50th Edition, News, News

South turns 50 – Principals lead the way

By Denebola
Published: February 2011


From an Appreciation by Social Studies chair Wayne Altree published in Denebola:

[He was] a man  whose virtues were those worth having and whose faults were venial.
He was the quintessential New Englander – a true-blue Yankee, prideful of his seafaring Cape Cod forebears. He was a great confabulist and his mise-en-scene has to be in the gathering of locals about the proverbial cracker-barrel of a Vermont general store. He was a passionate believer in the American way; and, despite attempts to be broad-minded, he traced its validity to New England roots. Sadly, in his later days, he grew uneasy in a country where Howard Stern, Michael Milkan, and Newt Gingrich waxed large, and Bill Gates became the richest man in history.
Davidson emerged from the usual New England hardscrabble background. At the age of eight he lost his father, and his widowed mother was left to rear, without assistance, four young children in the midst of the Great Depression. Don managed a university education, and in the job-scarce 1930s, took a position as a teacher. Thus began a long professional career as a teacher, coach, counselor, principal and university academic.
Not by temperament an intellectual, Davidson, nonetheless, respected the life of the mind. He read discursively and knew well the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, and Melville. His hero, of course, was John Dewey, our greatest philosopher. Davidson came to be powerfully affected by Dewey’s vision of the promise of American life and the role of education in its achievement. Davidson’s abiding guiding star was Dewey’s thought.
In Dewey’s model school, the student was not an empty vessel to be filled with inert ideas or received wisdom. Life was change and transformation, and the task of the learner and the teacher, together, was to find experimentally and pragmatically the insight and methods of thought to cope with the exigent future in a modern, democratic society.
No idea, value, principle was sacrosanct, all was open to rigorous, scientific probing. Survival demanded knowing and wrestling with a real world. The operative terms were growth and development. All this was axiomatic to Davidson.
Naturally, neither Dewey nor Davidson did much to change schooling in this country. Education has always been an intractably conservative institution to fortify the status quo. Davidson was saddened by the eclipse of Dewey’s reputation by a new current of “realism” in American thought which questions the possibility of man-made progress. However, he lived long enough to see a revival of interest in Deweyan ideas awakened by Richard Rorty, a Neo-Pragmatist and probably our foremost contemporary philosopher.
Donald Davidson was a rara avis, a remnant of a vanishing species. He was not an amoral hustler, fixer, careerist, elitist, zealot, inside dopester, nor meritocrat, but an honest man, un honnete homme, whose friends, in happy memory, cannot imagine him guilty of a cruel or unworthy act. —Wayne Altree, Chair NSHS Social Studies

“Of the transition from Newton High to Newton South Davidson writes, ‘We made minor mistakes. We tried many new procedures and rejected some, we had to adapt to the buildings, and it took a while for the many teachers and students who had been at Newton High to dispense with old loyalties and to form new ones. Newton [North]…had been, and is, one of the great secondary schools of American and it was not easy to branch off and leave cherished associations behind…However, very soon, we formed our own identity.’
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“a group of students, teachers, and parents [under Davidson’s leadership]…conducted a series of Saturday morning colloquia on various political and cultural problems. Many outstanding authorities were invited over a period and in an informal setting an excellent exchange resulted.”
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“Davidson also enjoyed a strong relationship with the faculty, ‘[They were] outstanding, grand, dedicated people—during a great period in education when we felt that we were moving in directions of national importance and that we were having an impact on bettering the educational process—and that NSHS was a national leader in all of this. It was a period of great enthusiasm.’

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