Howard Hans Spicker


Herman Frederic Lieber Award (1978)
Indiana University Bloomington
School of Education


Howard Spicker, Professor Emeritus of Education, former Chair of Special Education and Director of Gifted and Talented Programs, founder and Director of Ill's College for Gifted and Talented Youth from 1981 to his retirement in 1996 and Director of the Federally funded Project SPRING [Special Populations Rural Information Network for the Gifted], from 1990 to 1996, died September 20, 1998 in Bloomington. He was 67.

Howard's teaching, research, and service were dedicated to overcoming discrimination directed against persons with disabilities, ethnic and racial minorities, and economically and "culturally" disadvantaged individuals. He was recognized as an outstanding teacher, was chairman of the Special Education Department at ILJ for several years, and served in leadership positions in state and national professional organizations.

Much of his strong opposition to discrimination had its roots in early family experiences. He was born on March 4, 1931, in Konigsberg, Germany of Jewish parents The family emigrated to the United States in 1939, following violence to Jews in Nazi Germany. His grandparents and many in his extended family were killed in the Holocaust.

Howard obtained his undergraduate and masters' degrees in 1953 and 1954 at the University of Illinois in the Education of Exceptional Children. After serving as an officer in the Navy for three years, he pursued doctoral studies in Special Education at George Peabody College for Teachers [now part of Vanderbilt U.], Nashville, Tenn. He taught in the San Diego public schools [1960-61], was on the faculty of Special Education at the University of Northern Colorado [1961-63], and in 1963, when he obtained his doctorate, he joined the IU faculty as Assistant Professor in the School of Education. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1966 and Full Professor in 1969.

In his earlier years at IU, Howard made major changes in both the teacher education and doctoral curriculum in Special Education. He also carried out research on disadvantaged preschool children aimed at reducing the likelihood that these children would be identified as mentally retarded when they reached school age. This preschool intervention program [1964-67] influenced the development of the HEAD START program. In 1968, he coauthored a proposal which led to a Federal grant, that brought a major center for educational research and development in mental retardation to IU. This led to an expansion of the faculty and ultimately resulted in a national reputation for IU's Special Education Department, which he chaired from 1967-74 and 1978-82. His outstanding teaching of courses on educating children with disabilities led to his an appointment as Distinguished Visiting Professor at California State University, Los Angeles during his 1976-77 sabbatical. He also received IU's Herman F. Lieber distinguished teaching award in 1978. When new laws on the education and rights of persons with disabilities were passed in 1975, he developed a highly regarded and widely used series of 15 half hour instructional videotapes on "The Law and Handicapped Children in School."

Later, Howard's focus shifted to programming for gifted and talented children. He developed the IU College for Gifted and Talented Youth in 1981, which he directed until his retirement in 1996, in which highly able school-aged children were brought to IU to study with distinguished faculty in diverse fields. Students were engaged in critical and creative thinking in simulations that required them to apply the skills and information they were receiving to work collaboratively in solving challenging problems. This program was nationally recognized as a model.

Howard became director of the School of Education's Gifted and Talented Program in 1982, and obtained both State support and major Federal grants to carry out research and demonstration projects on improving identification of, and educational programming for, rural disadvantaged gifted students. In 1990, he received the first of two three-year grants to explore improving education for potentially gifted children. His innovation was to examine children's performances in areas outside of the normal school curriculum and to provide curricular interventions based on strengths in these areas. He reduced reliance on standardized testing and teacher referral and looked at what students could do creatively and analytically with situations and objects they found familiar. By the time the studies were completed, Project SPRING [Special Populations Rural Information Network for the Gifted] had identified and served low income rural students with distinctive abilities in three regions: southern Indiana, heavily African American school districts in South Carolina, and largely Hispanic schools in rural New Mexico. In addition to descriptions of these programs in more scholarly publications, these projects received national attention in both popular and professional media. In 1995, Howard received a lifetime achievement award from the Indiana Association for the Gifted.

Howard's commitment and enthusiasm had an enormous impact on the lives of students ranging from preschoolers with disabilities through talented rural elementary school students to graduate students. Throughout Howard's career, he used his intelligence, skills, and drive to serve as a passionate advocate for effective education for persons often ignored and marginalized by society.