50th Edition, News

Geer (1965-1973)

By Denebola
Published: February 2011

From a January 2011 interview:

It may seem odd that I came to public school Newton South from a private, boarding school experience.
I was raised in NYC, my Father had published Fortune magazine and was part of that early creative group that did Architectural Forum. He had become the vice president of Time, Inc and was also responsible for the influential film, Crusade in Europe.
Attending Harvard, I ended up for family reasons working my way, and becoming very interested in teaching young people but took the path of least resistance and accepted a position in English at the boarding school I had attended, Lawrenceville School, near Princeton.
* * *
Lawrenceville began in 1810. Good as the faculty was in many ways it was not all that aware of the school’s history. Like Princeton, it was more southern than it knew or acknowledged. For example. I discovered disconcerting ties to slavery persisting into the mid-twentieth century.
The Lewisville Road, behind the school was not a county or township road (only paved in the Sixties), it had been a dirt road since the Civil War with ramshackle houses on the edge of the Lawrenceville campus. Like Princeton where the Southern students’ slaves lived, the people who lived in these little shacks, all black were all employees of Lville.
We had a big laundry, black women did the hard work. Their children had no place in the hot summers, so I had the Lawrenceville pool opened for them and taught the kids to swim, despite the usual complaints.
* * *
Why Newton South? Well, I was a maverick from School Year 1– all my life, an odd ball in that sense. I came in the back door to residential education, but my experience there led me to believe with the resources private schools had, with few exceptions, the education they provided was a disgrace.
These institutions were not using their resources properly—in my judgment they were mis-educating youth, providing a very narrow, very uncritical, narcissistic experience. It seemed to me we could learn more if we were helping others.
We set up a Ford Foundation project in nearby Trenton, a summer school taking the worst (black) middle school kids and teachers. We
brought in interesting people, inspired and supported them. The project later expanded to make a larger summer school project supported by Ford, minority kids, mostly black in 1963 and 1964. We got private colleges like Princeton and Yale and Wesleyan to look at kids from inner city schools and poor rural black schools from the South.
It was a spectacular faculty – gave them a marvelous summer, read and wrote, gave them exposure they did not have in their high schools; so those Trenton kids hit that first year in college running, they had a chance.
The Trenton work got me to Newton because, as it happened, Dr. Charles Brown who had been a nationally-recognized superintendent had gone to the Ford Foundation, which had supported those Upward-Bound style programs, and when he heard his old system Newton was looking for leadership at South, Chuck had me for an interview.

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