Herman Schneider Was a Noted Science Writer
Herman Schneider of West Tisbury, science writer, educator and co-author with his wife, Nina, of an innovative and widely used series of science textbooks for grade schools, died July 28 in Boston after a brief illness. He was 98.
Born in Kreshov, Poland, then part of Imperial Russia, Herman came to America in 1910 with his mother, Leah (Feldman), and two sisters. His father, Louis Schneider, had fled the Czar's army recruiters in 1904 and emigrated to New York where he raised the money to bring his family over. On the Lower East Side, they shared their cold-water flat with roomers while the family grew with the birth of a son and daughter. Herman proved to be an excellent student; but when he finished high school, his family expected him to go to work. One day, on his way home, he encountered his high school science teacher on the street. Horrified that his best student should be lost in the work force of New York, he virtually took Herman by the scruff of the neck and demanded that he go directly to the City College of New York (CCNY) and enroll. Herman frequently told that story as an example of how a chance meeting on the street had changed his life. This past year he completed a series of vignettes - a small boy's view of life in the Polish Stetl, the immigrant ship, and finally the streets of New York in 1910.
After graduating from City College, Mr. Schneider taught science at Dewitt Clinton and Stuyvesant High Schools as well as at CCNY. During World War II, he taught airplane mechanics and afterward served as science supervisor of the New York city elementary schools.
Following his first marriage, which ended in divorce, he married Nina Zimet in 1940. Recognizing the deficiencies in textbooks available for teaching science in grade schools in the 1950s, Herman and Nina created a series of textbooks that emphasized hands-on experiences with observation and measurement of natural phenomena appropriate to each elementary grade. Illustrations showed boys and girls, in a diversity of ethnic and racial types, exploring the world around them using simple materials easily obtained at home. Their textbooks were widely adopted, most importantly by the State Board of Education of California and Texas. Herman traveled extensively to promote and explain the philosophy of the texts and the methods of teaching they facilitated.
In 1980, after many years engaged in the literary and cultural life of New York, Herman and Nina gave up their house in Greenwich Village and bought an old cow barn off Music street in West Tisbury. They converted it from the proverbial sow's ear to a veritable silk purse. Herman's unique collection of antique medical and scientific instruments, their literary and scientific library and Nina's prize-winning garden speak eloquently of the creative spirit that animated their life together. Herman became an active participant in Vineyard discussion groups. He was an avid reader to the end of his life. Refusing to be deterred by progressive loss of sight, he kept in touch with the latest developments in politics and science through radio and recordings. His friends from Vineyard discussion groups took turns reading to him in the last days of his life, helping him keep up with recent discoveries in astrophysics and cosmology.
In addition to the textbook series, Herman Schneider wrote numerous books, many in collaboration with his wife, explaining science experiments for children and recent developments in science and technology for the layman. Most recently, he co-authored, with his brother Leo, The Harper Dictionary of Science in Everyday Language published in 1988 by Harper and Row.
Herman Schneider was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Association of Science Writers. In addition to his wife, he is survived by their children, Stephen, Susan and Lucy; numerous grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren, and his brother Leo. A son, Robert, by his first marriage, died this spring.