Seymour B. Sarason a psychologist whose groundbreaking work on social settings and their influence on individual problems helped establish the field of community psychology, died on January 28, 2010 in New Haven. He was 91 and lived in Hamden, Connecticut.
Dr. Sarason was a founding board member of the Center for Youth & Community, Inc. (The Center), in Glastonbury, Connecticut, and served on that board until his death. The Center is noted for developing the international model youth development strategy, the Rite of Passage Experience©, ROPE® that has been active in many communities throughout Connecticut for almost 30 years. Unlike many approaches using rites of passage, ROPE©, may be the only rites of passage process that is intentionally designed to impact a sense of community as well as promote healthy individual development.
Dr. Sarason was a professor at Yale University from 1945 until his retirement in 1989. He authored 45 books and dozens of articles in diverse fields impacting human development and was the founder of the field of community psychology. He was one of the first people to focus on rites of passage as the seminal strategy of a community psychology for human beings and helped to co-evolve the Rite Of Passage Experience©, ROPE®, with Dr. David Blumenkrantz, Executive Director of The Center. Dr. Sarason also wrote the introduction to Dr. Blumenkrantz’s 1992 Book, Fulfilling the Promise of Children’s Services: Why Primary Prevention Efforts Fail and How They Can Succeed.
Dr. Sarason came to acknowledge that rites of passage were the first strategies of a community psychology. With Dr. Sarason’s support and guidance, ROPE® has received wide spread attention, including being named the “Program of the Year” in 1989 by the Connecticut Youth Service Bureau Association, and being designated a model youth and community development strategy by the Child Welfare League of America and the National League of Cities. To date, more than 100,000 youth and their families have participated in the ROPE® initiative nationwide.
With remarkably vivid examples, Professor Sarason gave us a conceptual frame and language for understanding the qualities of social settings that hinder human development and the challenges that confront social and institutional change, sensitive to historical context (see The Culture of the School and the Problem of Change, printed in 1971, 1982, and 1996). Sarason opened new lines of study, such as in The Creation of Settings and Future Societies, in 1972; The Psychological Sense of Community: Prospects for a Community Psychology, in 1974; and Human Services and Resource Networks, in 1977. He also called us to social action in schools, in communities, and in society at large.
An incisive critic of educational reform, Sarason’s contributions remain seminal. School culture, productive learning, teacher preparation, political governance, parent involvement, and charter schools are among the issues he addressed with clarity and wisdom in too many books to name here. He spoke his mind freely, issuing “Letters to a Serious Education President” twice, in 1993 and 2006. His most recent collaboration was with physicist Stanislaw Glazek in a book called Productive Learning: Science, Art, and Einstein’s Relativity in Educational Reform, published in 2007.
His books were classics and read like novels, as he was a keen social critic who wrote fully in his own voice. He published his autobiography in 1988, The Making of an American Psychologist; and a novel, St. James and Goldstein at Yale, in 2005.
Beyond the remarkable legacy left in his written work is the impact he had on his students, his colleagues, a community of individuals who sought his counsel until his dying days, and a legion of schools and programs that benefited from his analysis -- across the country and worldwide. With his door always open, his stance ever welcoming, Sarason created that context for productive learning about which he wrote. And all who came into contact with him learned beyond their imagination, put into action programs that developed human potential, and fell in love with his kind and caring ways.
Sarason earned his undergraduate degree from Rutgers (then the University of Newark) in 1939. His Ph.D. in clinical psychology was awarded from Clark University in 1942. Among many honors, Professor Sarason was the recipient of three honorary degrees and six distinguished contributions awards, including Distinguished Contributions to Community Psychology (SCRA) and the Lifetime Contribution to the Public Interest Gold Medal from the American Psychological Foundation. The Seymour B. Sarason Award for Community Research and Action was established in 1993 by SCRA and the American Psychological Association to recognize individuals working in the conceptually demanding, creative, and groundbreaking tradition of Sarason.
His wife of 50 years, Esther Kroop Sarason predeceased him in 1993. He leaves a daughter Julie Sarason, her husband Paul Feuerstein, a grandson Nathaniel, a brother Irwin Sarason and sister-in-law Barbara, a brother-in-law Dr. Irving Kroop and wife Eugenia, and companion Irma Janoff Miller.