Dan Frank Returns to the Classroom

Principal Teaches New, Optional, Course: The Psychology of Democracy


Dr. Daniel B. Frank ‘74 has been the Principal of the Parker for the entire educational experience at Parker of every current student in the building from JK through twelfth grade. In fact, Frank was the Principal of Parker when some current Parker parents graduated in the early 2000’s. However, when Dr. Frank returned to Parker full time in 1988, he focused his time in the Upper School. 

From 1988 until 2000, Frank was both an Upper School teacher and the Head of the Upper School, which included Middle School at that time. As a teacher, Frank taught two classes each year: “The Sociological Imagination” and “Adolescence in America.” Both classes were “interdisciplinary courses that included perspectives from psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, literature and writing,” Frank said. 

Teaching was not new to Frank, as he had previously taught part time at Parker from 1980 to 1982. Frank stated that he taught these courses “not only because they interest[ed him], but also because they each speak to Parker’s mission to educate for citizenship and leadership in a diverse democracy and global world.

Each course taught concepts and skills that are essential for democratic citizenship.”  When Frank became Principal in 2001, he hung up the chalk—there were chalkboards in the classrooms at that time—and focused on the work of leading Parker into the new century. “The responsibilities of being Principal often require me to shift and change my daily schedule and students deserve a fully-present teacher,” said Frank.

After 20 years, Frank decided to return to the classroom to teach a senior seminar titled “The Psychology of Democracy.” Frank’s new course is an optional, non-graded Senior class that allows participating students the opportunity to experience a class that ventures away from the classes featured in the school curriculum. In structuring the course as both optional and non-graded, Frank said that “an informal mini-seminar that doesn’t carry any additional academic pressure might be the best way for seniors who have the time and interest to come together to think about how people experience our democracy at an emotional level might make it less stressful for them to choose to take this course.” 

When introducing the course, Frank made clear to the ten students in the room that the class will be the “most college preparatory class you’ll ever have.” The seminar also brings “some knowledge about readings and concepts that [the students] might not yet know and that might spark an interest they may pursue in greater depth in college and beyond,” said Frank.

The idea for Frank’s new class stemmed, in part, from his own Parker experience. “Through its mission, Parker provided me with the core intellectual, social and emotional skills to help me understand democratic life and it nurtured my curiosity and gave me the foundational skills for learning how people from a wide variety of backgrounds experienced their lives in our society,” said Frank. The current political climate also helped guide the idea for the class. “Our democracy is under tremendous stress, and therefore so are the lives of its citizens, so understanding the psychological dynamics that affect individuals and groups is important for us all to understand and appreciate.” This course, like others that are a part of the Parker curriculum, focus on “concepts and skills that are essential for democratic citizenship,” said Frank.

In opening the class, Frank began with what he sees as the central question of the course. 

“What do we know about democracy and what do we know about people?” Frank asked. This question matches with Frank’s overall goal for the course. “The aim of the course is to learn something new that one didn’t know before about how psychological experience shapes and is shaped by our democracy,” Frank said. 

Eli Moog, one of the seniors participating in the class, commented that “so many things we do in society don’t make sense.” For Moog, attempting to understand the intersection between psychology and democracy is critical to understanding society as a whole. “I was excited to hear Dr. Frank was offering a new, college-like course,” Moog said. “Additionally, the topic the course addresses is extremely interesting to me.”   

Othel Owen, another participant in the course, hopes the mini-seminar will provide additional preparation for college. “I think the style in which Frank teaches is going to really help me when it comes time to learn in college,” Owen said.

Recently, the class spoke with Jonathan Alter, a best-selling author and Emmy winner, which Owen described as a “surreal experience.” Owen added he “also enjoy[s] having deep and meaningful discussions on the psychology of democracy, and learning from the Head of our School.”  

Beyond the questions of psychology and democracy, Frank sees the course as a way to “offer students insight into how to read for a writer’s thesis and supporting details, as well as how to appreciate the universe of interest that exists in footnotes and bibliographies and other academic wonderlands.” Frank’s new class offers an opportunity for Parker seniors to learn at a higher level and be prepared both academically and philosophically for the next phase of their educational journey.