[Thus begins a new weekly feature here at Words Matter. Each Monday, for the next year, you’ll be greeted by History Maker Mondays. We’ll start with the letter A, and cycle through the alphabet once, and make another pass through before the end of 2009.--JB]
History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.
Adler, Felix (1851-1933)
Adler was born in Alzey, Germany. His father Samuel, a rabbi, brought the family to the U.S. in 1857, where a rabbinate at Temple Emanu-El, in New York City awaited him.
Adler would attend Columbia University and graduate in 1870. He went back to Germany where he received his doctorate from Heidelberg University. Returning to the states, he began a professorship in 1874, at Cornell, in Oriental Languages and Hebrew. Two years later, he was asked to leave for what was considered his “dangerous attitude.”
In 1876, Adler would found the Society for Ethical Culture, in New York. The aim of his new religious movement was the advancement of social justice for all. He suggested that the movement should further the principles of ethics among adults and children through education and that members of the Society should express their religious consciences in moral and humane actions. Adler’s founding ideas remain the cornerstones of the philosophy of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, which was incorporated on February 21, 1877.
For Adler, on of the keys to his nascent movement was his observation that too often disputes over religious or philosophical doctrines have distracted people from actually living ethically and doing good. Consequently, "Deed before creed" has remained a motto of the movement.
Adler was passionate about education and developed schools centered around a progressive pedagogy that combined liberal arts education with specialized vocational training programs for students who opted for them. In fact, his model was an early incarnation of what has become our own vocational training/CTE model today.
While his blueprint was never fully realized in his various Ethical Culture Schools, it was picked up later by the New York City public schools in the creation of schools Bronx High School of Science, and similarly by what are now called “magnet” schools.