Barbara T. Bowman is a pioneer in the field of early childhood. Throughout her career, she has been an advocate for young children, applying knowledge about child development to her work integrating policy and practice. She is an internationally renowned expert, delivering speeches and lectures and holding local, national, and international leadership positions.
Bowman was influenced by a broad range of experiences. She was born and raised in the segregated African American community on the south side of Chicago, attended high school in Massachusetts, Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and graduate school at the University of Chicago. She lived in Denver, a small town in southern Iran, and in London before returning to Chicago. In addition, she has spent a considerable time visiting early childhood programs in West Africa and China and has made brief visits to many other countries and communities. These experiences taught her the value of culture and its role in guiding the worldview of young children.
In 1965, the federal government took notice of research indicating the importance of early childhood in human development and launched the Head Start program to provide early education to children from low-income families. Bowman, along with child psychologist Maria Piers, social worker Lorraine Wallach, and businessman and philanthropist Irving B. Harris, founded Erikson Institute to provide leadership training for Head Start teachers, social workers, nurses, and other professions working with young children. At that time little was known about how to apply new developmental knowledge to jump start school achievement. Further, few professionals had experience working with young children, particularly those from low-income homes, Erikson made it their mission to educate professionals to enter the burgeoning field of early childhood education.
“We knew that just being in preschool doesn’t make a difference in later achievement,” Bowman says. “What is learned is what makes the difference.”
As Erikson continued to grow, it integrated new research, new theories, and new practices into its courses. However, it kept its focus on early childhood development and the belief that all children deserve high-quality care and education. Bowman has played a leadership role around the world advocating for this vision.
While continuing to serve many roles at Erikson, including President, Bowman served as Chief Deputy for Early Childhood Education for the Chicago Public Schools. During the first term of Barack Obama’s presidency, Bowman served as a consultant to the U.S. Secretary of Education. Today, Bowman continues to strengthen programs for young children and families by serving on the boards and committees of numerous organizations, such as the Great Book Foundation and Chicago Public School. Additionally, she writes and presents at conferences, addressing issues such as the “cradle to prison pipeline” and the need for systemic changes to ensure equitable opportunities for low-income and minority children.
Throughout Erikson’s history, Bowman has been integral to both its leadership and day-to-day operations. She continues to serve as a board member and understands that an educated board is critical to Erikson’s mission.
Currently, Bowman teaches graduate students as the Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Development and serves as co-principal investigator of a project aimed at improving child-parent centers across three states.
For her, interacting with Erikson students is one of the most rewarding parts of her job. Through her teaching, she challenges students to think critically. Bowman asks her students to reflect on their own culture and life experiences as they try to understand and relate to the children and families different from themselves. Reflection is a core part of an Erikson education and Bowman notes that it is important in helping future early childhood leaders deepen their knowledge and skills.
“I love teaching; I’m a teacher at heart,” Bowman says. “We all learn from each other as we interact, which means my students teach me too.”
- MA in Education, University of Chicago
- BA, Sarah Lawrence College
Areas of Expertise
- Cultural influences on development
- Social justice
- Achievement gap
- Parent involvement
- 2015-Present – Board of Directors, Chicago Public Library
- 1980-82 – President of National Association for the Education of Young Children
- 1978-1993 – Director of Graduate Studies, Erikson Institute
- 2019- Bowman, B. T., Comer, J. P., & Johns, D. J. (2019). Addressing the African American Achievement Gap: Three Leading Educators Issue a Call to Act. In R. P. Cristina Gillanders, Spotlight on Young Children; Equity and Diversity. Washington, D.C: NAEYC.
- 2019 – Bowman, B. (2019). Programs and Policies Affecting Diverse Children and Families in Waslik, B., & Odom, S., Celebrating 50 Years of Child Development Research. Baltimore: Brooks.
- 2019 – Bowman, B. (2019). Enhancing Children’s Outcomes since Eager to Learn. In Reynolds, A., & Temple, J., Sustaining Early Childhood Learning Gains. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- See more
- 2021 AERA Annual Conference
- 2020 AERA Annual Conference
- 2020 – Chen, J.Q., McNamee, G., Ginet, L., Moreno, A., & Bowman, B. (2020, November). Three Big Ideas: Early teaching concepts to address developmental needs, attend to children’s well-being, and lead to deeper learning. On demand, online session at the Annual Conference of NAEYC
- See more
Related Professional Experience
- 2002-Present – Irving B. Harris Professor of Child Development, Erikson Institute
- 2009 – Consultant to the U.S. Secretary of Education
- 2004-2012 – Chief Officer, Early Childhood Education (prekindergarten and kindergarten), Chicago Public Schools
- See more