With all the things that were accomplished by Chris De Prospo, with all the leadership roles he held, and with all the lives he touched, to have known him is to come away with the knowledge of his very singular talent—that he was above all a teacher. His crowning contribution to the field of special education is documented not only in the reading of his impressive vita but, more importantly, in the lives of his students and friends—the two nouns are inseparable when talking about Chris.
Chris De Prospo was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1910 of immigrant parents. He rose from teaching elementary school and special education classes in the New York City Public Schools in the 1930s to be Supervisor of the Bureau of Children with Retarded Mental Development in New York City, and became full professor and head of the Department of Special Education at the City College of New York in the 1960s.
Dr. De Prospo helped to lead the postwar movement to reform the diagnosis and treatment of mental retardation according to more humane standards. He was elected president of the American Association on Mental Deficiency in 1957 and was the first nonmedical doctor to head the association since it was founded in 1876. Dr. De Prospo was appointed to the New York State's Commission of the Department of Education's Council on Handicapped Children in 1959; invited to give the keynote address at the historic 1960 London Conference on the Scientific Study of Mental Retardation; and named general advisor in education and rehabilitation to President Kennedy's Panel on Mental Retardation in 1962.
In his impressive and forward-looking Presidential Address, delivered in Dallas, Texas, on April 18, 1958, Dr. De Prospo said of the Association:
As public and private agencies become more interested and involved with the area of our concern, we must insure that we are ready to answer all requests for information, advice, and leadership. This cannot be done without a continuing, professional body, experienced in the field and devoting full time to the task. I am confident that this Association is ready and eager to accept the responsibility of being the outstanding and supreme professional body in the field of mental deficiency in the world. …
This imposes upon all of us the promulgation of a spirit of unity and mutual respect. Unity does not imply that people will not differ, but by being at heart on the side of the mentally deficient from whatever position—through discussion and respectful and deliberative agreement, or even compromise—united action can be taken for the benefit of all the mentally deficient.
He taught special education classes in Brooklyn's public elementary and secondary schools for 13 years before being drafted in the U.S. Navy in 1943, where he served as an aerographer. After being honorably discharged, he returned to Columbia Teachers College under the G.I. Bill and obtained his Master's degree. He later attended New York University, where he received his EdD in 1960. After a 17-year career at The City College of New York, he retired, moving in 1969 to Southern Connecticut State College, where he served as professor of special education and later chair of the Special Education Department until his retirement in 1983.
Dr. De Prospo published widely in journals devoted to the study of mental retardation; served as consultant for programs on mental retardation to numerous hospitals and public school systems; and mentored many graduate students, who have succeeded him to leadership positions in the field of special education.
Dr. De Prospo was a pioneer in special education and an important leader in our Association.