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Eric LaForest

“I think we are in a place culturally where we value answers, hot takes, and immediate replies. Yet, I think back on my favorite teachers and there was a mystery to me as a student in how they would be able to pose questions to make me quiet down and examine.”

This German word means a lot to Eric LaForest: Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung.

“It is a word that captures my approach to teaching,” Eric says. “It essentially means working off the past. I spent a year in Germany in college. My grandfathers were both officers in the U.S. Army and married German women after the second World War and moved to the south.”

Eric's parents are from Columbus, Ga., and he grew up in Jacksonville, Fla. He teaches U.S. History and is the head of the History, Philosophy & Religious Studies Department. He has been involved in an ongoing project at the school, Slavery and Loomis Chaffee: An Ethical History Project. He moderated the discussion when Holocaust survivor Ruth Weiner came to campus in the 2022-23 school year.  Eric helped start the college-level course, Race in American History, which he has taught multiple times. He also has taught a course on the Civil War.

At the end of the 2022-23 school year, Eric was awarded the Jennie Loomis Family Instructorship in History, the citation reading: In recognition of masterful teaching, passionate scholarship, departmental and thought leadership, and drive to help students appreciate the connections between the past and present.

Eric also is co-chair of the Beloved Community Commission for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, the Episcopal Church’s long-term commitment to racial healing, reconciliation, and justice.

“It has been really gratifying to apply the lessons I have learned at Loomis Chaffee to who I am outside of the school,” Eric says.

Eric is a father of three who enjoys time outside with his family, a Little League coach, a former Jeopardy contestant, and the husband of the Rev. Charlotte LaForest, who leads St. Andrew Episcopal Church in Longmeadow, Mass., and has given the benediction at Loomis Chaffee graduations. 

“I am someone who likes to keep moving … and she has been a grounding influence in terms of what our prevailing values should be,” Eric says.

When he reflects on his role as a department head, he thinks of his wife’s work.

“She does a lot of pastoral work,” Eric says. “I see my primary job as being someone to whom my colleagues can turn. Beyond the pastoral element, in the secular sense, it has been important to me to provide opportunities for myself and colleagues on where to go next … not in some overwrought way, but to structure departmental time so we are always asking questions: ‘Do we need to do it this way?’ or ‘What if we try this?’

“We have a beautiful blend of veteran [teachers] and newcomers, and the veterans are not stuck in their ways, so there is much exchange about how to learn, how to teach, and how to be part of a community.”

Eric says he has learned from his colleagues, students, and former teachers.

“I have been fortunate to have had a number of mentors and one thing they had in common was a commitment to inquiry,” Eric says. “I think we are in a place culturally where we value answers, hot takes, and immediate replies. Yet, I think back on my favorite teachers and there was a mystery to me as a student in how they would be able to pose questions to make me quiet down and examine.”

The LaForest family lived on campus for eight years, so there is hardly a place that does not bring back memories. When he has the time, he might duck into Founders Chapel for a quiet moment. He said he is fond of Harman and Richmond halls, having lived there. “And when my friends will put up with me, I enjoy seeing them in their home,” he says with a laugh.

That laugh is a trademark.

“I have a big laugh,” he says, “so when people can make me laugh, I let it loose.”

Some of those people are his students.

“I enjoy those moments with my students, but I have a serious demeanor in the classroom,” Eric says. “I think students know when they walk in, we are going to get going. I cultivate that but try not to lose sight of the purpose of it all. When I hear back from students and alumni, it usually is not about the serious moments but what we shared in the classroom, some laughs we shared, and smaller conversations on the fringes of things that might mean more than we think in the moment.”

So, about that Jeopardy appearance. The night of Eric and Charlotte’s wedding rehearsal dinner, Charlotte's godfather said he thought Eric should try out for the show. He’d pay their way to California if it happened. Eric did well enough on the online quiz to be invited to an audition in Boston. Next thing you know he’s on the show, standing in front of the longtime host, the late Alex Trebek. He won that first show in 2009 but lost the second by one dollar.

“My students inevitably google me and find this out about me, or they hear about it from someone, so we tend to watch the episode on the last day of classes so they can make fun of me for how I have aged or the little stories that come up when Alex Trebek interviews you,” Eric says.

He then lets out one of those laughs.


 

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