Cosby Show Worth a Million

Photo: Rod Searcy

The Cos was in rare form, from the ankle bands of his cardinal-colored sweatpants to the tip of his white Stanford baseball cap. And the capacity audience in MemAud loved it.

“I was told in kindergarten that if I could spell and do addition, subtraction, division and multiplication, that’s all that was needed,” said comedian Bill Cosby. “When I got to third grade I thought that I was finished. Then grown people started adding stuff—unnecessary stuff—like decimal points.”

In a benefit performance May 23 for the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP), Cosby recounted his uneven odyssey through the trials of geometry and subjunctive clauses, calculus and Spanish modifiers. He also called for better parenting and more preparation for teachers heading out to challenge children who “don’t know love.” He brought down the house and raked in more than $1 million for STEP teachers who promise to work in schools that serve low-income children. In addition to his performance, the daylong event included afternoon sessions for local educators and a dinner hosted by TV news anchor Tom Brokaw.

“I was blown away by how the Bay Area community came forward when they had an opportunity to make a contribution,” says Deborah Stipek, dean of the School of Education. The amount raised is significant, says Pat Nicholson, associate dean for external relations. “Unlike the School of Medicine or School of Engineering, we get very few million-dollar chunks.”

The school will use the funds to provide Mary Forchic Fellowships, named in honor of the sixth-grade teacher whom Cosby says made a critical difference in his life. This fall, the first 10 students will receive $20,000 each to defray the $30,000 cost of the STEP program, which leads to a master’s degree and a teaching credential. Cosby telephoned the University president’s office more than a year ago, offering to donate his comedic services. Within minutes of that call, Stipek’s phone was ringing. “President Hennessy called and said, ‘You’ll never guess who I just talked to,’” she recalls.

As plans for “Cosby on Campus” evolved, workshops were organized to explore issues of literacy, tutoring, classroom technology and the impact of race on achievement. Steve Pinkston, one of a handful of African-American teachers at San Jose’s all-male Bellarmine College Preparatory, was one of 150 Bay Area teachers, principals and community activists who were invited to attend. “The piece that touched me the most was a small-group discussion [about racism], where members of my group were willing to let down their guards, listen and honestly share with others,” he says.

At the close of his performance, Cosby asked teachers in the audience to stand. Then he called for students to identify themselves. Then parents and professors. “All right!” he said, heading for the wings. “I got a standing ovation.” One that will ripple through the Ed School for years to come.