John Tyler Plans To Retire

tyler-large-300x215After spending over three decades in our community, Dr. John Tyler, director of de Menil Gallery and the current holder of the Davison Chair in History, has decided to retire at the end of this year.

Dr. Tyler began his teaching career at Groton in the fall of 1978, and  has made a tremendous impact as a rigorous and inspiring history teacher. When he was head of the History Department, he believed that students should learn about religions other than Christianity and ancient civilizations outside Greece and Rome. Therefore, he helped design the Sacred Texts course, which replaced the original ancient history course limited to Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and the Bible.

At the same time, he also points out that though changes should be made, they should not be made “for changes’ sake.”  With this guideline in mind, in his classroom, he has maintained an emphasis on the chronological framework of history in order to show the evolution of historical trends. “There are schools that do not offer chronological history courses: for example, they would talk about Enlightenment for two weeks, and then skip straight ahead to the Industrial Revolution for another two weeks. Yet, for a high school history course, I think it is really important to show the students the connections between historical events.”

In addition to teaching, Dr. Tyler has also listed his experiences of running the de Menil Gallery and being a dorm head as his “Groton highlights. “When he was in charge of the boys’ dorm currently known as O’Donnell’s during his first ten years at Groton, he had a great time because the job allowed him to have frequent interactions with students. He recalls, “back in those days, fewer people used headphones. So there were times when I was sitting quietly, trying to read a book, and suddenly someone would just turn up a stereo from three or four floors above me.”

Of course, Dr. Tyler has witnessed more significant changes at Groton other than the decline of stereos. First of all, he has noticed that the girls at Groton have found their voices here. When he first arrived, there were twice as many boys as girls. As a result, girls were less willing to speak in class, while boys dominated the leadership positions. For instance, when it seemed that a girl would be elected Senior Prefect, the boys would gather together and decide to all vote for the boy candidate (which led to the policy that there would always be one Senior Prefect chosen from each gender). Yet, shortly after the gender ratio reached 1-to-1, the situation significantly improved. He also expressed his appreciation for Groton Girls’ Alliance: “In the last decades, not only Groton but also the whole country has to some degree gradually backed away from the positive meanings of the term ‘feminist.’ Thus I’m certainly happy to see that the females at Groton are recovering their confidence and courage to stand up for themselves.”

Aside from coeducation, Dr. Tyler has found the increasing diversity at Groton greatly beneficial to the community. No longer is Groton heavily populated by those from suburban Boston and the Upper East Side. He comments, “The increase in diversity—in geographical diversity, ethnic diversity as well as economic diversity—certainly has enriched the community, because here we learn not only in class but also outside the classroom from our interactions with others.”

Although Groton keeps evolving as time elapses, the strong sense of community that has remained the same is what has truly tied Dr. Tyler to the school. “Since we have such a small community, people come back very frequently with their new stories—and you never know how these stories will surprise you with delight.” Groton was a match for him with its blend of high academic standards and the caring spirit of an Episcopalian school.

As he talked about his future plans, he said he looks forward to traveling year-round. Yet, his main focus will be the remaining three volumes of The Correspondence of Thomas Hutchinson. In fact, he started working with the letters of Thomas Hutchinson when he was writing his dissertation on the economic and political history of Boston at the time of the American Revolution.

“I started reading these letters because they were one of the key sources for me. They are highly readable, yet interestingly, they have never been published—because Thomas Hutchinson, as the last Loyalist governor of Massachusetts, picked the ‘wrong’ side. However, he was undoubtedly an intelligent and sensible man, even though he looked at the same circumstances as the Patriots yet came to a very different view. Therefore, I think this book will serve as a good reminder that there are two sides to the American Revolution as well as to anything else in this world.”

Unfortunately, at Groton, he has not had much time to work on the research, and the first volume took fifteen years. “I’m not going to live long enough for that rate,” said Dr. Tyler, “so I have to step up the tempo. Two or three years a volume would be ideal.”

When asked to sum up his experience at Groton, Dr. Tyler remarked that he had been lucky because it is a “luxury” nowadays to be able to do what one feels passionate about every day. “If I am bored at the end of the day, then I have only myself to blame—because I can pretty much talk about anything I want to,” he beamed and went on, “and again, what more can I ask for after meeting so many wonderful people around here?”

“It’s hard to decide when to retire,” remarked Dr. Tyler, “but I guess it has to happen at some point. Plus, the longer I put it off, the harder it would be to complete the project. So, I guess it’s about time.”

Yet no matter where he goes, he will carry with him a part of Groton, together with our great respect for our history teacher.

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