Monthly Archives: August 2016

A Tribute to My High School History Teacher, Dr. Doug Frutiger

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Dr. Frutiger’s note to me in my senior yearbook. It reads, “John, The daily handshake, the warm frown and the incessant ‘Why not, Frutiger’ or ‘No way, Frutiger.’ What will I do without them? Actually, I’m looking around the room and find that you’ve walked out of class. I wonder where you are. Well–maybe I’ll be OK without you next year. Hope you find something of value at Furman.” -Doug Frutiger

I graduated from the old North Fulton High School off Peachtree Road in Atlanta, Georgia in 1988. North Fulton ceased to exist when the Atlanta City School System, in all its wisdom, decreed its death through a merger with our bitter rival, Northside High School. This merger happened in the early 90s, and the result was North Atlanta High School. I know nothing about North Atlanta, but I am told it is an excellent school.

It must be, because many of my teachers–and we sat under exceptional teachers at North Fulton–went on to teach at North Atlanta for many years. I have especially fond memories of Mrs. Pringle, my algebra teacher; Mrs. Wright, my English teacher; and Mr. (now Dr.) Frutiger, my history teacher.

I was enrolled in North Fulton’s International Baccalaureate program, along with 25 or so other students, during my junior and senior year. I had Dr. Frutiger for world history junior year; economics and history of Canada and Latin America senior year. IB has always been unique and innovative, but it was seriously so during the 80s when I was in school. Dr. Frutiger was among the most inspiring teachers I have ever had in all my years lugging a backpack to class as a student.

He and I remain in contact through Facebook. He is always encouraging whenever I post updates on my writing and publishing. He is likely surprised I amounted to anything. The day I asked him to sign my senior yearbook, my good buddy John Speaks (currently a State Department official based in Turkey) and I decided to head off campus to secure a couple of C0-Colas at the Tenneco station adjacent to campus. This, of course, was a serious breach of school policy (we were likely inspired by Ferris Bueller). But Dr. Frutiger, understanding and merciful as he was, saw the humor in it. Luckily for us. We were set to graduate in a matter of days.

I’m not sure if he remembers this or not, but I remember the first day of class with him at the beginning of my 11th grade year. He gave a lecture on “Criteria for Civilization.” He listed 10 general criteria on the board and then we spent the remainder of class discussing them. I will never forget that lecture he gave in the fall of 1986. It challenged the most basic of my assumptions. As a teenager, I had always considered “civilization” in purely Western terms, but he masterfully argued that civilization is borne out of humanity, not a particular ethnicity or culture. It was the first time I ever thought outside of my Ameri-centric perspective. From the first day of class, and for the next two years, he challenged my thinking, helped me improve my writing, gave me the tools on how to think historically, and demonstrated by his example the life of a scholar and a thinker. He was the first teacher I ever had who was pursuing a PhD in history, and I remember wanting to be just like him–a teacher, a learner, a writer, and a historian.

Dr. Frutiger taught for many years after the joy of having me as his student (see the above note for an idea of how wonderful I was). He inspired hundreds, thousands of students by his life and example. I cannot thank him enough for his labors, and I hope that I can be an inspiration to my students in some small way like he was to me.

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Considering Tocqueville’s Democracy in America in Historical Context

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Thomas Cole [Public domain], “The Arcadian, or Pastoral State,” via Wikimedia Commons

Looking for a new abridgment of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America? Then look no further. You will have to wait until early November for the release from Lexham Press, but my Democracy in America: A New Abridgment for Students will (hopefully) fill a need. Tocqueville’s Democracy is two volumes–the first volume was published in 1835 and the second followed in 1840. The entire work is about 305,000 words–my abridgment consists of 150,000 words. Many abridgments of Democracy are far too short, so my contribution is designed to offer an accessible abridgment that isn’t cut to the quick.

This September, I will be giving a lecture at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan entitled “How to Read Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.” Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) is one of the most recognized names among readers of American political science, philosophy, and history. Most people who are familiar with his name also know that he wrote one of the most important books of modern times dealing with American social ideas and institutions—Democracy in America (1835/1840). While Tocqueville’s name is well known, and his book is frequently referenced and quoted, many who attempt to read the two-volume work find themselves disoriented in what seems to them a howling wilderness of minutiae and esotericism. Still others labor within the work as though it were a diamond mine, hacking away at it in search of usable quotes to deploy for narrow ideological purposes, or to cast Tocqueville as a prophet with warnings for present-day Americans to heed his clairvoyant wisdom. Finally, there are others who simply rely on experts to break it down into bite-sized pieces, in order that they may understand the gist of Tocqueville’s classic before moving on to more recent (and comprehensible) books.

Like any book, we should read Tocqueville’s Democracy with its historical context in mind. Tocqueville wrote his work as an outside observer, not as an American. He wrote as a critical bystander, not as an admirer. And he wrote as one who saw first hand the effects of revolution on his family and his country. Furthermore, he was describing a snapshot of an America that is long gone—Jacksonian America, to be precise. And also, Tocqueville thought of New England as the frame of reference for America. New England left a deep impression on Tocqueville, and so he saw most things outside of New England in relative terms.

Tocqueville’s Democracy is a classic for good reasons. It is an historical artifact, but it is not valuable only as such. But to fully appreciate, grasp, and utilize the work, we must understand how to receive it in our own times. When we join historical with philosophical thinking in our chewing of Democracy, then we may find ourselves most ready to digest and absorb it.

If you’re in Grand Rapids on September 29, drop by the Acton Institute for a noon lecture and Q&A. Would love to see you!