As the summer of 2022 draws to a close, families with children at home are once again turning to the pace of school.
Whether public, private or at home, it would be hard to overstate the importance of teachers in our lives. Many have a favorite – and some of us have several.
Dating back to 1797, Deerfield Academy in Deerfield, Mass., remains one of the oldest preparatory schools in the nation. Over the past century, its alumni include dozens of congressmen, industry titans, writers, actors and Olympians.
But for a man in the early 1900s, however – and if that man had not seen a single verse from the prophet Jeremiah on a particularly difficult day seven years into his term – the school might not have -be never survived.
Every story has a beginning, and this one begins on a hot summer day just over 120 years ago.
By the time Frank Boyden got off the train at Deerfield Station on August 12, 1902, his new school was on its last legs. With just fifteen students enrolled, the 22-year-old graduate from nearby Amhurst College wasn’t expecting much – and he wasn’t planning on staying too long. In fact, he had simply accepted the role in order to bridge the financial gap between his undergraduate studies and law school.
“It’s a real issue whether the academy needs a new director or an undertaker,” one of the trustees told him on the first day.
Short in stature, Boyden was accustomed to low expectations. A few years into his new role, he was picking up scraps of paper while walking along a sidewalk near the school when a woman nearly ran into him.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Boyden,” she said. “I didn’t notice you.”
“It’s okay,” he replied. “Nobody ever does.”
Yet by the time the former headmaster died aged 92 on April 25, 1972, after having held the post for more than 64 years, it was said that Boyden knew as much about boys aged 14 to 18 years old than anyone alive.
So what made Frank Boyden special – and how and why did he last so long?
First, Frank Boyden would say his 65-year-old wife has a lot to do with it. Frank and Helen Sears Child were inseparable. In fact, Helen taught at Deerfield for over 61 years. They were a team – and a winning team, at that.
Second, Frank knew that the secret to keeping boys out of trouble was to make sure they didn’t get bored.
“There’s nothing in the world like good hard work,” he used to say. The students – many of whom came from privileged families – were all given tasks, whether it was raking leaves, cutting grass or cleaning and washing dishes. “He believed in wearing out the boys,” wrote his biographer John McPhee.
Third, Frank Boyden knew the boys needed to be watched – and often wanted to talk too. Instead of sitting in an office with a door, the manager set up a card table in the hallway and worked from there throughout the day. He could sense the turmoil on a child’s face and find an excuse to sit down with him for a chat. He believed in rules – but said, “A boy is more important than any rule.”
Finally, Boyden lived and led by other principles that are practical and applicable to parents today:
Never give a boy bad news at night. Never threaten. Never shame publicly; always chastise in private.
But even men as stable and steady as Boyden can hit dry spots, and seven years after his time at Deerfield the 29-year-old had grown weary of the slow progress he was making at school. An attractive and more lucrative job offer reached her. What does he have to do ? He was ready to accept it – but wasn’t sure. So he did what he often did when trying to make a decision. He opened his Bible.
His eyes first fell on Jeremiah 42:10: “If you still remain in this land, I will build you up and not overthrow you, and I will plant you and not uproot you.
Frank Boyden decided to stay. Shortly before his death, he found papers with his handwriting dating from 1906, summarizing his philosophy of education:
The object of the school should be the development of character, to help each pupil to do what he is best suited for.
“Not bad,” he said. “I was ahead of things, wasn’t I? I didn’t know I could do it.
But the Lord did – just as He believes in you, no matter how much effort or calling He placed in your life.