Piecing together Barlow
In his engaging new book, a former Greeley student uncovers a recluse teacher’s life long gifts
BY MICHAEL KOHN - InsideChappaqua.com
Without a doubt, any person who values the importance of a quality education can look back and name at least one teacher who was an important influence in life. Most of us can remember that one great teacher we considered a treasured gift without whom we would not be the people we are today. So when I was asked to interview Lawrence Meyers about his biography of Edwin Barlow, who taught mathematics at Horace Greeley for 35 years, my first reaction was less than enthusiastic. Okay, so some former student wrote about his favorite teacher. I thought I would read a couple of chapters to get a feel for the book so I could conduct a coherent interview. However, when I picked the book up, I couldn’t put it down. For anyone who has ever loved a teacher, “Teacher of the Year—The Mystery and Legacy of Edwin Barlow” is a must read.
More remarkable than merely crafting an excellent book, Meyers, now a television writer/producer and entrepreneur, had almost no facts about Barlow’s life upon which to write other than the school memories of students and Barlow’s teaching colleagues. When Barlow died, he left no written record, had almost no possessions and had severed contact with his family decades earlier. He never married and had no children. His was a truly monastic life without close friends. The man was totally defined by his vocation—he was a teacher.
According to Meyers, Barlow was influenced by the “categorical imperative” of Immanuel Kant and the teachings of Aquinas. The fundamental thrust of Barlow’s life was finding God, not so much in the religious sense, but in discovering one’s true self and one’s true mission in life. By using reason and intellect, the gifts given to him by God, Barlow found his mission, his vocation—teaching; and devoted his life to becoming the most perfect teacher he could be. Teaching became his sacred duty.
Meyers deftly assembles the missing pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that was Barlow and constructs a portrait which leads us to an understanding of what made this mysterious man tick, including the underpinnings of his controversial teaching methods, which often included berating his students.Without sugarcoating the potential damage that may have caused some, Meyers portrays a man who believed it was his duty to impart his knowledge to his students, to make them understand that education is not a choice, but a serious business.
I asked Meyers if he found any irony in the fact that he learned so many important life lessons from a recluse. “In looking over how he ran his classroom, instruction was self-directed. He empowered students to come to conclusions and make those final conclusions on their own. For example, he never really said he was available for afterschool help. If you had the fortitude, you could go. He would be there. You would receive the award of enlightenment if you went,” said Meyers. For Barlow, mathematics was life; one equation, one solution.
Meyers raises as many questions as he answers. Perhaps this is the legacy of Edwin Barlow. The enigma and mystery of this “teacher of the year” will surely make you think.
MICHAEL KOHN is a contributing editor at Inside Chappaqua Magazine.
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One of New York's Enduring Mysteries Solved
New Book Release, Teacher of the Year, Follows 10-Year Investigation into Legendary Teacher's Mysterious Past
Chappaqua, New York (PRWEB) May 4, 2009 -- For 35 years, the profound, explosive classroom methods of the beloved and feared instructor, Edwin "Blackie" Barlow (1922-1990), dazzled students at Horace Greeley High School. During that time, he buried any trace of his redemptive life story behind a set of ever-shifting personas.
Now, Lawrence Meyers, a veteran television writer-producer ("Picket Fences", "The Pretender", "The Outer Limits", "Crossing Jordan") and entrepreneur (PDL Capital, Inc), reveals the truth behind this inscrutable instructor in Teacher of the Year: The Mystery and Legacy of Edwin Barlow
The mysteries probed include how he came to Greeley; the rumored fiery car accident which killed his family; the unknown location of his abode; why he had no material possessions; why he willed his entire estate to charity; why he vanished to Boston on weekends and Portugal in the summer; and even why he carried a copy of "Alice in Wonderland" everywhere he went.
The book also examines the method behind his controversial style. "Mister Barlow didn't tolerate intellectual laziness, verbally disemboweling us for any error," Meyers recalls, "but what nobody understood at the time was that he was preparing the wealthy students of Chappaqua, literally, for war - as befit his own experience."
Meyers spent ten years pursuing the truth because, "I became obsessed with understanding who he was. Why did he deliberately misinform us about his past? Why permit, and even foster, the myths? How could such a fierce classroom presence show such generosity and caring in private? I knew the answers would provide unforgettable life lessons."
Barlow's monastic lifestyle gave little for the author to go on. "I literally had nothing but scraps of paper with which to begin my investigation," said Meyers. "Fortunately, Mister Barlow left behind a rich oral history accessible through former students, faculty, and his surviving brother, Albert."
Meyers also reveals that Barlow was a devout Catholic whose faith was shattered in World War II. "He rediscovered faith by accepting God's forgiveness for his wartime acts. In the process, he formulated his educational philosophy - help students realize themselves. To him, this was equivalent to guiding kids to find the Divine within."
Edwin Barlow willed his entire $500,000 estate to the charitable Horace Greeley Scholarship Fund which grants need-based financial aid to college-bound students. The extraordinary bequest generated articles in The New York Times (1/20/91; Ina Aronow), and The Reporter Dispatch (1/8/91; Steven J. Stark).
Surviving brother Albert Barlow, who lost touch with his older sibling following their mother's death in 1950, PRWeb eBooks - Another online visibility tool from PRWeb says, "With this book, the fifty-eight missing years were wiped out in a flash. This book isn't just about my brother, it is my brother."
In addition, the book is filled with stories of how Mr. Barlow used literary references to punctuate lessons, how he regaled students with his sly wit, and details some of his extraordinary tongue-lashings of lackadaisical students. "His classes were not merely invitations to learn," said former Greeley Vice-Principal Larry Breen, "they were command performances."
Steve Kroft, a Greeley graduate and anchor of CBS' "60 Minutes" adds, "The biggest problem with American education is we don't have nearly enough Mr. Barlow's."
"In summary," Meyers said, "His is a remarkably human tale -- the story of a man whose dreams and faith were shattered by war, how he became utterly devoted to teaching, and subsequently rebuilt his life to become an inimitable force in American educational history."
Teacher of the Year: The Mystery and Legacy of Edwin Barlow, published by H.H. & Sons, is now available at Amazon.com, bn.com, and the author's website, MisterBarlow.com
About H.H. & Sons:
H.H. & Sons is an independent publisher devoted to new authors with unique voices. Founded in 2007, it strives to provide readers with compelling stories from worlds they've never experienced.
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