Will I Learn to Read Today?: Ernest Boyer's Early Life and Career in Higher Education
Moser, Drew, Vitae Scholasticae
Scholar, administrator, education reformer, devoted Christian, husband and parent, Ernest Boyer (1928-1995) was one of the most influential leaders in higher education of the twentieth century. Boyer held prominent positions of educational leadership spanning three decades. As former chancellor of the State University of New York System (1971-1977), United States Commissioner of Education during the Carter administration (1977-1979), and President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (1979-1995), Boyer's career was devoted to public education in America. This paper will explore Boyer's early life, the development of his Christian faith, and the primary influences during his formative years. It will also explore his formal education and will identify key individuals and events that shaped his childhood, young adulthood, and chosen career. Also, the paper examines his brief stint as a Brethren pastor, his graduate studies at the University of Southern California, and first role as a professor and administrator at Upland College (a small, Brethren college in California) to observe how a diverse educational pedigree and professional life shaped Boyer the scholar and administrator.
Early Life (1928-1944)
The years of childhood are undoubtedly formative. Trajectories are set. People and experiences mark one's mind and soul, forming belief systems, worldviews, passions, and interests. Ernest Boyer's childhood is no exception. The people and experiences of "Ernie' the young boy instilled distinct values, formed salient beliefs, and fostered a commitment to service, a strong work ethic, and a love for learning. Together, they prepared Boyer to be a pivotal leader in education in the latter half of the twentieth century.
Parents. Ernest Boyer was born on September 13, 1928 to Clarence William Boyer and Ethel Marie Boyer in Dayton, Ohio. Ernest entered a family with modest means and a hopeful future. His father Clarence had been a bright student with a wide range of interests. He finished high school a rare feat for members of the "Plain Church" (a Brethren denomination with Pennsylvania Dutch Roots). According to Ernest Boyer's wife Kay, Clarence would have loved to attend college, but "that was pretty much unheard of. He then became a business man. And he was successful. But he was totally self-educated ... a Renaissance man. He knew everything." (1)
As a young bachelor, Clarence started an office supply business. His father, William, founded a mission in Dayton which employed a young woman named Ethel. Clarence and Ethel fell in love, and were married on April 2nd, which also happened to be their joint birthday. (2) Starting and sustaining a business at the advent of the Great Depression was a risky endeavor. Boyer's parents ran their business out of their home. (3) It was truly a family affair, remembers Boyer. It took "the effort of the entire family to make it pay. Some of my earliest memories are working with my brother in the basement where we packed boxes full of greeting cards." (4)
When Clarence was not building his business, he was pursuing numerous hobbies. For example, he had an insatiable curiosity illustrated in his pursuit of a life goal to meet Albert Einstein. He traveled to Princeton to meet the renowned physicist to pose an equation to him with deep theological implications: nuclear weapons plus X = peace. At Princeton, he waited in the hallway until Einstein emerged from his office. Boldly walking up to the world's most popular genius, he introduced himself and posed his query. (5) Unfortunately, no historical records provide Einstein's response.
Clarence and Ethel were devout Christians, actively involved in the Brethren church. Clarence served as a lay minister, preaching often. (6) Devout though they were, they refused to blindly adhere to tradition in the practice of their faith. Fred Holland, who married Ernest's cousin, Grace, remembers Clarence as a bit of a rebel in the church. …