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Monday, April 12, 2010

Book Review: The Headmaster: Frank L. Boyden of Deerfield by John McPhee


The Headmaster: Frank L. Boyden of Deerfield is a short biography of the headmaster of the famous Massachusetts prep school for over 60 years. He took the school from 14 students to a world-renowned institution with a reputation for preparing boys excellently for college, even the hard-knocks students who had been expelled from Exeter, Phillips, Groton, and other schools of its ilk.

Written with Mr. McPhee's masterful skill, this is a top-notch biography. Mr. McPhee is brilliant at being a true master of the word but not coming across as the least bit pretentious, which is very appropriate for the story of Frank Boyden who still drove his horse and buggy for fun through the 1950s. Although a graduate of Amherst himself, Mr. Boyden was no snob and he went to great lengths to be sure that as Deerfield's reputation and fame grew, the local farm boys still could go to the school for free. An indefatigable man with an unerring instinct for education and discipline, Mr. Boyden is to be admired and remembered.

One amusing note: this book was written in 1966, and already there were laments about teaching to the tests, about students loading up on academics at the expense of extracurriculars to impress colleges, and a regret with the turn secondary education was taking, as solely a means to an end: the ivy-league. And I think if you interviewed the president of Deerfield today, 44 years later, I think you'd hear the exact same concerns. Those problems have only worsened in the intervening years.

1 comment:

christa @ mental foodie said...

Oh thanks for the review! I remember the title from somewhere and was intrigued by this book. However my library doesn't have it so didn't get around to reading it. So I appreciate your review!