Allen Dyer’s outlook on life—and the Board of Education—has been shaped by his experience as a combat pilot. By his role in the microcomputer revolution. And by haggis.
Dyer, 64, graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1968 and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal for his time as a combat pilot in Vietnam.
“When someone’s shooting at you, you’ve got to respond promptly and you’ve got to make sure you make the right decision,” he said during an interview with Patch.
The flip side is that now, with no enemy planes in sight--at least literally--he has the luxury to debate.
During his tenure on the school board, which began in 2008 after four failed campaigns, Dyer has taken advantage of that luxury. Some board members have said that his propensity for debate is a distraction.
, and it is not unusual that he is the lone voice of dissent during its meetings.
But, he said, “Maybe there is something wrong if [the board] is consistently voting in unison."
Despite the to remove Dyer from his elected position, he is to the Howard County Board of Education. There are three available seats and a dozen candidates who will face each other in the April primary.
'My interest was making life a little more fair for blue-collar families'
Dyer, an Ellicott City resident, said that his military experience also colors his philosophy about education in general. “I think there’s a lot be gained from young people being placed in a situation where there are restrictions and rules,” he said. “Rules are great opportunities for our young people to learn how to operate within limits and to do what they can with what they have in front of them.”
The young people he says he’s particularly concerned about are those who are doing poorly within the high-achieving Howard County Public School System. “You can always do better with academics,” he said. But, “Our problem is that we have some young people that are being left behind.”
Dyer’s concern for the non-traditional is personal, as much as professional. He was the first member of his family to graduate from high school. “Sort of the burden that comes with that is you feel, ‘Well, maybe it would be better if more people had a chance to graduate from high school and college.’ My interest was making life a little more fair for blue-collar families,” like his family, in Washington State, he said.
Law school might not have been the most obvious place to do that, but after returning from the Air Force, he was accepted at University of Maryland School of Law—after being rejected by Harvard.
Dyer said he and his classmates would sometimes lunch with the neighboring medical school students, but their interactions led him to a bit of an existential crisis.
For his medical student counterparts, “There was no doubt in their minds–absolutely no doubt–that they were going to be doing good. You can’t say that for a lawyer,” he said.
“It just occurred to me if you’re a ‘successful’ lawyer, chances are you’re screwing things up … I have safely avoided that,” Dyer said, “I haven’t made a whole lot of money with law.”
But he has made headlines. Dyer has sued the Board of Education nine times—many while he was a seated member. The suits have all involved open meetings and public information issues, in which he now specializes in his private practice.
'I am a candid-speaking person'
As far as his public life on the school board, Dyer said he has two goals. One is to change the “culture” of the board, which has recently been under attack. Paul Lemle, president of the Howard County Education Association, or that members should consider stepping down.
For his part, Dyer has said that certain members of the board simply don’t like him. “To this day I’m not exactly sure why,” he said. “But I am a candid-speaking person. I try not to demonize anyone or attack their personality, but when they hold a different position, I come on pretty strong. I think some people get personally offended by that.”
Dyer’s second goal is to eliminate the achievement gap. And his plan to do so goes back to the Air Force. “If you look at what you’re trying to do on the battlefield … you have to move your forces where they are needed. I think that’s what we need to do.” That means focusing on bringing all students up to speed as soon as possible.
“It’s with the youngest people that you make your investments. We receive the benefits for the rest of their lives. Everyone’s life is enriched.”
'This is what public education is all about'
That enrichment goes beyond learning ABCs and mathematics, touching every student, Dyer said. Public school brings people together not by class, race or gender, he said.
“It’s not whether you’re a captain of an industry, ditch digger or technician. No, it’s, ‘How old are you?’ ‘When were you born?’ That’s an interesting way to cut across everything else.
“Whether they’re rich or poor black or white, working together with these ridiculous tests you have to do–you go through the obstacle course together. Hopefully you learn a little bit, too.”
Dyer has experienced that cross-cultural enrichment throughout his life, particularly, he said, during his work with computers. He was a part of the “microcomputer” revolution, bringing personal-sized computers to law offices, schools and small businesses.
“The people that I met, my mentors … it was just a wonderful time that gave me a magnificent optimistic perspective on civilization.”
In that industry, Dyer said he experienced, first-hand, the joys of working with different types of people and the chance encounters that come to those who are unafraid of making split-second decisions.
“This is what public education is all about,” Dyer said, offering an anecdote in illustration.
After solving a particularly stubborn problem for a client in Florida, Dyer, looking for lunch, was asked directions by a stranger.
"I said, 'I have no idea, but I have this map. Wanna try to do it together?'” Dyer recounted.
The two set off on an adventure that ended up at a Scottish restaurant; the driver was headed to a Scottish poetry reading hosted by the Robert Burns Club of the St. Andrews Society of Sarasota.
“For the first time in my life–I’m coming up on 65–I tried haggis," a traditional Scottish dish made of sheep or goat heart, liver and lungs, cooked in the animal's stomach casing.
"I’m trying to get it down my throat while taking turns reading this poem," Dyer said.
“Walking out after solving this computer problem, going out to read Scottish poetry, that’s what public education is about. It’s everything. Not just technical, not just English, not just history and it’s not just your group. You’ve got to be able to appreciate and enjoy what other people have to offer.”
This article has been edited to more accurately reflect Dyer's experience in the Air Force as a combat pilot.