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Conscientious Observer

Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot ’66 thought that her 10th book, the aptly named Exit: The Endings That Set Us Free, would be her last. But then a topic that had been “simmering within” became No. 11.

“Just about all my work begins—and I think this is true about most social scientists—with some very personal questions, dilemmas, struggles, puzzles that I’ve held on to for a long time,” she says of the spark for Growing Each Other Up: When Our Children Become Our Teachers.

The book begins with a conflict she had with her adolescent daughter, from which a friend guided her to a revelation. 

“As soon as you get to the point of thinking, I get it, as a parent, your children are on to the next developmental moment,” she says. “Parenting requires that we become lifelong learners.”

Social scientists have focused on parents “being the ones who transmit the knowledge and wisdom,” says Lawrence-Lightfoot, a MacArthur prize-winning sociologist. But the empirical, lyrical Growing Each Other Up examines the ways in which children teach their parents, as roles and reciprocity evolve.

The book builds upon her pioneering methodology of “portraiture,” which blends art and science to create individual and cultural narratives.

Lawrence-Lightfoot credits the College with enhancing her talents as a writer and analyst and for teaching her how to ask good questions. She continues to hone these skills as a public intellectual and writer, the Emily Hargroves Fisher Professor of Education at Harvard, a witness and activist, and—of course—a mom. 

So will book 11 be her last? 

“I imagine there will be something else that bubbles up within me that I’ll decide I’m curious about and want to explore,” she says.