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Harvard Ed School Prof. Emeritus Robert LeVine Remembered as ‘Kind Presence’ With ‘Childlike Curiosity’

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{shortcode-07745c51c6ef9eee11c035c44039e3a15576b873}arvard Graduate School of Education professor emeritus Robert A. LeVine was remembered by his friends, family, and colleagues as “benevolent” and “very supportive,” with a “childlike curiosity” that guided his interdisciplinary approach.

LeVine, a cultural anthropologist and member of both the National Academy of Education and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, primarily studied the effects of cultural environments on child development, emphasizing cross-cultural comparison.

Throughout his career LeVine — in collaboration with his late wife, Sarah LeVine, who was also a cultural anthropologist — conducted research in countries including Mexico, Nepal, Nigeria, Venezuela, and Zambia.

Robert LeVine died in August at the age of 91, two weeks after the death of his wife, Sarah LeVine.

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Anna Winger, LeVine’s daughter, described her father as “a deeply collaborative person, and very supportive.”

“My father used to always say that he was as interested in his work when he was very old as he was the day he started doing it,” Winger said.

“He was just very engaged and interested in what he did, and that engagement I think really transferred to us as kids,” Winger said of herself and brother Alex J. LeVine ’95. “It was very organic to the way that I grew up, that you pursue what interests you most.”

Winger, who is a television showrunner, said her father inspired her to write her most recent project, Netflix’s “Transatlantic.”

“He is an executive producer on the show, and it was his idea,” Winger said.

Winger and her father were walking in Berlin, where she resides, when LeVine saw a street named for journalist Varian Fry and encouraged his daughter to explore Fry’s life story in a TV series, according to Winger.

“He said to me, ‘It’s a really good idea for a TV show, you should make a TV show about that,’” Winger said. “And by the way, people say that to me all the time about many things, but in this case I did it.”

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University of Massachusetts Boston Chancellor Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco said he will remember LeVine for “his brilliance, his humility, his wicked sense of humor.”

“Bob was very focused in trying to understand what psychodynamic psychology had to offer for our understanding of human systems and human meanings — so I feel a profound kinship,” said Suárez-Orozco, a former HGSE professor of education, of his time as LeVine’s colleague.

Former HGSE professor of gender studies Carol A. Gilligan said Robert and Sarah LeVine’s collaborative research project “Literacy and Mothering” was impactful for her own feminist scholarship. “Literacy and Mothering” demonstrated, following a study spanning three decades and four countries, that women’s education could decrease risks to their children’s health, particularly as a result of increased health literacy and navigation of bureaucratic health systems.

Gilligan also said she identified strongly with LeVine’s commitment to incorporating the study of anthropology into that of psychology, and vice versa.

“Bob and I joined in thinking that scholars of human development, anthropologists, should all have really in-depth psychological training, psychoanalytic training,” Gilligan said.

“He was just a wise, and benevolent, and generous and kind presence,” she added. “He was in that sense, a leader, but in the spirit of somebody who leads from within the community.”

University of Texas at Austin associate professor of educational psychology Marie-Anne P. Suizzo, who was LeVine’s doctoral advisee at HGSE, said LeVine was “profoundly kind” with a “childlike curiosity.” Because LeVine was on sabbatical doing fieldwork during Suizzo’s first year at HGSE, she initially only heard about him from colleagues.

“Every time I would run into somebody in the hall and they would say ‘Oh, you’re a first-year doc student, who’s your adviser?’ and I would say ‘Bob LeVine,’ they would say ‘Oh, my god, you are so lucky, Bob is so nice,’” Suizzo said.

“I already knew that he was a world-renowned expert, so it was nice to find out he was nice,” Suizzo added.

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Suizzo also served as a teaching fellow for a course co-taught by LeVine, Psychology professor Jerome Kagan, and Harvard Law School professor Martha L. Minow. The course, titled “Children and Their Social Worlds,” took an interdisciplinary approach to studying the stages of child development and socialization.

“Bob LeVine was ceaselessly generous, learned, and wise,” Minow wrote in a statement to The Crimson. “No one could be a more mesmerizing storyteller. His ability to convey the variety and at the same time commonalities of pathways for children to develop across cultures inspired students who went on to become pediatricians, advocates, and scholars.”

“It is a real comfort to know his legacies continue in so many parts of the world,” Minow added.

According to HGSE professor of cognition and education Howard E. Gardner ’65, collaboration with experts in other fields and disciplines was a defining feature of LeVine’s work.

“He was a real bridge-builder between the School of Education and the rest of the University,” Gardner said. “He was instrumental in getting tenure for people who were not primarily in education, but who had the potential and the interest to become more involved with education.”

Gardner added that LeVine’s impact on efforts to bring experts in fields like anthropology and psychology to HGSE will be challenging to replace.

“I can say with all honesty, it’s a question mark of whether that continues when somebody like him disappears.” Gardner said.

Suárez-Orozco also said he will remember LeVine’s commitment to interdisciplinary study.

“What Bob wanted was a kind of a community of scholars, who represented the entire disciplinary range, to really encourage, to ferment, to nourish interdisciplinary conversations around fundamental topics,” Suárez-Orozco said.

“Here’s a scholar that really had a renaissance view of the social sciences,” Suárez-Orozco added.

—Staff writer Azusa M. Lippit can be reached at azusa.lippit@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @azusalippit or on Threads @azusalippit.

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