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The Flame and the Phoenix, by Pierson F. Melcher

Review by Ed Quillen

Education – January 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine

The Flame and the Phoenix
by Pierson F. Melcher
Published in 1994 by Windhover Press,P.O. Box 63, Evergreen CO 80439
ISBN: 0963007114

EVEN THOUGH this is primarily a memoir of the Pete Melcher’s career as an educator, it does offer some commentary on life and politics in Buena Vista, Melcher’s base in the 1980s when he traveled around the country, consulting for private schools.

As he explains, “since I was on the road so much, my wife [Maggie] decided to open a gourmet restaurant in the ground-floor of our house… [She] was also elected Mayor of the town for a two-year stint, and by listening to her as well as by attending town Council meetings, I learned much about the pettiness and frustrations of small-town politics.

“And finally, I was appointed Chairman of the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, a position which I resigned a year later because I was the only member of that Commission who wanted any kind of planning or zoning control. Everyone else in the town seemed to want to leave everyone else in the town alone to do whatever they wanted to do with their property. As a result, town growth was an unplanned mess and I wanted no part in perpetuating that situation.”

However, that’s about it for Central Colorado lore in this autobiography. Melcher, who lives in Evergreen now, grew up in a preacher’s family in Philadelphia, served in World War II, and became an educator in private schools: first as teacher, then headmaster, finally consultant.

The book covers his career and offers his insights and recommendations about education. It also illustrates how inappropriate some labels can be.

Was Melcher a “liberal” because he believed students should have a voice in the administration of the school? At one school, he set up New England-style town meetings where a consensus was required. Or was he a “conservative” because he believed in, and enforced, discipline and academic standards?

Mostly, it appears, he was a dedicated teacher who moved into administration so he could create a productive environment for other dedicated teachers.

The Flame and the Phoenix seems to be aimed at other educators, and devotes considerable attention to the administration of private elementary and high schools — probably too much attention for a general audience.

But the rest is engaging: boyhood in Depression-era Philadelphia, Army life in the Pacific during World War II, and a time when even the son of an impecunious preacher could attend Yale University.

— E.Q.