When I arrived at the Michigan State University College of Education in 1985, Cleo Cherryholmes was already an institution. Formally housed in political science, he had long focused his writing and teaching around issues in education and was well known to faculty and students there. We quickly became best of friends. Before long a deal was struck that brought him home to the college of ed riding on the reputation of his recently published book, Power and Criticism. There, while writing his other major work, Reading Pragmatism, he gleefully played the role of provocateur – challenging the most revered canons of the educational creed, and pushing theoretical exploration and intellectual play in a professional-school setting where theory was suspect and where the pursuit of educational improvement brought a tone of sobriety. He started a faculty-student study group that lasted for years, exploring a wide range of theoretical works, which more often than not revolved around his own twin intellectual poles of poststructuralism and pragmatism. It provided a great education for me, deluded as I was by my training in the positivist ethos of sociology. Not that he necessarily has won me over completely. But that never bothers Cleo, who would much rather engage in argument than win a convert. His impact on colleagues and students was less a matter of convincing them of his point than of modeling how to think theoretically about school and society.
But to focus on his engagement with ideas is to miss a lot of what has made Cleo such a wonderful colleague and friend, because he has always stirred the engaging talk into a rich stew of food, wine, and music. Cleo is an remarkably talented cook, and he knows you can't cook well without the help of good wine and music. My strongest memories of our time together take place at dinner in lovely settings: his home, where no meal was a success unless he set off the smoke alarm; the terrace of our villa in Provence, where we were both teaching in an MSU summer program; a patio overlooking the ocean in Cabo, the beach at Playa del Carmen, a cruise ship in the Greek Islands. These experiences serve as a reminder about the compelling possibilities of the academic life, which too often get lost in the earnest pursuit of journeyman publication and university politics.
I came to know Cleo in 2001 when I joined the faculty at Michigan State University. I only had a chance to interact with him a few short years before he retired. He was a "student" in my course designed to help faculty learn to teach online. Cleo was joy to interact with - quick of wit, staunch defender of pragmatism, and real sense of humor. I really learned a lot from him in those 2 years, and I thank him so much for everything he taught me.
Though I met him only briefly, I so enjoyed Cleo's massive intellect and political insights. His gentle nature and love of family were beacons of light in a sometimes dark world!
Cleo, a dear friend and mentor, thank you for EVERYTHING. You have given all of us grad students so much more than we can account for. Your wit, brilliance, and practicality will forever make me smile. Your mark is indelible. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with me, my hubby, and everyone else. Your spirit and your work will indeed live on. With loads of love, Kelly Merritt
I came to know Cleo in the late 1990s around a common interest in philosophical pragmatism. I greatly enjoyed our discussions and learned from them. When I had to leave most of my books behind in moving and downsizing to an apartment in Oakland in 2004, his book "Reading Pragmatism" was one of the few I kept. I will continue to learn from it.