by Aparna Deokar
March 29, 2021
At the end of this school year, Dr. Horn, BUA’s American History teacher, and Dr. Harvey, BUA’s American Literature teacher, are retiring, and Ms. Brewster, Director of Operations and Finance, is leaving BUA for a startup. In the following interviews, Dr. Horn and Ms. Brewster reflect on their time at BUA.
What do you enjoy most about BUA?
Dr. Horn: I think what I enjoy most about BUA is that if you could really throw an intellectual red meat in front of the students, they would go at it. What I found over my long teaching career is that there’s a huge difference at every level between the people who really do the work and come prepared, and the people who don’t, and that first group is rarer than you might think. It’s probably, even in a place like Princeton, ten to twenty percent of the students in a given course. Generally, people take a course because of requirements, or because they want an easy course, and when you come to have a discussion with the class, only about three or four people really have much to say because they’re the only ones who’ve done the work. But at BUA, that has never been the case. Though not everybody does all the work all the time, most of the students do the work most of the time, and that’s the only place I’ve ever been where that’s the case, including places like Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth, the College of New Jersey, the Brooks School, the Rivers School, and Phillips Academy. This is where that happens, and they do it with so much passion, enthusiasm, and joy, without the expected stress.
Ms. Brewster: I love getting a chance to work with students, especially being able to support students who have ideas. I also love the families I get to work with, who trust myself and all my coworkers with their students because the families are so kind, and the kids are so kind too. It’s also really exciting that we get to be part of Boston University too. We’re not really just a special small school, but a special small school that’s part of something really huge. And there’s amazing resources at BU that I’m going to really miss.
What do you enjoy about teaching?
Dr. Horn: History is the field I’ve always loved because it’s so flexible and interesting. It really is an approach, rather than a subject, in looking at things organically rather than how they grew and changed. I particularly have always thought of history as the introduction to the liberal arts and to other fields. You can do the history of science or intellectual history, which, as the history of ideas and thinkers, is my favorite branch. I found it tremendous in college because I ran into so many thinkers and ideas I never would have in any other field. So for me, encountering the pragmatist philosophers William James, Charles Peirce, and John Dewey was a life-altering experience because I studied them for many years. I haven’t done much with that particular field at BUA because [tenth-grade history] is just a survey. But even in the “just a survey,” we read a whole day of debates from the Lincoln-Douglas debates. We get involved in discussions of Americans’ dedication to war and how it upsets democracy by reading the essays of Randolph Bourne. We get into ideas and thinking, and some of those ideas get into people’s heads and change their whole lives.
What do you enjoy about being the Director of Operations and Finance?
Ms. Brewster: I love that I get to learn about what the university is doing and the resources that it has and finding how BUA students can benefit from them. I use those opportunities and leverage those resources, so those are some of the things I love about my job because I get to be strategic and creative about the types of programs we might be able to offer. Though a lot of what I do is logistical and could be boring, it’s not because it’s in a school setting and I put the students and families at the center of what I do, and it’s all about trying to make their experience better.
What does being a teacher mean to you?
Dr. Horn: I never thought I was going to be a teacher. I never intended to be a teacher. I always hated school, at least until high school, and then I began to like it because we got into it and started reading interesting stuff. But now, I’ve had colleagues who say that they love interacting with students. I always tell my students, “I don’t love you at all” because first, it’s creepy, and second, I think it’s a little narcissistic to say that you love working with students and their attention, since it focuses on you rather than the subject matter. Instead, I come to love teaching when I and a student are talking about a third thing of intellectual interest and intensity, and that third thing is the subject.
What was a memorable teaching moment of yours?
Dr. Horn: There are a lot, but there’s one I sometimes cite. Years ago, I had a freshman history class, and at that time we were reading some Socratic dialogues. I had assigned a paper that I first wanted us to talk about in class to get people’s juices running, and the topic was, “Would you or would you not like to have Socrates as a dinner guest?” I figured some people would say, “That would be great, with those wonderful conversations,” and others would say, “He’s a pain, and he’s always talking people into impossible situations.” Then suddenly I realized that there seemed to be a serious shouting match going on between these two girls. One was from India, and the other was a classic Irish Catholic Bostonian, but they weren’t arguing because of an East vs. West argument or anything like that. One thought Socrates was great, and the other thought he was just a pain in the neck. But anyway, the argument ended in a hilarious moment where one girl said, “Don’t say that of him, he’s so hottie!” and the other girl [became] dumbfounded. The room erupted in laughter, and that’s why it was so great, because you couldn’t have planned that. Two people were having this terrific argument, really getting into it, but going up against a worthy opponent. It didn’t matter who won because they had a grand time.
Has BUA changed you?
Dr. Horn: I think it has, but it’s hard for me to say. Sometimes it gets me really angry because some of us tried so hard for so long to make changes we thought would help, and so many different people came through into the place with more power than we had and said no or had their own ideas. But that is the complaint of old people anywhere. I also think I became a better listener and became better at working people around different plans. I’m a loose cannon, always have been, so I say things that provoke others, and I have a foul mouth. I grew up on the working class side of Cambridge, and I use all of that when I teach. People get offended, and recently I have found the emphasis on trigger words and microaggressions to be really tiresome, though I’ve become better at this.
Ms. Brewster: BUA has changed, and it’s changed me with it. The types of students that come to BUA [now] are very similar to the kids that came to BUA fifteen years ago, when I started, in terms of qualities like their curiosity. But I think we’re able to do more and expand to more parts of the university in terms of partnerships [now]. And we’ve grown a little bit, though BUA is still a really small school. This has enabled us to have more robust clubs and activities, and I think in that way the school has really matured, just thinking about how clubs like Student Council are so involved in the student experience. Even with Zoom now, we’ve been able to try and expand more opportunities for students and families who live really far away, and I hope that’ll continue.
What do you leave behind at BUA?
Dr. Horn: That’s a tough question, because we all think we leave behind more than we do, and in a place like BUA, memory is only about four years old. As soon as there are enough students in BUA who have never encountered me, nobody will know who the hell I am! Some of the faculty will, and I have some very good friends in faculty here at BUA, so I’ll be leaving it up to them. But if there’s anything I have left in this school, it’s the fact that BUA is here at all. There were some very rocky times, early on, when some of us took some big risks. I also think I contributed to the atmosphere of the school, and though you can change and destroy it, it’s hard to, and it was even harder to build up over time that this is a serious place where everybody is having fun. There’s no difference in our minds between working and having fun with joyful inquiry.
Ms. Brewster: I leave behind a lot of great partnerships that I manage at BU and a lot of folks who really see themselves as partners at BUA who, before my role was created, operated very separately (although we do need to operate separately in some cases because we have different-aged students). I leave behind a lot of relationships that I hope will be sustained, with the families and students who receive financial aid, in addition to some of the more logistical pieces of my job, and I’ll be sad to leave those. I also love getting emails from people asking for help, and I get to help them, and that’s a fun part of my job. But I know that there’s lots of other people at BUA who like helping people, and it feels good to know I’m leaving behind a team who’s just as committed as I am to making sure that students and families have a good experience.
What are you looking forward to in your next chapter?
Dr. Horn: It’s a little scary. I want to be able to read as much as I want because teaching is exhausting, and you spend many hours grading papers and also preparing for what comes next. So I definitely want to read, but I’m worried I won’t know what to do with it, and I want to be able to write some stuff. I also have some speeches I gave to the Academy over the years, and I want to see if I can dig them up and turn them into a little pamphlet, since it’s just nice to have something you worked on show up in print somewhere. I also have never traveled all over the United States by car, and one of the first things I want to do when I’m “out” is to get into the car with some camping gear and travel places, having vacation during September and October when the weather is great and the leaves are turning colors and there’s nobody on the road. It just seems great to me. I’m older than I’d like and heavier than I’d like, so I have to do a lot of walking and biking to get myself in shape. Besides that, I’ve been playing [timpani] in the orchestra for many, many years, and I’d like to continue, if I can still move all the drums around. It’s all wide open to me, and though it’s kind of scary, it’s time to do it. I could have taught a few more years, I suppose, but I was getting mentally and physically tired.
Ms. Brewster: I’m looking forward to the creativity of my new role and to challenging myself and to working with a new team to build software for schools. I’m also excited to have a little more time to be with my family because there’s more flexibility in my new job than at BUA. I know I’m going to really miss BUA!