Remembering Larry Strickland

Larry Strickland, who is widely recognized as having been one of the "Godfathers of Social Studies" in Washington State, passed away on September 1st, 2015. We our proud to announce that we are renaming our Teacher of the Year award in his honor. The Larry Strickland Teacher of the Year Award will be presented at our Spring Conference in Chelan this coming March.

Here are some former and current board members' remembrances of the great work he did and the man he was.

Dave Barber:

I first met Larry Strickland in the early 1980s when as a new state director of social studies he convinced OSPI to support a leadership retreat at Pilgrim Firs, a rustic (to put it nicely) church camp near Port Orchard. From these rustic beginnings the retreat would develop into the annual conference that the Washington State Council for the Social Studies hosts every March at Lake Chelan. It would be my good fortune to work with Larry on a variety of other projects over the next 20-some years before he retired. His impact on social studies education in the state was immeasurable.

He was adamant that this would be a retreat and not the usual stuffy conference. That first year we had a keg of Hale's Ale brought by Kathleen Hale who taught social studies in Colville. Several of us made good use of that keg talking late into the evenings, not always about social studies. Anyone who showed up with a tie would have it unceremoniously cut short with Larry’s pair of scissors. Our speakers included other teachers, professors from the Jackson School and other disciplines and people from OSPI including Tony Angell who worked in the arts education department. Larry understood the need for interdisciplinary learning.

Larry believed strongly in the importance of international understanding. He worked with the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington and other groups to sponsor teacher programs in Seattle and regular teacher travel groups to China and Japan. He traveled extensively on his own through that region and even learned Chinese. He worked with the Washington Council on International Trade sponsoring workshops to help teachers better understand the importance of international trade to the state. He also worked with other organizations to create curriculum for teachers in basic economics and Indian treaties among others.

Although Larry humorously referred to himself as a ‘techno-peasant’ when it came to working with computers, he understood from the beginning that computers could play an important role in social studies education. I was fortunate enough to be included in the first group of ten teachers representing each ESD who received computing equipment and training to use computers in our classrooms and become trainers for other teachers. Ten more teachers were added two years later and as the computers became outdated, he found other grant monies to keep us up to date. I still remember how excited we were to get those first laser disc players and use them in our classrooms.

Larry refused to give up his efforts to get us more training and equipment over the years. I particularly remember the fall of 1995 when he couldn’t find money to get us together, and so we spent a weekend at his house sharing the things we were doing to build our group knowledge and expertise. (I’m sure that was in 1995 because we spent Saturday evening watching the Mariners make another comeback as they played their way into the playoffs for the first time.)

Larry’s most enduring accomplishment came when the state entered the standards and testing era. First, we had to maneuver through the minefield of standards, which is unfortunately something we social studies teachers are still fighting about. More importantly, when it became apparent that we were not going to have money for a state social studies test (something he did not believe was a good idea anyway), he led us in creating the Classroom Based Assessments. Today these are called OSPI-Developed Assessments and are used in the arts, health/fitness, and technology in addition to social studies. Larry’s hope was that these assessments would promote more performance-based learning by providing examples of exemplary projects and assessment tools that would help all of us do a better job of preparing our students for life beyond high school. I think he succeeded.

Larry passed away in a hospice near Olympia on September 1, 2015 at the age of 82. His funeral mass was attended by over 150 friends and family including 17 of his students from Cascade Locks, Oregon, where he taught and coached for a very few years early in his career. They had kept in touch over the years and their memories were of a creative and tough, but fair teacher and coach who got the best out of his students. All of us who were touched by Larry during his life will remember the many ways he improved our lives. Many, many others were touched by his work without ever knowing him. We all will miss him.

Gary Cressman:

I think it was 1994 when Larry had this idea to get a social studies technology person in each of the ESDs, so that they could lend their expertise to people in that ESD by doing training and just by being available. He put together a grant and 10 of us were chosen from around the state. 

Out of this grant BESST was created — Building Excellence in Social Studies Technology. The 10 of us received several weeks of training throughout the year. Jay Young, Mark Gale, Riki Peto, Dave Barber, Jim, Bruce, Barbara, Doug Perry and I were part of the group. We did several training sessions at our ESDs and many of us did presentations at various social studies and technology conferences. Larry brought us together at almost all of the Pilgrim Firs/Lake Chelan retreats over the years. We were sharing tech materials before many teachers were ready for them.

The next year George and Fred came aboard through another grant. The internet was just starting to take hold in late '94/early '95. Larry’s next vision was to create a website to help link social studies teachers together. He wanted the site to be a place where teachers could find links to other social studies sites as well as communicate with one another. He got us involved in several international online projects. Around that time, Larry got a 3rd grant for BESST so we could continue our work. It was through this grant that I was funded to create the Washington State Social Studies website and listserv. The one you are looking at today is about the 5th generation of the site I created in 1995. [Thanks, Gary! -ed.]

I think Larry was very proud of our team. He was always available to us and encouraged us to find new ways to use technology in our classes and to share our experiences with others. Through his efforts in Olympia he was able to create a social studies network. He helped all the BESST team members by getting us computers and other technologies for our classrooms. We were given the opportunities to attend local, state and national conventions to help share the ways technology could and should be an integral part in all social studies classrooms with other educators. He helped link our team to other leaders in the tech field so we could get even more training. 

Oralee Kramer:

Washington State lost a giant with the death of Larry Srickland! Larry was a prominent figure in the world of Washington State social studies when I first started teaching. Starting in the late 1980’s, he held forth from the social studies council meetings and workshops. I remember Tarry Lindquist tearing her hair when he invited his buddies from back east to come speak at a workshop with no apparent awareness of the cost of flights or hotels on the budget. “The guy is a great speaker!” was the response. And generally he was!

Larry was a master networker, as we would say now. He and his friends (many of whom were football coaches) had each other’s backs. They understood each other. Their work formed the foundation for the Washington State Council for the Social Studies as we know it now. I remember a couple of gatherings at Pilgrim Firs, Larry’s favorite program venue. The “Boys” would gather around the picnic tables in the dining area, eating popcorn and telling stories until all hours, but then be up to go running at some unreasonable hour in the morning.

Larry loved the social aspects of these gatherings, but he also loved inviting speakers who would encourage the attendees to think. The Chelan conference started under his reign as he gathered social studies department chairs and teachers together to grow professionally and have a good time doing so.

Larry was especially active bringing Chinese teachers of English from Beijing to Olympia as exchange teachers. Somehow he found the money to continue this program when so many others were being cut. What a tremendous thing he did for the education of so many young Chinese students as he was solely responsible for a marked increase in the English skills of their teachers. I was fortunate to spend an evening in Beijing with one of the teachers and four generations of her family. The love and appreciation they had for Larry was deep and very real. The year of exchange teaching in Olympia had lasting economic and emotional effects for that family. Happening so soon after the abuse they received as a result of the Cultural Revolution, it was a needed healing experience; a priceless gift.

Larry fought for the social studies teachers of Washington State. Larry saw the value of the social studies as a core of K-8 education. He spoke out for the inclusion and importance of history, geography, economics,civics, and international law. He recognized the potential of technology early on and was a true leader in its application in schools. The cadre of teachers that he organized, empowered and supported allowed Social Studies to be a strong part of the K-12 curriculum in this state.

At times Larry needed to speak out in opposition to higher-ups at OSPI to protect the interests of Washington State students. He did this and took the consequences. Larry was fearless in supporting what he believed in. I was especially appreciative of his help and support as an incoming teacher and then years later as WSCSS president. After he retired he disappeared from Washington State Council activities, but his legacy is still with us as we work together to understand the past and prepare for the future. Thanks, Larry! Your work was a priceless gift to the students and teachers of Washington State. 

Posted on September 19, 2015 .