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Obituary: Ellen Anderson Brantlinger '63

Ellen Anderson Brantlinger, 71, suffered a stroke on March 8 and died in Bloomington Hospital on March 24, 2012.  She is survived by her husband, Patrick Brantlinger '64; their three children, Andrew, Susan, and Jeremy; two grandchildren, Leroy and Jayla Robinson; sister Wilda Obey of Hinkley, Minnesota, and brother Burton Anderson, who lives near Florence, Italy. 

Ellen attended Antioch College, where she met her husband; they married in June 1963, the same month that she graduated with a BA in Secondary Education.  She taught special education classes in public schools in the Boston area for three years, while earning her Masters of Education from Boston University in 1966.  After moving to Bloomington, where her husband began teaching in the English Department in 1968, Ellen raised their children while earning her Doctorate of Education, a degree conferred on her in 1978.  From 1979 to 1985, she served as a Visiting Professor of Special Education at IU.  From 1986 to 1990, she was a tenure-track Assistant Professor in the same field.  After earning tenure, she became an Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction.  And in 1996, she was promoted to Full Professor of Education.  She retired from IU in 2004.

Within the School of Education, Ellen served in many capacities.  From 1986 to 1997, she was Director of the Special Education Teacher Education Program.  She and her staff supervised dozens of undergraduates in classrooms throughout southern Indiana and in Indianapolis.  Between 1990 and 1992, she served as Chair of Special Education.  From 1992 to 1996, she was Co-Ordinator of Special Education; and from 1998 to 2002, she served as Co-Ordinator of the Curriculum and Instruction Doctoral Program.  During her career, she directed well over one hundred doctoral dissertations.

Ellen’s teaching emphasized qualitative as opposed to quantitative research, an area in which she became internationally recognized.  In research, she published five books and dozens of articles, as well as delivered numerous presentations at conferences. 

She also served on the editorial boards of several major educational journals.  Her books include The Politics of Social Class in Secondary School:  Views of Affluent and Impoverished Youth (1993);  Fighting for Darla:  A Case Study of a Pregnant Adolescent with Autism (1994); Sterilization of People with Mental Retardation (1995); and Dividing Classes:  How the Middle Class Negotiates and Rationalizes School Advantage (2003).  She also edited the anthology Who Benefits from Special Education?  Remediating (“Fixing”) Other People’s Children (2006), which contains her preface and three new essays by her. 

The spirit of her teaching and research is well-expressed in the first sentence of the acknowledgments to Who Benefits: “As editor of this volume, I would first like to acknowlege the caring parents and teachers of students identified as disabled who have always put children’s feelings and opinions first and who have worked hard to ensure that their genuine needs were met and that they were included in comprehensive school settings.”  As this sentence suggests, Ellen was a strong advocate for the inclusion of disabled students in regular classrooms.   

Ellen was invited to lecture at many colleges and universities; a few years ago, a conference in her honor was held at Syracuse University.  She was also invited to participate in a week-long cross-cultural conference on education in Beijing, China.  And she worked for a while in Afghanistan, on a project sponsored by Teachers’ College of Columbia University and UNICEF, to develop new elementary textbooks for that embattled country.

Among her many activities, Ellen loved to travel.  During her month in China in 2000, she and her husband visited a number of cities and also went to Tibet.  In 1992, when she and Patrick both had sabbaticals, they traveled for two months in Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, Thailand, India, and Nepal.  Together they attended the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2005.  And they have been to many other countries in Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

In Bloomington, Ellen became well-known as an advocate of redistricting for the public schools to achieve social class diversity.  A strong voice for public education, she objected strenuously to Indiana’s failure to provide adequate support for the public schools and its moves toward privatization through charter schools and the recent voucher legislation.  She was also critical of No Child Left Behind and the current emphasis on standardized testing, at the expense of other aspects of education.  She participated as well in many charities and activist groups.  Most recently, she had been serving as a Court Appointed Special Advocate or CASA and as a volunteer in the library at Fairview School. 

During her leisure time, Ellen always kept busy.  She was an excellent cook.  She loved gardening (although not weeding) and always had a green thumb.  She enjoyed taking classes at the Y and making new friends there.  When watching television, she had to be quilting or sewing something.  She made dozens of quilts; she was once invited to exhibit some of these in the old Benjamin Franklin store on the square.  And she loved reading, especially recent fiction and more especially mysteries.  She will be remembered by everyone who knew her for many reasons, not least for her keen advocacy and activism in regard to issues of social justice. A funeral service will be held for Ellen at the Unitarian-Universalist Church starting at 4:00 pm on Monday April 2.