Marilyn Clayton Felt had a commitment to social justice and equity that found expression in her work as a researcher, curriculum designer, and playwright. A long time member of EDC’s staff, Felt died last week of cancer at the age of 68.
“At the age where most people would retire, she was just in the middle of her career,” said her husband, George Lukas.
Joining EDC in 1967, Felt worked to develop innovative teaching styles and classroom materials, emphasizing interactivity between students and teachers. Focusing on humanitarian law, social justice, and human development, she developed curricula that feature classroom use of primary source materials, active participation of learners, and a mix of structure and openness. Many focused on comparing different cultures and customs around the world. She traveled to places such as South Africa to oversee experiments using her teaching methods.
“[She and her colleagues] started a whole new era of openness in the classroom,” her husband said. “It was more a community of participants than a teacher lecturing.”
Felt was a key contributor to many of EDC’s seminal products:
- Man: A Course of Study (early 1970s) a groundbreaking curriculum whose innovative use of documentary films and inquiry-based learning earned the curriculum several awards, including the American Educational Publishers Institute award and an Emmy. At its peak, MACOS was taught in 47 states and reached 400,000 students.
- Exploring Childhood (mid to late 1970s), a multimedia curriculum on child development and family interactions for high school students. The curriculum engaged students in the direct care for and study of young children. Used in more than 7,000 sites in all 50 U.S. states; nine foreign countries also used the program.
- Exploring Humanitarian Law, an international curriculum in use in more than 90 countries, introduces young people between the ages of 13 and 18 to the basic rules and principles of international humanitarian law (IHL). IHL aims to protect life and human dignity during armed conflict and to reduce and prevent the suffering and destruction that result from war. About EHL, Felt said, “Our goal for this program is to have lasting impact. We hope that EHL addresses both the head and the heart—the heart to enter and to matter and the head for understanding its meanings and applications. The learning must be internalized.”
- Beyond Blame: Reacting to the Terrorist Attack, a free, 25-page curriculum for middle and high school students focused on issues of justice and mislaid blame published by EDC seven days after September 11, 2001 and used by schools around the country.
- Curriculum specialist on Our World, an international task force lead by Ron Israel, EDC Vice President, that is working to establish a new subject area domain—that of Global Citizenship Education—in secondary schools around the world.
“Her commitment to social justice and equality never wavered, and she found in her work a means to help realize this commitment,” said Janet Whitla, former president of EDC and longtime friend. “She will be forever a bright star in the EDC firmament of long-standing contributors to our philosophy and practice. We will miss her.”
Felt was also an accomplished playwright who saw her works produced overseas as well as Boston, New York, and Sanibel Island, Florida. She began her writing career in her 40s after taking a course at the Harvard Extension School. Felt’s first play, Acts of Faith, is a two-person play about a standoff on an airplane between a Muslim highjacker and a Jewish passenger. It was produced off-Broadway in 1987 at the Mosaic Theater/92nd Street YMCA. She followed up this effort with Asher’s Command which won an award from the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays in 2001. The play is set amid the tensions of Israel’s West Bank, and focuses on the friendship between two men—an Arab mechanic and a Jewish military commander. It was produced at the J. Harwood Theatre in Sanibel, Florida. It received grants from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the Pilgrim Project, and readings at the Rainbow Theatre in Stamford, the Huntington Theater in Boston, The Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, and the Boston Playwrights’ Theater.
“Her plays are not so much about terrorism,” said her husband. “They’re about people and the circumstances they find themselves in.” Lightsong, a play about Felt’s son, Josh Clayton-Felt, who died of cancer in 2000, will be produced posthumously.
Born in New York, Felt lived all of her adult life in Boston. She graduated from Barnard College in 1958 with a degree in psychology, and earned a master’s degree in psychology at the University of Indiana. She is survived by her husband and also leaves her daughter, Laura Baker of Santa Monica, California; and grandchildren, Jed and Lucie Baker.
Burial was in Los Angeles, where her son is buried. A memorial service will be scheduled for May in Boston.
Originally published on March 31, 2006