Learning about the Big 3: Facts, Ideas and Values

A Forty-Niner alumnus and former Fenwick teacher reflects on the heels of his 70th class reunion.

By Jack Spatafora, PhD. ’49

In addition to reforming curricula, Fenwick alumnus Jack Spatafora, PhD. was a White House speech writer.

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!

Jack Spatafora as a Fenwick junior in 1948.

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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.”
Mr. Spatafora’s Fenwick Faculty photo from 1957.

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).

12 Replies to “Learning about the Big 3: Facts, Ideas and Values”

  1. Mr. Spatafora-
    I used your Essay Fridays as a springboard to complete a rigorous English major at NIU and doctorates at the U of Idaho and NIU.
    Don’t for a minute underestimate the benefits of the challenges you hurled at us! You set a fast pace and dared us to keep up.
    I am glad you are not gone and assure you that you are anything but forgotten.

  2. In a previous report on Jack, he revealed that he was so nervous before teaching a class at Fenwick
    that he got queasy. Ironically, as his student, he
    impressed me as the most polished, confident and
    dynamic teacher I ever experienced at Fenwick and beyond . To this day I still recall that while in his
    classroom, I would fantasize that this guy would be
    a brilliant trial lawyer!!! Dear Jack, thanks for the
    memories!!!
    P.S. Please give my regards to your brother Dick
    who was my classmate in the Class of ’56.

  3. Jack
    I have you to blame. Some 60 years ago you sparked my interest in history. I am now burdened with a library containing hundreds of books covering every period of history. While I have been diligent in reading them, I don’t think I will be able to finish all of them even if I should live beyond 100.
    I will never forget the big mistake I made in your class back in 1958. In discussing WWII you asked why Churchill favored invading Italy over landing in northern France. I replied that Churchill knew the Italians were a pushover. I surprised you with that.

  4. Jack
    I am an alum from class of ’58. I remember helping move you and your wife from the apartment on Austin ave. in ’55. Also, I had the pleasure of being part of the stage play “Stalag 17” which you were the director. An true honor to know you and thank you for all you did for me.

    1. The 1958 Fenwick performance of “Stalag 17” (under Jack’s direction) was such a memorable event that I was prompted to have a brick installed in the school’s plaza area in memory of the participants in the production.

  5. Jack I had the fortune and pleasure of having you as my American History mentor at Fenwick I am an alum class of 1958. You were always after us to think deeper than just the date of an historical occurrence and making us think of the actual reasons behind the dates.

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