shut up. Affluent Johnny had a mother with the same message, but who couched it in more genteel terms.

Mrs. Hunter not only became popular, she became wealthy. She spoke thousands of times for fees as high as $5,000 a day and she published videos and books. Most California districts exposed at least some of their teachers to her training.

But not all liked what they heard, particularly her ideas that the instructor should prompt new concepts from youngsters. Or that homework should involve review or "something a student pretty much knows . . . not original learning because the beginning is like wet cement: A mistake is very hard to correct."

"A lot of homework is just drivel. Teachers grade homework when they haven't the foggiest idea of who did it, or how much help the student was given. . . . The real question is whether the student learned what the homework was designed to accomplish."

Survivors include her husband, Robert Hunter, a daughter, a son, two grandchildren and a sister.

Donations in her name are requested for the Madeline Hunter Fund, a scholarship endowment in the UCLA Graduate School of Education.

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