The Education of Gerald Ford.

Author:Jordan, Benjamin Rene
Position:Book review

The Education of Gerald Ford. By Hendrik Booraem V. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016. 251 pp.

To complement the growing series of books he has written on the early lives of American presidents, Hendrik Booraem V offers an engaging and well-written biographical account of the adolescent and college years of Gerald Ford. In analyzing Ford's early "education," the author emphasizes the broader character and civic lessons provided by Ford's parents, community, Boy Scouting, football, and peers, rather than formal schooling and curriculum. This decision is a significant one, but warranted because what may most intrigue many readers is how and why Ford could later step into the office of president, choose to pardon Nixon, and then try to move the nation forward again. This broad definition of education and Booraem's desire to show Ford as a product of his environment rather than as a born leader give the book an effective balance between a biography of a unique individual and the typical white, middle class, Midwestern adolescent and college experience in the 1920s and early Depression. It is a compliment to Booraem's writing that the book would be an interesting and productive read even if it was about an ordinary person, rather than a future president. His footnotes provide additional insights about his array of primary sources and interviews and how they complicate other narratives about particular events in Ford's life.

According to the author and many of Ford's contemporaries, Ford learned the expected rules of the game and embodied the ideal character of a teen and young man of his social position: morally upright, hard-working, polite, loyal, cooperative, and athletic. His parents emphasized advancement through hard work, looking for the good in other people, and responsibility to the broader community. Boy Scouting provided essential lessons in nonpartisan citizenship and leadership opportunities: for example, Ford provided regular service to the community, being elected by his peers to act as the city's judge for a day, and serving on the governor's newly established Scout honor guard at Mackinac Island State Park. Football offered Ford self-discipline and companionship through physical activity, which he seemed to welcome, given his early stutter and occasional hesitance to speak. The city of Grand Rapids plays an important role in this biography for its cultural diversity, changing economy, and straitlaced...

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