Madeline Cheek Hunter

Influential American educator Madeline Cheek Hunter (1916-1994) developed a model for teaching and learning that was widely adopted by schools during the last quarter of the 20th century.

Madeline Hunter was one of two daughters born to Alexander Cheek, grandson of a Cherokee Indian. He had been orphaned at eight years old and had to drop out of school to work. Eventually he became a barber and, as a result of hard effort and intelligence, owned shops all over the United States and Canada. Her mother, Anna Keis, was the daughter of a Bohemian nobleman and a peasant woman.

Madeline's family originally lived in Canada where she was born. Her father was an avid hunter who liked Canada because "the duck hunting was better there." As Madeline was a "sickly" child, the family ultimately moved to California to avoid the terrible Canadian winters in Saskatchewan. Although they returned to Canada from May to October for many years, most of her schooling was in California. She and her father became naturalized United States citizens when she was about 14 years old. There was never a question that she and her sister would receive an education, a privilege denied her parents.

In junior high school she was placed in an experimental school to test some of Stanford University professor Louis Terman's psychological theories on intelligence. The school used her to score intelligence tests. Hunter later reported that, "As a result of that 'chore' and the stimulation from an outstanding school psychologist and teacher, Christine Cook, I became interested in human intelligence. That and classical ballet were my passions in life." As a 16-year-old (1932) she entered the University of California at Los Angeles as a combination pre-medicine and psychology major while continuing her ballet dancing. Eventually she had to choose between going to South America on tour with the Ballet Russe or finishing her degree. After choosing the latter, she discovered that limited eye-hand coordination would deny her the chance of a career as a neurological surgeon.

Two additional events influenced her choice of a career in school psychology. The first occurred many years before when waiting to be assigned to her seventh grade classroom in junior high school. Unknowingly, she would be assigned to an experimental class. While sitting in an auditorium, she watched as nearly every other student's name was called first and left for an assigned classroom. The feelings of hurt associated with a child being labeled last or dumb was not forgotten in her later works. As a consequence, a theme that runs consistently throughout her career is the need to give positive reinforcement to students in schools—"Never put a kid down, always build the kid up." A second defining moment that shaped her thinking occurred after graduation during her first work experiences at Children's Hospital in Los Angeles and at Juvenile Hall. From these situations she soon concluded that interventions in helping children in such situations were "too little, too late." She knew she needed to turn to children in schools and work there on the preventative side rather than the remedial side.

During World War II she married an engineer, Robert Hunter, who continued to work at Lockheed Aviation until his retirement. In 1944 they had a daughter, Cheryl, whose later career was that of a film editor, and in 1946 they had a son, Robin, who later became a school principal. When the children no longer needed a mother at home, Madeline went back to work full time in education, holding a series of positions in Los Angeles, namely, school psychologist, then principal, followed by director of research, and finally as an assistant superintendent who was used for "trouble shooting" difficult situations in the inner city, often involving multicultural groups. After 1963 she was associated with the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), first at the University Elementary School and later as a professor in the College of Education. During those years she worked closely with her colleague John Goodlad and was given the opportunity to implement her educational model in that laboratory school setting. She was named one of the hundred most influential women of the 20th century and one of the ten most influential in education by the Sierra Research Institute and the National Women's Hall of Fame.

Dissatisfaction with the quality of instruction in American schools during the 1970s and 1980s led many educators to call for fundamental changes. Madeline Hunter's model was turned to by many as a solution, and eventually it was implemented in 16 states formally in the 1980s and was widely used in others. Her education model is a "teacher decision-making model that is applicable to any mode or style of teaching, to any learner, and for any objective." Her method enables teachers to understand how particular behaviors can be attained by a student and how those desirable behaviors can be transferred and repeated in new situations.

A brief list of instructional and curricular decisions an English teacher might make in preparing for class are: (1) What can the students do as a result of this class? (2) What skills or information will the students need for attaining what they need to learn? (3) What learning behaviors can the teacher facilitate in the students which will result in the highest probability of being satisfying and successful? and (4) How will the teacher artistically use research and intuition to make students' satisfying achievement more probable?

By using her pre-medical background and her work in psychology, Hunter skillfully translated research from academic disciplines into teacher language and educational practice. She argued that teaching is like ballet or surgery; that is, teachers have to automate many behaviors so they can perform them artistically at high speed when a situation requiring them arises. As a consequence of applying her model, students learn behaviors that they can creatively transfer into new situations.

In response to a question asking her to assess the current educational situation in the 1990s, she said, "I believe the future of education is bright! We are beginning to unlock the mystery of the human brain and how it processes and learns. We, now, can enable teachers to use that knowledge to accelerate that learning process. No longer is teaching a 'laying on of hands.' It has become a profession that combines science with art to create a better and a more productive world for humankind." She died in 1994.

Further Reading on Madeline Cheek Hunter

A brief biography and discussion of ideas can be found in two journals: Newsmakers 91, "Madeline Hunter," by David Collins; and Educational Leadership, "Portrait of Madeline Hunter," by Mark F. Goldberg (February 1990). Two journal articles that discuss and apply her education model are: Educational Leadership, "On Teaching and Supervising: A Conversation with Madeline Hunter," by Ron Brandt (February 1985); and English Journal, "Madeline Hunter in the English Classroom," by Madeline Hunter (September 1989). Selected books by her that introduce and apply her education model are published by TIP Publications, P.O. Box 514, El Segundo, California. They are: Motivation (1967); Reinforcement (1967); Retention (1967); Teach More—Faster (1969); Improve Instruction (1976); Mastery Teaching (1982); and, with Doug Russell, Mastering Coaching & Supervision (1989).

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