Edwin David Barlow is dead. This is a fact. There are other facts, too. One fact is that he died on December 17, 1990. Another fact is that he taught at Horace Greeley High School for over thirty-six years. Yet another fact is that he was the first recipient of the Teacher of the Year award in 1983.
There are a few other facts, though not nearly as many as would be known if you or I had died. Mister Barlow taught basic algebra, geometry, physics, and Advanced Placement Calculus. His only known address was Horace Greeley High School, 70 Roaring Brook Road, Chappaqua, New York. When his true abode was found, there were no sheets on the bed. There was exactly one book in the one-room domicile. Despite this apparent destitution, the fact is that Mister Barlow willed the bulk of his estate to the charitable Horace Greeley Education Fund. The amount of this gift was exactly $478,346.30.
Despite the thousands of students who had passed through his classes over thirty-six years, only two people were present at his interment at Arlington National Cemetery. The Honor Guard present for the ceremony fired exactly twenty-one shots.
The last important fact is that I was his student in the mid-1980’s for Advanced Placement Calculus. And the fact is that he is the best instructor I have ever had, before and after high school, during his life and beyond his death.
But this is where the list of facts comes to an end. Upon his death, there were no libraries to reveal his taste in literature, neither wife nor relatives to mourn at his funeral, no closet of clothes to be disposed of, no records to be combed through, no diplomas on the walls to indicate his educational background, no photographs of other people in his life, and no one to claim his body at Northern Westchester Hospital.
There were no more facts available about Edwin Barlow when he died.
But there were many to discover.
So begins my book, Teacher of the Year: The Mystery and Legacy of Edwin Barlow, a mystery-memoir regarding one of New York’s most legendary educators. As Americans took time out on Veterans’ Day to honor the veterans who have served their country, it is also worth reminding ourselves of the lives that veterans endured after their return home from war.In Mister Barlow’s case, his return was a difficult one. He served with the 17th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, which was deployed as part of Task Force A in what became known as “The Dash to Brest” a few weeks after the Normandy landing. Of course, very few people or even historians are familiar with this part of the war. It has been largely overlooked, despite General Patton having command of Ninth Army at that time, of which the 17th was a part. It was during this extraordinary campaign — a campaign in which American troops whisked across Northern France so quickly that medical units couldn’t keep up — that Mister Barlow struck down the first of many Nazis with his rifle.
As a devoted Catholic destined for the clergy, these killings shattered both him and his faith in God. He picked up a terrible alcohol habit. He returned to the U.S. after being wounded twice, a broken man. Unable to permit himself to join the clergy, feeling he’d committed unforgivable sins, he had nowhere to turn.
His story is not only of his transcendence of all of these challenges and a rediscovery of his faith but of how his controversial educational style became legendary in the small community of Chappaqua, New York. In short, Mister Barlow challenged thousands of students over 35 years to become exceptional. In the words of Vice-Principal Larry Breen, “At a time in their lives when young people feel body and image are all that matters, he demanded that they respect their minds. He made them pay attention to their intelligence. His teaching was not an invitation to learn, it was a command performance”. Not to mention, he was hilarious, and carefully cultivated a misinformation campaign designed to delight and confuse.
In short, Mister Barlow not only encouraged individual exceptionalism, he demanded it.
In short, he wouldn’t survive a single day in any public school in this country today.
I encourage you to pick up a copy of Teacher of the Year and visit www.misterbarlow.com to learn more about this extraordinary American, the seemingly impenetrable mystery of his life that it took me eight years to crack, and the gifts he gave to all of his students — whether they wanted them or not.
Happy Veteran’s Day. A hearty expression of gratitude to all who have served. And last, but certainly not least —
Thank you, Mister Barlow.