Remembering Jonathan Haber, Who Taught So Many to Think Critically

Remembering Jonathan Haber, Who Taught So Many to Think Critically

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Earnest. Decent. Unassuming.

When I think of Jonathan Haber, who died unexpectedly of a heart attack last week, those are the first words that come to mind.

Jonathan, who wrote columns for EdSurge among his many pursuits, was a wonderful thinker, in education and in life.

The recent author of the book Critical Thinking, a topic about which he cared deeply, Haber had contributed in significant ways to a variety of important education projects.

He co-founded the company SkillCheck—an assessment solutions provider and a prescient creation given today’s skills gap—which he later sold. Among his other education related pursuits, Jonathan consulted to HarvardX; was a founding employee at the Woodrow Wilson Graduate School of Teaching and Learning, which is reinventing educator preparation; and helped crosswalk the tens of thousands of math and English Language Arts standards across different states for the IMS Global Learning Consortium’s CASE Network.

More recently, I had connected Jonathan to a friend and coauthor of mine on the paper “Disrupting Law School,” Villanova Law Professor Michele Pistone, to help her with the instructional design for the online program she has now launched around immigration training for advocates.

I knew Jonathan would deliver—and a fabulous partnership would result. And it was logistically easy because Jonathan was a friend and neighbor of mine here in Lexington, Mass.

Jonathan was incredibly proud of his two sons. As I reached the conclusion that many more students ought to be taking a gap year in my book Choosing College, on which Jonathan had provided early feedback, he was proud to tell me that one of his sons was taking a gap year—and Jonathan loved providing me updates about that year of discovery during walks on the Minuteman bike path.

These updates weren’t just the boasting of a proud parent. They were updates from a person pondering deeper questions about how the world worked. He earnestly probed to understand trends, currents and causality.

During our talks or over a meal with our spouses, I never once heard Jonathan say something negative about another individual, even when there were things to be said.

And he was completely unassuming—so much so that I think it was often easy for others to underestimate his wide-ranging talents and contributions.

Jonathan helped me understand the field of critical thinking far more deeply—and how best to teach it. He shared with me his frustrations at the lack of rigor in schooling around critical thinking and what he considered the “osmosis” way of teaching it. More importantly, he wanted to do something about it and searched constantly for the best way to have impact.

As a sign of his fanaticism around helping people think critically, he wrote about how to help people better discern political arguments as voters and how we might improve the level of discourse in our country. He launched LogicCheck—akin to the fact checkers so popular in newspapers today. And he gave me a couple copies of his book on the topic of being a critical voter—which perhaps nicely suggested I had some learning to do myself.

In the days before I learned of Jonathan’s passing, I had read in the local news about a local project his wife, Carolyn, was working on and realized I ought to reach out to him to let him know that my forthcoming book, From Reopen to Reinvent, heavily quoted from his work in its third chapter.

I also thought about how he had invited my whole family over to his house for dinner. With the weather warming and our understanding of COVID deepening, I thought maybe we could finally take him up on his generous offer.

At Jonathan’s funeral, the rabbi shared that Jonathan’s sons, Eli and Benjamin, had learned to ably debate their father. They would email him essays with evidence to back up their arguments. Jonathan returned the volley in like fashion, with full respect for their points of view.

Although I won’t promise to live up to that example, I will try to live by its spirit: to intentionally teach my own daughters the skills of critical thinking—and to respect not just their positions, but also the intellectually and emotionally capable people they are.

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