The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 22.0°F | Overcast

Professor Emeritus Donald A. Schon (1931-1997)


Donald A. Schon

Professor Emeritus Donald A. Schön died Saturday, Sept. 13 at Bringham and Women's Hospital in Boston after a seven-month illness. He was 66.

In 1972, Schön was appointed Ford Professor of Urban Studies and Education at MIT. From 1990 to 1992, he served as chair of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

At the time of his death, Schön was Ford professor emeritus and senior lecturer in the School of Architecture and Planning.

Schön, a philosopher, held sacrosanct the notion of effective practice and consequently tried to help educators teach professionals how to be competent in practice.

He brought these ideas to the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at MIT.

"He basically created this concept of the reflective practitioner, where we try to create a school where the whole program is based on practice, and learning from practice,"said Bishwapriya Sanyal, head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

The concept of a reflective practitioner is developed in Schön's published works, which include Beyond the Stable State, The Reflective Practitioner, and Educating the Reflective Practitioner.

The thought behind the reflective practitioner is to understand "the difference between espoused theory and how things really happen in life," Sanyal said.

And now, "that's a central theme" for the Urban Studies and Planning Department, Sanyal said.

Schön held many honors

Schön was born in Boston and raised in Brookline and Worcester. He graduated from Brookline High School in 1947, and Yale in 1951. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

He studied clarinet in Paris at the Sorbonne and Conservatoire Nationale de Music and was awarded the Premier Prix. After graduating, he received the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship and continued at Harvard where he earned his masters and doctorate in philosophy in 1955.

Schön taught philosophy at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1953, followed by two years of service in the U.S Army. Concurrently, he lectured at University of Kansas City as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy.

He worked from 1957-1963 as senior staff member in the industrial research firm, Arthur D. Little, Inc., where he formed the new product group in the research and development division. Under the Kennedy administration, he was appointed director of the Institute for Applied Technology in the National Bureau of Standards, Department of Commerce, where he continued through 1966.

He then cofounded and directed the Organization for Social and Technological Innovation, a non-profit social research and development firm in the Boston area, through 1973. While at OSTI, in 1970, Schön was invited by the British Broadcasting Corporation to deliver the prestigious Reith Lectures, on industrial technology and social change. He was the youngest invitee ever to give the Reith Lectures.

Schön had many outside interests including reading, languages, tennis, and music. He was an accomplished pianist and clarinetist, and enjoyed playing in jazz and chamber groups.

He is survived by his wife, Nancy Quint Schön; mother, Ann mason Schön; four children; and eight grandchildren.

A memorial service to honor his life and work will be held on Oct. 19 from 3 to 6 p.m. in Kresge Auditorium.