Remembering Dr. John Burgess, an “Education Legend”

Dr. John Allyne Burgess III, who was a longtime member of the Department of Education at Gordon College before retiring in 1992, died April 29 at his home in Raymond, New Hampshire., at the age of 92. John is survived by his wife of 59 years, Roberta Ann (Schofield) Burgess, and many family members.

An innovative teacher who opened his students’ eyes to cooperative, experiential, creative teaching techniques long before such strategies entered the mainstream, Dr. Burgess was both a lifelong educator and a lifelong learner. He attended Bridgewater State University, the University of Cincinnati, Gordon College, Gordon Theological Seminary, Boston University, and Harvard University, where he earned his Ph.D. in education.

Priscilla (Spoerer) Nelson ’74, associate professor of education and chair of the early childhood, elementary and special education programs at Gordon, recalls a scene from her Social Studies Methods class with Dr. Burgess on the third floor of Frost Hall:

“One day he divided our class into small groups of five students each. Each group was given a stack of recycled paper, a stapler, ruler, pencils and scissors. We were instructed to cut the paper into two-inch by two-inch squares, put five squares together and staple them right in the middle. In three minutes we were to make as many as we could. We felt the pressure of the ticking clock while frantically trying to produce packets of squares. The bell signaled time was up and we counted up our squares.

“We talked about what we did and were asked if we could improve our process and make more. We enthusiastically agreed we could and were instructed to do it again!

“You may wonder why we did that once, never mind twice. I know we were wondering! Dr. Burgess activated our learning by having us experience the concept of mass production through simulation. In doing so, we learned about efficiency, assembly work, cooperative learning, communication, problem-solving—important vocabulary for our students to be able to use. This experience sparked conversation about engineering, and research and design. We worked across disciplines: social studies, math and language arts.

“This kind of experiential learning and problem solving stimulated a way of thinking that today is associated with STEM—a fairly recent term in education. Clearly Dr. Burgess was ahead of his time. His teaching methods are what we know to be best practices today. Gordon’s teacher preparation program was on the cutting edge back in the ’70s.”

Even now, more than 25 years after his time at the College, Gordon students continue to be impacted by Dr. Burgess. A recent ceremony was held to honor Dr. Burgess and commemorate the renewal of the John A. Burgess Curriculum Library after its recent move to a newly remodeled space in Jenks Library. The Burgess Curriculum Library offers education majors exclusive access to a wealth of books and teaching resources—including a Smart Board, Ellison Prestige Pro die cut machine, Silhouette CAMEO electronic cutting machine, and laminator—to prepare for success in the classroom.

Some of Dr. Burgess’ former students have created the John Burgess Curriculum Library Fund, knowing it will benefit the very preservice teachers that he loved to nurture. If you feel led to honor his memory, please consider a donation to this fund, either online or by mail at John Burgess Curriculum Library c/o Gordon College, 255 Grapevine Rd., Wenham, MA 01984 (checks should be addressed to Gordon College with the memo line “Burgess Library Fund”).