Dee Dickinson ’45 is a great storyteller, honest about her opinions, and quick with a visual description of a scene. There seems to be nothing that she hasn’t done. With an inexhaustible excitement for art and education, Dee has worked in theater, as a mural painter, and as documentary film-maker. After mentioning these accomplishments during our chat, Dee says. “And then... well let’s see… I was married in 1958…” I ask, “So this was all before 1958?” And she says, “Yes, this was all before 1958.”
Through all of her work, Dee kept finding her way back to Bush. After completing a graduate degree in creative dramatics at the University of Washington and, in the process, learning how to integrate art into curriculum, Dee received a call from Marjorie Livengood, then Head of School at Bush. Livingood asked Dee to teach Fourth Grade at Bush using creative dramatics. When Dee explained that she’d “never taken a course in education,” Marjorie answered “That’s just why I want you to come.”
Years later, after she had finished teaching Fourth Grade and spent time in Europe, Dee received another call from Livengood. This time she told Dee “the head of the English Department is pregnant, and I want you to come back and take over the English Department until the end of the year.” Dee, who majored in French Literature in college, asked her mentor how she thought Dee “could do that.” Livingood replied, “If you can teach French, you can teach English.”
Dee says, “Marjorie was always putting me on a high dive and asking me to jump. It was through her that I learned risk-taking.”
In the late 1970s, during an explosion of new research concerning neuroscience and cognitive science, Dee was asked by the Seattle Public Schools superintendent to head a committee that would make recommendations to the district on ways to enhance academic achievement. As a part of this work, Dee started putting together workshops for teachers, and her efforts began to attract attention.
“One night I got a call from Robert Schwartz, head of the Tarrytown Conference Center in New York, which had been giving huge conferences on a variety of innovative kinds of things. They had never done [a conference] on education, so they asked if I would be interested in designing a conference for them,” explains Dee. Schwartz told Dee that he wanted the top names in education at the conference, and that she should make a list. He wanted the conference to be held the following summer, so Dee started calling the names on her list immediately.
Dee says, “It was the day before Thanksgiving. I was in my kitchen cooking cranberry sauce and turkey stuffing and calling London, Paris, Jerusalem, and Venezuela. I got chills, because everyone was personally answering the phone and saying it was the only weekend they had free all summer. Bob called the next day and said, ‘How are you doing?’ I said, ‘Bob, Happy Thanksgiving, we got them all.’”
The hugely successful conference was the beginning of Dee’s most influential project, New Horizons for Learning, a leading resource for identifying and communicating strategies for educational practices. New Horizons was founded in 1980, and gained traction as a resource for educators across the country. After Dee’s retirement, the now-online New Horizons was transferred to the Johns Hopkins School of Education, where readership is again growing.
Today, Dee tutors a few students in French, and works on projects centered around her belief that Seattle can have one of the best school districts in the country. She’s also currently working on an Innovation in Education exhibit for the Museum of History and Industry. “We are bringing in outstanding examples from places that are more diverse, more economically disadvantaged than Seattle, and if they can do it there, by God, we can do it here.” To hear Dee talk is to believe that anything is possible, but she admits there’s a lot of work ahead of us. Dee isn’t afraid to look at the facts and talk about them; most importantly, she remains involved and willing to work hard.