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Stanford Report, June 14, 2000

Robbie Case, professor emeritus of education, dies at 55

Robbie Case, professor emeritus of education and a highly respected researcher in the field of child cognitive development, died May 19 in Toronto. He was 55. According to the Toronto Star, he died of a heart aneurysm.

Case was granted emeritus status last year. At the time of his death, he was director of the University of Toronto's Institute of Child Study.

"It's a terrible loss to the field. He had good work ahead of him and was going strong at the time he died," said Alberta Siegel, professor emerita of psychiatry, who served on the search committee that recommended Case's appointment at Stanford.

"He was also very devoted to his students and very generous with his time" for them, she added.

Decker Walker, professor of education, recalled Case as a "wonderful colleague" and "one of the most socially adept individuals." He said that in the classroom Case would "anticipate possible things that might be uncomfortable with a particular student or group of students" and then "approach the issue with great tact to make them comfortable." He said Case "constantly surprised me in that way."

Walker said Case was "an intellectual explorer" who "wasn't going to be captured by any doctrine." For example, Walker said, at a time when the work of Jean Piaget was being worshiped in the United States, Case accepted his contributions while remaining skeptical "about all kinds of things that were accepted by the Piagetians."

Case studied how children think, with the aim of improving the early learning opportunities of economically disadvantaged students and learners with special needs. His research on the thinking patterns of young children and the way in which these patterns change with age and experience produced several internationally recognized theories on intellectual development.

He joined Stanford in 1988 as a professor of child and adolescent development. Before that, he taught at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and at the University of California-Berkeley.

He received his bachelor's degree from McGill University and his master's and doctoral degrees from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

Case was a fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research; a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford; and a fellow of the John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

He was the author of The Mind's Staircase: Exploring the Conceptual Underpinnings of Children's Thought and Knowledge and co-author of The New Structuralism in Developmental Theory and Research: Analysis of Individual Developmental Pathways.

Case is survived by his wife, Nancy Link; son, Jonathan; and daughters Rebecca and Sarah. A funeral was held May 24 in Toronto. SR