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1929 Nel 2022

Nel Noddings

January 19, 1929 — August 25, 2022

Key Largo

Nel Noddings, the Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education, Emerita at Stanford University in California died Thursday, August 25, 2022, at her home in Key Largo, Florida. She was 93. Nel will be remembered as a philosopher, a feminist, a matriarch, and an engaged citizen of the world. Nel was a prodigious writer with more than twenty books and monographs in print that have been translated into fourteen languages including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Hebrew and Turkish. She is best known for her ethic of care described in her first book Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics & Moral Education published by the University of California Press in 1984. In 2013 she changed the title replacing the word feminine with relational. Her four decades of published work demonstrate the breadth of her intellect and interests as the following titles illustrate:  Women and Evil; Constructivist Views on the Teaching and Learning of Mathematics; Educating for Intelligent Belief or Unbelief; Philosophy of Education (now in its fourth edition this textbook has been translated into 8 languages); Happiness and Education; When School Reform Goes Wrong; A Richer, Brighter Vision for American High Schools; and Teaching Controversial Issues: The Case for Critical Thinking and Moral Commitment in the Classroom.

As an Alumna, Professor, Associate and then Acting Dean of Stanford’s School of Education, Nel loved every aspect of “The Farm” and often expressed the view that Stanford was where her education really began and that she had arrived in educational heaven. Nel was an avid gardener and camper so there is an analogy to draw here between her love for Stanford, “The Farm,” and the world of nature. Nel was a “Mother Tree.” A mother tree nourishes the saplings around her with special attention to her genetic offspring through the interconnected network dubbed the wood wide web. In this way, Mother Trees act as central hubs, communicating with the young seedlings around them in a forest connected to hundreds of other trees (The Mother Tree Project).  Nel’s family tree of descendants includes her many children, students who became family, more than thirty grandchildren and dozens of great grandchildren as well. Nel’s forest encompasses family, students, colleagues and fans on both coasts and America’s heartland through her academic positions at Stanford, University of Chicago, Penn State, Colgate University and Columbia Teachers College. Through her many invited talks in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East and her participation as a fellow of the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning and Dialogue in Boston, her reach is global.

As a philosopher she was also a leader in her chosen fields of interest serving as President of the National Academy of Education, the Philosophy of Education Society, and the John Dewey Society. In addition to those she interacted with directly, her “web” of influence continues to reach many more through her published work. With more than 200 articles and chapters contributed to peer reviewed journals and edited volumes in addition to her books, her worldwide reach continues to grow. These published works demonstrate the breadth of her interests including mathematical problem solving, religion, feminism, school reform and her ethics of care. For a list of her published works and her many honors see her article on Wikipedia and the link contained therein to “Nel Noddings: An Oral History.” ( Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program, 2016.

Nel was born Nellie Laura Rieth in Irvington, New Jersey in 1929. She received her Bachelors Degree in Mathematics and Physical Science from Montclair State College in New Jersey in 1949, a Masters in Mathematics from Rutgers University, New Jersey in 1964 and her PhD in Educational Philosophy and Theory from Stanford University in California in 1973. She spent fifteen years as a middle and high school teacher and administrator, mathematics department chair at Matawan High School in New Jersey from which she herself had graduated, and Director of the Laboratory Schools at the University of Chicago. After more than twenty years at Stanford University, Nel retired as the Lee L. Jacks Professor of Education, Emerita and then taught at both Colgate University and Teachers College Columbia both in New York. Nel and her husband Jim had five children of their own and had served as foster parents several times before they began adopting and taking in friends and relatives. At the time of their sixtieth wedding anniversary in 2009, there were fourteen people present at the event who had at some point in their lives called Nel “Mom.” Nel’s husband Jim of more than sixty years died in 2012 at their last family home together at the beach in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. Nel moved to Key Largo, Florida in October of 2021. Celebrations of life will be held in California at Stanford in CERAS 101 in the afternoon on Friday, November 18 and in Ocean Grove, New Jersey in July of next year.

Nel Noddings was my Mom, my high school mathematics teacher, my mentor and inspiration. For her last book published in 2017 at the age of 88, I had the great fortune to serve as her coauthor. I will forever cherish that experience of sharing ideas and writing together. Her last concerns were about the frightening reactionary movements that have surfaced in our country and the loss of personal freedoms from abortion rights to LGBTQ+ issues. Her family welcomes you to honor her legacy with action. Don’t send flowers; read her work and talk with the people you care about. Donations may be made in support of the Nel and James Noddings Scholarship with online contributions here:

To provide support for the Dr. Nel Noddings Book Collection at Montclair State University. Donations can be made payable to Montclair State University Foundation, 1 Normal Avenue, Montclair, NJ 07043.  Kindly state Dr. Nel Noddings Book Collection in the memo line.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Nel Noddings, please visit our flower store.


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