Stanley Bosworth, who founded the St. Ann’s School in Brooklyn Heights with a radical vision of educating children without grades, curriculum, schedules or even treating them like children, died at his home on Aug. 7. He was 83.
Bosworth led the Pierrepont Street school from 1965 — when he taught 53 students in the basement of St. Ann’s Episcopal Church — until the school pushed him out in 2004 during a pattern of eccentric behavior.
It was around that time that he granted an interview to New York magazine, which illustrated that his well-established objection to bourgeois norms had taken a turn. “I believe in the freedom of the individual, I believe in sexual freedom … these things are not just beliefs. They’re lives lived,” he said, adding in reference to the school’s leadership, “And they never lived those lives!”
Such brilliant insanity likely spurred his reluctant retirement — but the school named its main building after him in 2007.
Former student Ben Adler, a political journalist, said in a recent essay that Bosworth “became a bit odd in old age” and that “his politically incorrect and lascivious proclamations … were a turn-off for many parents.”
Bosworth would indeed speak freely about his ex-wives, sex and philosophy. He married and divorced three times and had five children and one stepdaughter, whom he raised. Two of his wives worked at St. Ann’s and one was a former student.
Regardless of his quirks, Bosworth awed all who knew him — especially his students, who entered the Ivy Leagues in such prodigious numbers that the Wall Street Journal ranked St. Ann’s the best high school in the country in 2004.
For decades, Bosworth’s approach attracted parents who felt stifled by traditional schools.
His former students — whose numbers include actors, musicians and designers such as Jennifer Connelly, Mike D of the Beastie Boys and Zac Posen — recall that above all, he espoused the importance of the individual.
“You could learn just from his worldview,” said Mary Watson, a longtime friend who graduated from St. Ann’s in 1978. “It was about grabbing every moment. You are the architect of your own life, and it would drive him crazy when people said otherwise.”
Students took college-level classes, read Baudelaire and determined their own course of study at a very young age.
“He never underestimated his students and he never condescended to them in any way — other than the way he condescended to everybody,” said pop culture writer Jeff Yang, who attended St. Ann’s from third grade until graduating in 1985. “He always challenged us intellectually.”
Yang and Watson believe their former principal shaped the mindset of a generation of parents in New York. Watson, who taught Latin at St. Ann’s for a time, said she refused to send her 13-year-old son John to any other school.
“My legacy is the notion that learning is not punishment,” Bosworth told the New York Times in 2004. “It is a reward. If it is made a punishment, you violate the fundamental sense of learning. You don’t learn by having your hands twisted. It should be a celebration. It is a celebration.”
For Bosworth’s children, that celebration was personal.
“He had such a strong sense of purpose that it was contagious,” said Michael Bosworth, 26. “And who has that quality? I knew his love as an unquestionable constant of life.”
Bosworth was buried in a private ceremony at Green-Wood Cemetery last Wednesday.
He is survived by his ex-wife, Beth Bosworth; two sons, Adam and Michael Bosworth; two daughters, Virginia Frisch and Nora Bosworth; a stepdaughter, Sarah Trouslard; and six grandchildren.
St. Ann’s will hold a memorial service at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church [157 Montague St. between Clinton and Henry streets in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 875-6960], Oct. 15 at 2 pm.