Frederick G.H. Fayen II, RIP

I got word the other day of the passing of a high school history teacher of mine, Frederick G. H. Fayen II. I can’t improve on the first paragraph of the memorial notice from Matt Levinson,* the current head of my old high school:

I am sorry to share the news that former Magistri faculty member Fred Fayen passed away on November 11. For 45 years, from 1963-2008, Mr. Fayen served as a history teacher, college counselor, and coach, known for his standards of excellence, quiet dignity, calm demeanor, and unceasing eagerness to learn from those around him. I have reached out to his family to express our deepest sympathies and support.

This is one of those cases where I regret not having said to Mr Fayen in life what I’m about to say on his passing. And despite my own relatively advanced age, I’m afraid I’ll have to refer to him here as “Mr. Fayen.” Calling him “Fred” somehow seems out of the question.

Mr. Fayen was all of the things mentioned above, but to me, he was fundamentally a history teacher–one of the small handful of teachers who made a permanent impression on me by permanently changing the way I think. The class I took with him in my senior year of high school was abbreviated “MASH,” for “Modern Asian and Soviet History,” his own area of academic specialization (I may be misremembering, but I believe he had either an MA or Ph.D. in history from Harvard). I not only remember what we studied, but still own the books we read, and still read them from time to time: John King Fairbanks’s The United States and China (now archived online), Donald Treadgold’s Twentieth Century Russia, and Edwin O. Reischauer’s Japan: The Story of a Nation, and The Japanese. We also read (or at least, were assigned to read) Mao’s Little Red Book, which I couldn’t bring myself to finish, and threw out a few decades ago.

We were, frankly, terrible students. Most of the class dozed off as Mr. Fayen tried to teach. The three of us who paid any attention at all–Britt, Ed, and me–were a misery-inducing handful typical of the prep school milieu: smart, ignorant, affluent kids daring the teacher to teach us something, a task made exponentially more difficult when the teacher wears a cravat, went to Harvard, possesses two middle names, and sports a Roman numeral after his last name.

In addition to his “quiet dignity, calm demeanor, [and] unceasing eagerness to learn from those around him” (whoever that was), Mr Fayen had a ruthless side to him: had the Spice Girls asked him, anachronistically, what he “really, really wanted,” he would in all sincerity have answered,

That my students learn at least the basics of modern Asian and Soviet history, and grasp the complexity of the world beyond American shores.

He would likely have said this with perfect equanimity, and meant it despite every strategem we employed to defeat his aims.

What kinds of strategems, besides sleeping in class? Well, how about when two of us divided the second movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, then decided to hum it in class whenever Mr Fayen turned his back to write something on the blackboard (Ed took the strings, I did the horns)? Or when one of us refused to read Mao’s Little Red Book “because it’s way too stupid, and I’m just not going to waste my time on something like that” (that was me). Or when one of us made the mathematically cryptic claim that the Great Leap Forward was “dumb as hell, even if millions of people took part in it, frankly, even if seventy-fidoo [sic] people did” (Britt). Or, for that matter, even when one of us showed up in class tripping on ‘shrooms (I won’t say who).

Mr Fayen was somehow undeterred by such behavior, which he took for granted as a sort of sunk cost of teaching as recondite a subject as MASH to snot-nosed American kids like us. At least we were engaging with the material, in a manner of speaking.  

Fast-forward a year or two or three. I’m now an undergraduate at Princeton, majoring in Politics, and obsessed, above all, with comparative politics. On Friday nights, when normal Princetonians are getting smashed on Prospect Street, I’m in the Jones Hall library for Near Eastern and East Asian history, partly enthralled and partly stupified at the prospect of learning about other places and other people. Here’s a newspaper from Tehran, a journal from Beirut, a manuscript from the Ottoman Era….You could get lost in there. I often did. 

No, I was no longer studying China, Japan, or the Soviet Union, or reading Fairbanks, Reischauer, or Treadgold. My thing was Near East, not East Asian or Soviet Studies. But the foundation had somehow been set for the study of that cliched thing, “another culture.” I knew I had to learn the language. I knew I someday had to visit the region–not just “visit,” but come as close as possible to living there. I knew I had to master the history, including the “boring” and “stupid” parts. I had a sense of the challenges and pitfalls that awaited me, above all, the know-nothingism of political scientists and political theorists who really believe that “all the world is America.” I knew that comparative politics was easier than it sounded, and I knew why.

I didn’t eventually end up going into Near East Studies, or even majoring in it; I went into philosophy. I never really learned Arabic in any serviceable way; I can only speak enough to get myself thoroughly lost on the streets of Ramallah. But I know enough about comparative politics and area studies to know my ignorance of the world beyond American shores. I know enough to know that Americo-centric journalists and academics are talking hand-waving nonsense. I know enough to realize how big and complicated a place the world really is. And I realize belatedly that the calm, quiet Socrates behind that knowledge is my late history teacher, Frederick G.H. Fayen II.

It’s a measure of my narcissism, I suppose, that my first thought on hearing of Mr Fayen’s passing is to recount the ways in which he influenced my intellectual history. But it’s also what you would expect in the way of influence by a historian. The development of a sense of history is itself a historical achievement. We owe it to our predecessors if we manage it at all. If I’ve managed it at all, Mr Fayen gets part of the credit. I can’t, of course, take that credit and put it in his hand. I can only chronicle it here as a historical fact, and hope that it plays the same role in someone else’s thoughts that his pedagogy played in mine. That’s how history works. I’d like to think that a historian might agree.


*Here’s most of the note from Mr. Levinson. I’ve omitted the part that includes the Fayen family’s address, which I believe was intended only for the recipients of the email

November 13, 2020

Dear Pingry Community,

I am sorry to share the news that former Magistri faculty member Fred Fayen passed away on November 11. For 45 years, from 1963-2008, Mr. Fayen served as a history teacher, college counselor, and coach, known for his standards of excellence, quiet dignity, calm demeanor, and unceasing eagerness to learn from those around him. I have reached out to his family to express our deepest sympathies and support.

Mr. Fayen joined Pingry to teach Middle School history and English, and later transitioned to Middle and Upper School history. One philosophy dominated his teaching style: learning is not only about knowledge, but also about making that knowledge serve a higher purpose. In 1968, he was asked to become a college counselor and spent 40 years mentoring students during the search process. He also served as Director of Guidance from 1973-1988. In athletics, Mr. Fayen coached various levels of soccer, swimming, and lacrosse.

During his final year at Pingry, Mr. Fayen received the Henry G. Stifel III Award and The Cyril and Beatrice Baldwin Pingry Family Citizen of the Year Award, and The Frederick G.H. Fayen II Scholarship Fund was established in his honor.

He is survived by his loving wife Connie who worked at the Lower School for 25 years, retiring in 2013, and after they both retired, they continued to be involved with the School. Their daughters Blake ’90 and Julie ’02 graduated from Pingry.

Please join me in keeping Mr. Fayen and his family in our hearts and thoughts.

Sincerely,

Matt Levinson
Head of School

6 thoughts on “Frederick G.H. Fayen II, RIP

  1. Thanks, Irfan. Fred (*I* can call him that) was a lovely man, and this is a lovely tribute. Remember his car? Green Mustang fastback. I drove it once, for some reason.

    DeanSluyter.com

    [image: boox-stacked-2.jpg]

    On Sun, Nov 15, 2020 at 11:56 AM Policy of Truth wrote:

    > Irfan Khawaja posted: ” I got word the other day of the passing of a high > school history teacher of mine, Frederick G. H. Fayen II. I can’t improve > on the first paragraph of the memorial notice from Matt Levinson,* the > current head of my old high school: I am sorry to” >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A wonderful memorial!

    But I suspect by “no-nothingism” you mean “know-nothingism.” Perhaps you have referenced a metaphysical thesis when you intended an epistemological one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, thanks. In fact, considering that David Lewis was active at Princeton when I was an undergraduate, it’d be more accurate to say that the Philosophy Dept, at least, had a proponent of modal all-somethingism. Modal realism was yet another pitfall that awaited me, but very different from the one I discuss in the post.

      Like

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