A Forty-Niner alumnus and former Fenwick teacher reflects on the heels of his 70th class reunion.
By Jack Spatafora, PhD. ’49
Everyone agrees that a good education is good for the nation. It gets thornier when it comes to defining a ‘good education.’ For 90 years, Fenwick High School has been addressing this issue the best way it knows how: by graduating hundreds of students each year equipped with both the academic and moral gifts needed to become the kind of citizens our complex times’ need.
From Aristotle to Aquinas to Jefferson, the ideal citizen is one who knows not only what to think but also how to think: clearly, logically, passionately. I experienced this at Fenwick, first as a student and then as a teacher. The day General MacArthur was accepting the surrender of Japan in September 1945, I was entering the old Scoville Avenue entrance as a freshman. Seven years later, I returned to teach U.S. History. That is experiencing Fenwick from both ends of the classroom!
Fenwick was much smaller and less equipped during the 1950s, and yet it was already sending some of the best and brightest into post-World War II America. Young men equipped and motivated with three of the academic tools most required for good citizenship: 1) facts, 2) ideas and 3) values:
- As a faculty, we had this funny notion that there were facts, not alternative facts, be it science, math or history. Facts are stubborn, objective things that the student needs to confront, process and use in reaching conclusions.
- When properly assessed and connected, facts become the essence of ideas. Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people.”
- There is a third feature to good citizenship: values. If facts and ideas are essential as a foundation, values are the super-structure to the edifice — including respect for truth, honor, country and God. The ideal citizen embraces each, both profoundly and efficaciously. For as Alexander Hamilton put it: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
Gazing back over these last 70 years, this is some of what I proudly remember. Both as a member of the Fenwick student body and later the Fenwick faculty. You might say I was twice blessed. Frankly, I say it all the time.
Read More: Friar Alumni who presently teach at Fenwick.
About the Author
A member of the Friars’ Forty-niner class, Jack Spatafora received a BA from Loyola and MA from Northwestern University, where he also completed doctoral work in history. Mr. Spatafora went on to chair and reform history curricula during a 40-year career in education. After teaching at Fenwick, he moved on to public secondary schools in Niles and Winnetka, IL, as well as Loyola University Chicago. He also has written professionally, penning network documentaries and executive speeches for U.S. presidents, ambassadors and Fortune 500 CEOs. Spatafora is a 2008 inductee into the Fenwick Hall of Fame. Now 89 years old, he resides in Park Ridge, IL, with his wife, Joan. Younger brother, Dick, also is a Friar (Class of 1956).