This I Believe

Fowler, Burton P. (Burton Philander)


  • Burton Fowler states that the fundamental principles of his beliefs--God, Jesus Christ, and the brotherhood of humanity--derive from his early years on an upstate New York farm.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Burton P. Fowler is the principal of the Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia. Born in South Butler, New York, he was a biology teacher for many years. His contribution to education has not been limited to his school but his experiences and knowledge have benefitted educational organizations throughout the country. This is Burton Fowler’s creed.
The things I believe are deeply rooted in my childhood. Being a boy on a farm in Upstate New York had its limitations—moral, spiritual, and physical. I used to cast envious eyes toward the big city, 30 miles away, with its glamour, excitement, big schools, and Horatio Alger chances to “get rich quick.” Yet the simple, solid satisfactions of the fields and woods, the wonder of the heavens at night, the good people I knew, were then, as now, the foundation of what I lived by. Every farm boy I knew believed in God, usually went to Sunday school, to church, and set for himself pretty rigid standards of right and wrong. My theology may have matured—if that is the right word—since those days, but the essentials of my religion remain the same: God, and Jesus Christ, and brotherhood.
There were, of course, distasteful chores to be done twice a day, and always-hard work in the fields. To say I had an aversion to such physical labor would be an understatement, but I was not rebellious. The very monotony of work indoors and out was the stuff of my dreams and my plans for the future. Moreover, I felt that I was needed, that I was a partner in an essential industry. I believe that a job is never drudgery if its ultimate purpose is to link effort with achievement.
Those early years also gave me the benefit of great teachers, not those in the little red schoolhouse, which was usually a woefully inadequate institution, but in the close association with those out-of-school teachers—my mother and father, my brothers, my neighbors—
the simplicity and integrity of whose lives gave them clear vision and philosophical insight. I remember old Bill Taylor saying, “We know what to do, but do we do it?” And my grandmother’s observation: “Education never did anybody any good unless he hitched it to something or other;” and my mother’s impatience with shiftless neighbors, who never wanted to amount to anything. Such bits of wisdom and experience helped me to be sensitive to people and their needs. They made me think.
Most of my cherished values seem to be derived from trivial incidents or chance remarks, as when an older teacher said to me during my first year of teaching, “Don’t get into a rut, a fate that befalls most of us teachers.
New forces are stirring in education that will bring long-needed, revolutionary changes. Find out what these are, and be a part of them.” Very many times has this advice influenced my educational beliefs and practices. They made me determined to help abolish the educational sterility of the ‘90s and early 1900s that made schooling a needless and dreary waste of the resources of youth.
I believe in the tremendous power of education and religion to build a strong America. I believe a school should be a miniature of the world that could be, that it should be an ideal, democratic community. I believe our churches should come out of the cloister and get into the crowd.
I am convinced that when our neighborhoods are strong, America will be strong—not because of bayonets and bombs but because of our unshakable belief in truth and teamwork. This conviction sums up my belief that character, reduced to its simplest terms, is always caring intelligently for other people.
Those were the beliefs of Burton P. Fowler, the principal of the Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia.