Margery Franklin, Rebel with a Cause

Psychology Faculty, 1965–2002 | Co-Founder, Child Development Institute

Margery Franklin (psychology, emerita) grew up in Greenwich Village in an extended family she once described as “rebellious.” As a child she attended City and Country School and then Lincoln High School, both renowned for their John Dewey–style approach to progressive education. From her early schooling she cultivated a lifelong interest in the arts, photography in particular. So the professional path that brought her to Sarah Lawrence in 1965 made perfect sense. For an educational rebel, it was the best possible place to be.

Now retired and living in New York City, Franklin was the consummate collaborator and an early proponent of team teaching. At Sarah Lawrence, she helped found and direct the Child Development Institute (CDI), which creates programs for early childhood and elementary school teachers, administrators, and others passionate about how children learn. “I was brought up with this idea that educational institutions are supposed to reach into the world,” she once noted. Fifteen years after her retirement, Franklin’s legacy at the College still inspires.

“She loves talking about ideas and thinking things through with colleagues,” says Jan Drucker (psychology), a fellow founder and director of CDI and current director of the Institute’s Empowering Teachers Program. “That was one of the qualities that made her such an effective teacher—the gleam in her eye when she’s talking about an idea with her students.”

Among the colleagues who became close friends with Franklin was Charlotte Doyle (psychology), with whom she taught a course on the psychology of experience. “It was because we had similar intellectual interests, and we also trusted in each other’s integrity,” Doyle says, “so it was a wonderful adventure.”

Barbara Schecter ’74 (psychology), director of the Child Development Program, was inspired by Franklin to pursue a career in developmental psychology. Years later, when a faculty position opened up at Sarah Lawrence, Franklin advised Schecter to apply. “The fact that she took our thoughts and our views seriously pushed us to take ourselves more seriously,” Schecter says. “She asked good questions, and she listened, and she wanted to know what you were thinking. That’s a rare gift.”

“I and many other educators argue for eliminating the high-stakes testing imposed by No Child Left Behind and, more recently, Race to the Top.”

Jane Meryll ’96, MA ’00, another former Franklin student, came to Sarah Lawrence in her 50s to pursue an undergraduate education and then a master’s degree in child development. She had been an unconventional learner—“a slowish reader,” she says. Franklin was her don, and today she remains a close friend. “She told me, ‘That’s the way you learn, and it’s okay. You just do what you do.’ It literally changed my life,” Meryll says. “It gave me permission to be the person I am.” Today, Meryll is a music teacher and performance coach.

Since retiring in 2002, Franklin has indulged her interest in photography. But she remains vigilant about the state of education in America. Four years ago, when she received an honorary degree from the Bank Street Graduate School of Education, she delivered a speech lamenting the decline in arts education and the rise in standardized testing. “I am not suggesting that a quantifiable test in the arts should be introduced—quite the opposite,” Franklin said. “In fact, I and many other educators argue for eliminating the high-stakes testing imposed by No Child Left Behind and, more recently, Race to the Top.”

Her position drew rousing applause from the students, faculty, and parents in attendance. Ever the rebel, Franklin looked up, smiled, and raised her right fist in solidarity.