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Donors Help Expand the Reach of Ashbrook Teacher Programs

Jen and J.T. Guy with Steven Hayward (r)

Jen and J.T. Guy with Steven Hayward (r)

Twenty years ago, Dr. and Mrs. J.T. Guy were excited to discover, in the heart of Ohio, a modestly run research and educational institution that engaged questions of national importance. “We heard that the Ashbrook Center was inviting Margaret Thatcher to speak. I said to Jen, ‘This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear someone of such stature.’”

At the time, the Guys were working full-time in a cancer treatment center in Columbus that J.T. Guy had established and Jen Guy, as chief administrator, managed. But they made the drive to Ashland and were impressed not only by the serious way the Ashbrook Scholars and faculty attended to Lady Thatcher’s message but by the mission and aims of the entire Ashbrook program. “We kept going back for luncheons and fundraising dinners whenever we could.”

Sitting at the luncheon table with Ashbrook Scholars, they found that students in the Ashbrook Center’s core educational program showed a “respect for tradition,” dedicated focus on their studies, a lively interest in current affairs, and an ability to articulate their views on these. “Those kids sure are serious students,” J.T. commented. “And they mirror the seriousness of the program.”

When the Ashbrook Center began to expand its national reach through programs for secondary school teachers, the Guys were intrigued. “Teachers have a lot of impact on the way children grow up and come to think,” J.T. commented. To convey an understanding and respect for American political traditions, teachers need real education in American history, the Guys believe. Yet this content study is largely crowded out of teacher qualifying programs, which emphasize educational theory.

The Guys like the design of the Master of Arts program in American History and Government at Ashland University, since it gives teachers in-depth knowledge of primary documents in the nation’s history. Teachers learn what those who founded the country meant to establish, as well as the efforts they and later generations made to maintain the Founding. This is preferable, the Guys think, to the kind of history often taught at the university level: not history as it was lived, but a view of history that has been filtered through present-day progressive opinion. To support the Masters program, the Guys decided to endow two faculty chairs.

“For a long time we had wanted to do something to honor our parents,” Jen Guy explained. Jen and J.T. were both reared by hardworking people who relied on their own resourcefulness to build successful businesses and strong families. “My Dad was a classic Midwestern conservative, a fine man I could never live up to, though I tried. He wanted to go to college, but he was a casualty of the Depression,” J.T. said. “But he ended up having his own real estate and development company. He was very active in the community and in the local Republican Party. One year he drove the family to California for the convention.”

Jen’s story is equally inspirational: “My dad didn’t have a high school diploma, but he had the entrepreneurial spirit,” she said. “He managed to own one type of business after another. He was not wildly successful but he managed to rear and educate six children.” Jen’s mother called herself a stay-at-home mom, yet in fact she was always providing labor and support to her husband’s various businesses, sometimes bringing their children along to help.

The Guys’ generous donation funds the work in the program of two highly accomplished scholars and effective instructors. Steven Hayward, who is author of an acclaimed two-volume biography of Ronald Reagan as well as a regular commentator on the political blog Power Line, holds the Thomas and Mabel Guy chair, named after J.T.’s parents. The Edward & Louise Peterson chair, named for Jen’s parents, is held by Marc Landy. Winner of a prestigious teaching award at Boston College, where he is Professor of Political Science, Landy’s lectures on the American presidency and on the political party system draw large and fascinated seminar groups each summer in Ashland.

One element of the Masters program for teachers that strongly appeals to the Guys is its design as a convenient and affordable program for education professionals with modest incomes. Tuition costs are less than those in many comparable programs, and teachers are able to earn degrees without taking time off from their careers. Courses are offered during the summers, when they are out of school, as well as in interactive evening webinars that teachers join via internet from their own homes.

The Guys observe that Ashbrook programs have never succumbed to academic elitism. “When they invite high school students to the luncheons with speakers on public affairs, they don’t just invite students from college preparatory programs. They invite those in vocational and technical programs as well,” Jen said. These students’ later training programs won’t likely include study of current politics, but as citizens, they too need information. “I think it’s just in the DNA of the Ashbrook Center to include everyone,” J.T. said.

He also admires the open-minded discussions fostered by the Ashbrook Center. “They are traditional, middle-of-the-road conservatives who practice tolerance of other kinds of thinking; they are not doctrinaire, and that is very important to me.” This open-minded approach corresponds to a transparency in the program, the Guys noted. “We are invited to attend the Scholars’ senior thesis defenses. This shows what an open system the Ashbrook Center is running,” J.T. said. “My brother is a musician in New York City who is an adjunct professor at a number of very expensive music education schools there, but he is not always invited to go to the students’ recitals.”

The Guys are pleased to support a Midwestern educational nonprofit that has slowly and carefully built a solid program. “I’m a gradualist,” J.T. said. “I’m not so much in favor of expanding the core of the program; I’m in favor of expanding its reach.” The Scholar program and citizenship outreach that occurs on the Ashland University campus is impressive, but has not grown too large for participants to experience camaraderie and real discussion. Nor has it become a sprawling “industry” with diminished accountability, the Guys noted. Yet the growing Masters program for teachers promises far-reaching effects. The hundreds, even thousands, of students taught yearly by teachers enrolled in the program, multiplied by the years of those teachers’ careers, add up to an “astounding” number of young people learning about history as it was actually lived, not as the authors of politically-correct textbooks would dictate. This gives the Guys hope for America’s future. “When students have open minds,” J.T. asks, “who knows what can happen?”

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