Education professor earns international recognition for distinguished career

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Gail Boldt, professor of education (language and literacy education) in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Penn State, recently received the Bloch Distinguished Career Award, the highest award of the International Reconceptualizing Early Childhood Education Conference (RECE). The award honors scholars whose work has informed and influenced critical inquiry in early childhood education and to acknowledge contributors to the work of RECE in the larger context of educational research, practice and theory.

"To be recognized by this group with the Distinguished Career Award means more to me than any recognition I can imagine because it is the place where I have most invested myself; where others most invested in me as a scholar; and where the long trajectory of my career, my research, my intellectual passions and my personal life is most known," said Boldt.

Gail Boldt Credit: Steve Tressler / Penn StateCreative Commons

"There are few members of the RECE community who have worked as long and as hard to ensure the success of this organization and the principles of equity, social justice and theoretical expansiveness on which it is based," said Jonathan Silin, one of the founding members of the RECE movement.

"From planning for the 1997 University of Hawaii conference to hosting the 2012 conference at Penn State; from participating in endless program committees to advocating for effective disability guidelines, Gail has always been there to do the hard work that undergirds every successful volunteer group. Over 2.5 decades, her own papers, leadership in organizing panels and introduction of graduate students into the world of RECE scholarship, has offered us all a model of institutional nurture and stewardship."

Boldt also was program chair for the RECE conference in Oslo, Norway, in 2003.

She said Silin has been one of her mentors throughout her career, beginning when they first met at the 1994 Reconceptualizing conference when she was in her first year as a doctoral student. When Silin stepped down as editor-in-chief of the Occasional Paper Series at Bank Street, Boldt, who had been a key board member, stepped up to take over the reins.

"That Bank Street would invest an 'outsider' with the leadership of its flagship publication is testimony to Gail’s unique ability to win hearts and minds," Silin said.

During his presentation of the award, Silin cited Boldt's 25 years of service to the RECE community, her unsurpassed track record of cutting-edge research and extraordinary commitment to mentoring new scholars, all of which he said make her the well-deserved recipient of the award.

Silin also quoted some of those who supported her nomination. A recurring theme is the love and passion Boldt exhibits.

"Her graduate students love her and she loves us back," said Jen Teitel, one of Boldt's many graduate students. "I am aware of the irony of this statement in light of Gail’s research. You will find no individual more conscious of how love and care shape the face of a teacher or mentor in the eyes of their students/mentees."

Teitel continued, "The lessons that Gail has gone to great lengths to explore — including how love between adults and children impacts teaching and learning, are reflected in her careful cultivation of mentoring relationships and the ethic of care with which she ushers young scholars into the intellectual delights of critical theory."

Colleague Joe Valente, associate professor of education, shared how Boldt is an ally for early career minoritized researchers. Valente is the first deaf professor to be tenured at Penn State.

"Gail met with me outside of class to collaborate with me on developing pedagogic strategies that allowed me to be successful with my students and to negotiate our communicative differences. I would add that it is the same qualities characterizing Gail’s life as scholar and researcher — a unique tolerance for complexity, ambiguity and the ultimately unanswerable questions marking human experience — that also define her mentoring relationships with graduate students and younger colleagues," Valente said.

“Above all, it is Gail’s extraordinary capacity for empathy, combined with her unflinching ability to look directly at issues others might find too difficult or unsettling to bear, that speak to the respect for, and pleasure she takes in, the rich humanity of the people for whom she cares," he said.

Over the course of her career, Boldt's research evolved and expanded. She defines herself as a curriculum theorist with interests in literacies, elementary and early childhood education; identity (including gender, sexuality, class and race) and post-identity; childhood studies; cultural studies; and disability studies. She works primarily with narrative research, drawing analytic lenses from Deleuzo-Guattarian, post-structural, and psychoanalytic theories.

At the undergraduate level, she teaches in the literacy block that is part of the elementary and early childhood education major and teacher certification program. She currently is the lead faculty member for the block.

"We count on her scholarly insights into early childhood education to inform what our students learn about facilitating learning of children in pre-kindergarten through grade 4," said Rose Zbiek, head of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. "Her research lives in a space that invites students interested in early childhood education and students interested in literacy broadly defined as to include but not be limited to traditional texts. For that reason, she is called on by a broad range of doctoral students to serve on their committees.”

Zbiek said Boldt brings theories consistent with the reconceptualization of early childhood education to the graduate program.

"Her course on Foucault (CI 529: Foucault in Education) is popular within and beyond the department and the College," Zbiek said.

Boldt earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Trinity College; her teaching certification from Mills College in Oakland, California; a master of theological studies from the Divinity School at Harvard University; a mater of education in counseling from Penn State; and a doctorate from the University of Hawai’i in teacher education and curriculum studies.

Before coming to Penn State, Boldt was an assistant and associate professor in the Language, Literacy and Culture Program at the University of Iowa. She spent a year as a visiting scholar at the Chicago Psychoanalytic Institute and completed a postgraduate program at the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis called New Directions in Psychoanalytic Thinking. She has worked in the infant and young child program at the Washington School for Psychiatry; was a research fellow at the Anna Freud Center at the Yale Child Study Center; and is a research fellow of the American Psychoanalytic Association.

Last Updated November 08, 2019