Ernest L. Boyer, 1928-1995


In 1981 Yale President A. Bartlett Giamatti and I invited Ernest L. Boyer to serve as one of the first outside consultants who evaluated the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute. After a two-day visit to New Haven, he wrote:
I must report...that the impact of the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute far exceeded my expectations. My own past experience (including three years as director of the Santa Barbara Coordinated Education Project) has left me suspicious of such ventures. School-college collaboration frequently is either ceremonial with "showcase" luncheons or bureaucratic with endless planning sessions. Rarely does the program get to the heart of the matter helping teachers and advancing the quality of education. The Yale-New Haven teacher project is a dramatic exception to this rule.
The next year President Giamatti invited him to deliver the first President's Lecture at Yale, in which he spoke of the study of the American high school that he was to release a year later. In an interview in Change magazine, he responded to a question about why partnerships between high schools and colleges were not more widespread:
Part of the barrier, part of the lag, may mean that colleges still haven't confronted the priorities. I think there are two other problems, however. One has to do with structure and one has to do with resources. The truth is that we tend to operate within the organizational units we've created....But the issue we are talking about school-college partnerships breaks out of traditional structures, and without bridges that are sustained, we could have meetings, great enthusiasm, but when it's all over there will be no machinery to keep the agenda alive. Second, resources tend to flow into the structure we've created. And so very often there is neither structure nor resources to carry on the program.
At the 1983 national conference, "Excellence in Teaching: A Common Goal," held at Yale with support from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, of which Boyer had become President, he joined President Giamatti and me in presenting the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute as a case study of how university-school partnerships can strengthen teaching and improve learning in the nation's schools. There he said:
Perhaps to my greatest surprise, I discovered that this did involve, in fact, the most distinguished faculty at Yale. I found it hard to believe, but I discovered that it was a blue-chip commitment by senior professors....This was just a powerful experience, and I think I'm old and calloused enough to know when I'm being had. We all look faculty in the eye, and they look us in the eye. And frankly, I became a true believer.
He added, "I spent hours with the teachers who had participated, and they have in fact shaped the agenda....So it is a genuinely shared curriculum that is shaped."

On numerous occasions Boyer urged that the Institute provided a model that "might be established in every region of the country." When the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund in 1990 announced its endowment challenge grant to the Institute, he wrote that this program "brings the resources of the university to teachers in the schools in a way that recognizes their own professional stature. The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute is leading the way to improve teaching and education." The last time I saw him, only a few days before his death, I told him we had completed that challenge, and he responded with a knowing grin.

In one of the last interviews he granted, he reiterated themes he had stressed for fifteen years:

Excellence in education means excellence in teaching. Any new vision of what schooling should involve must be in the heads and hearts of teachers. They're the ones who meet with children every day. It doesn't come in a report from the Carnegie Foundation. It doesn't come from a state regulation. It can't be mandated. I think it comes from teachers who have a sense of wholeness, who are well-informed and who understand that the children will look at them every day to see the kind of lives they live...We should not be preoccupied with structures and bureaucracies, but rather with classrooms and with children. People come ahead of procedures. And so we should not pick up the notion that there is a quick fix or an easy panacea that can make our school better. These are strategies which are distracting, if not dangerous, and diverting in their implications. Rather, school renewal is going to come out of the continuous engagement of those at the local level.
In a eulogy given at the memorial service held in January at Princeton, Ernest Boyer, Jr. emphasized his father's belief in connections.
It was...obvious to him...that there is far, far more that unifies all of us human beings than that separates us...Thus it was that his strongest impulse...was always to make connections. He took it as his daily task to form bridges. Bridges between ideas. Bridges between institutions. And most important of all, bridges between people. He was persuaded that there could be no greater task for schools, for parents, or for anyone else concerned with the future of the human race, than to teach children how much we all have in common and how much depends on the recognition that we are all in this together...

­ J.R.V.


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