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Robert Primack, Social Foundations professor, dies at 84

Published: Sep 14th, 2006 •• Category: Press Releases

Robert Primack, the mid-life career-changer who went on to become a respected member of COE’s faculty, died Aug. 12 in Gainesville. He was 84.

Students knew Primack as a no-nonsense critic of the educational system who urged future teachers to approach their work as “architects” rather than “carpenters.” Gainesville residents knew him as outspoken critic of current trends in politics and the media.

Only a few knew him as a former chicken farmer. Born in Philadelphia and raised in Chicago and New York, Primack moved to rural New Jersey at age 19 to raise poultry. Primack prospered as a farmer, acquiring a number of other farms, but grew restless in the business.

“Instead of paying attention to the business, I would go to New York as a drama critic for a local newspaper, or things like that, which had nothing to do with farming,” he said in a 1983 interview with UF’s Oral History Project. “So I decided to get out of it and go to school.”

(The full text of the interview is available here).

Primack sold his farms and headed to Monmouth College, where he triple-majored in English, education and history, then went on to Rutgers for a doctorate in history and philosophy of education.

Professor Rodman Webb recalls Primack as a firm believer in value of the examined life, who taught his students to attack their own assumptions.

“He was absolutely committed to knowledge, rationality, and intellectual rigor,” Webb said. “He believed these principles should guide every citizen in a democratic society.

Primack edited the book Issues in Social Foundations of Education and for many years published a monthly newsletter on issues in the field. After retirement, he became a frequent contributor of editorial letters to The Gainesville Sun and other newspapers, including The New York Times.

In fact, his last letter to the Sun ran in the Aug. 18 edition of the paper – six days after his death – alongside an editorial page memorial by Richard Scher, a professor of political science at UF.

“He was every bit the populist…willing to rail publicly against anyone or anything which smacked of discrimination, elitism, unfairness or stupidity,” Scher wrote.

A scholarship fund is being set up in Primack’s name. Contributions to the fund can be sent to the UF Foundation at P.O. Box 14425, Gainesville, FL 32604-2425, with “Primack Scholarship” in the memo line.

NOTE: Click here for Dr. Primack’s obituary and Guest Book page in the online version of The Gainesville Sun.