April 12, 2004
Richard Gross, longtime social studies teacher, dead at 83
By Lisa Trei
Education Professor Emeritus Richard E. Gross, a Stanford alumnus who broadly influenced more than a generation of history and social studies teachers, died April 2 of natural causes at his home in Los Altos Hills. He was 83.
"[Gross] developed a concept of social studies education that was not limited to history or civics," said education Professor Elliot Eisner, his longtime colleague. "In doing so, he helped democratize [it]. He wrote in a progressive orientation to education."
Gross, a native of Chicago, joined the Stanford faculty in 1955. During a 35-year-long career on campus, Gross advised more than 100 doctoral students and more than 700 master's students in social sciences education. He retired in 1990 but remained professionally active into his 80s.
In 1988, Gross received the Hilda Taba Award from the California Council for the Social Studies to honor his "outstanding and enduring contributions." As he accepted the award, Gross said his goal, as an educator, was to develop "values and competencies that characterize a discerning and active citizen who lives according to the rights and responsibilities essential in the maintenance of a democratic way of life." Gross said teachers "must provide recurring opportunities for youth to learn that they are not free citizens because they live in a free country, but that they and their country will maintain liberty only so long as they live and act as free men and women."
Gross earned bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Wisconsin, then taught high school in Madison, Wis., and at Menlo College. After earning a doctorate in education at Stanford in 1951, he taught at Florida State University before returning here in 1955. During his tenure at Stanford, Gross taught in Vienna and Stuttgart through the Overseas Studies Program, chaired the School of Education's Committee on Curriculum and Teacher Education from 1979 to 1987, and sponsored several social studies institutes under the auspices of the National Science Foundation.
Gross also founded the Florida and California state councils for the social studies and edited their journals. In 1966, he was elected president of the National Council for the Social Studies; in 1990, he received its Distinguished Career Research Award.
Gross wrote, co-wrote and edited more than 20 history and social science texts. Some of his most important publications include Educating Citizens for Democracy (1958), Civics in Action (1971) and Social Studies for Our Times (1978). Designing Effective Instruction for Secondary Social Studies Education (1995) has been republished in several editions.
Ned Sutro, who earned a Stanford doctorate in education in 1979, said Gross -- despite his personal accomplishments -- always focused on his students' achievements. "Richard Gross wore his scholarship the way he wore his hat at Stanford graduations," Sutro said at Gross's funeral on April 7. "For years, he led the faculty procession, joy and satisfaction radiating irresistibly. [But] it wasn't self-satisfaction. Professor Gross reveled in the accomplishments of others."
For example, Sutro said, a wall in the kitchen of Gross's Los Altos Hills home was decorated with a large world map covered in pushpins representing places where his former students had gone to teach. "It was an extraordinary thing; they were everywhere," Sutro said. "The fact that this would be so prominent in his home said a lot about him."
Sutro said his former adviser inspired students to succeed. "You produced your best work for Professor Gross not out of fear but, rather, out of a desire not to disappoint his expectations for you," he said. "He was a great guy; we got along very well."
Gross is survived by Jane, his wife of 61 years; four children, Kay Essary of Los Altos Hills, Elaine Stoddard of Morgan Hill, Edmund Gross of Monterey and John Gross of Springfield, Ore.; and six grandchildren. The family requests that donations in memory of Gross be sent to the Stanford University School of Education, 485 Lasuen Mall, Stanford, CA 94305-3096.