Tributes to Stanley Nisbet

5th March 2004 at 00:00
The death has occurred of Stanley Nisbet, one of the most influential educational academics of his generation. He was aged 91.

Professor Nisbet, professor of education at Glasgow University for 27 years from 1951 to 1978, saw a remarkable crop of young graduates pass through his hands who then went on to become leading education figures.

These included Tom Bone and James Scotland, respectively former principals of Jordanhill and Aberdeen colleges of education, and Frank Pignatelli, former director of education in Strathclyde.

Professor Nisbet was the first to hold the education chair at Glasgow, which had been debating its establishment for 40 years. He built up a strong department and worked closely with Jordanhill College as it then was.

Probably uniquely, the Nisbet family produced two professors of education.

Stanley's brother John held the same position at Aberdeen University.

Professor John Nisbet recalled that his brother's primary concern was for his students. "They warmed to his quiet, gentle manner. He had a characteristic style of response in his seminars - a pause, a quizzical look, a tilt of the head and then the demolishing logic of 'does that really mean that . . .'"

Malcolm MacKenzie, another former student who became a senior lecturer in education under Stanley Nisbet, said that he had influenced several generations of educationists. "He spent a great deal of time in teaching and looking after students, very much a people person. But he was also a very fine scholar and his ability to expound lucidly on complex ideas was very profound."

Stanley Nisbet left two particular legacies to academic life - the Scottish Educational Research Association, with whose formation he was closely involved, and the Glasgow Educational Colloquium, which he founded in 1964 as a forum for former graduates.

His most influential book is thought to be Purpose in the Curriculum, published in 1957. John Nisbet comments: "At a time when educational research was largely psychological and statistical, this book set out a structure for analysis of the content of school work, and marked the beginning of what is now known as curriculum studies."

Among his more unique accomplishments were an ability to speak Icelandic, the result of his parents' posting in Iceland to run a medical mission, and the international language Esperanto which his brother says reflected his strong commitment to developing a better understanding between peoples.

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