Zimmerman Awarded NYU’s Distinguished Teaching Award


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Jonathan Zimmerman, professor of educational history in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, has been awarded NYU’s Distinguished Teaching Award. Established in 1987, the award is presented annually to outstanding full-time faculty members in recognition of exceptional teaching, within and outside the classroom. Zimmerman was one of four professors chosen in a University-wide selection process.

Zimmerman’s books have been described as intellectual histories that challenge, provoke, and inspire ideas in readers. A former Peace Corps volunteer and high school teacher, Zimmerman is the author of four books including Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory (Yale 2008); Innocents Abroad: American Teachers in the American Century (Harvard, 2006); Whose America? Culture Wars in the Public Schools (Harvard, 2002); and Distilling Democracy: Alcohol Education in America’s Public Schools, 1880-1925 (Kansas, 1999). His academic articles have appeared in the Journal of American History, the Teachers College Record, and History of Education Quarterly, and he is a frequent op-ed contributor to The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Republic, and other national newspapers and magazines.

We recently spoke with Zimmerman:

Do teachers have a moral responsibility to their students?

Yes, absolutely. As a teacher, your duty is to help the student develop her or his own perspectives. Too often, I think, we try to instill or even impose our own views upon our students. And that’s an abdication of our moral responsibility.

What do you want your students to take from your course?

I want the students to learn how to think: to analyze arguments and construct their own with rigorous attention to logic, facts, and detail. I also want them to acquire a spirit of tolerance and respect for opinions that they do not share.

What makes a good teacher?

Enthusiasm for the subject — a desire to know more and to share both your knowledge and your passion for ac­quiring it, and concern for the student — constant attention to the needs, progress, and problems of the people under your charge. High standards for yourself and for your students.

How do you think you prepare students for life outside the classroom?

Ninety-nine percent of my students will not become historians. But they will all become citizens, and I try to prepare them for that. A good history class should teach the skills that democratic citizenship demands: curiosity, critical thinking, and open-mindedness.