Dr. Shaw ’78 Brings Firsthand Economics Experience to PA

Dr. Christopher Shaw, Instructor in History and Social Science, has been bouncing back and forth between Phillips Academy and the rest of the world since he first stepped onto campus as a new Lower in the class of 1978. “I think of myself as [being] on a giant rubber band with this place. Each time I left, I thought I was never coming back,” said Shaw. Shaw decided to return to Andover after earning his bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University. Shaw first worked in the Administration, and then began teaching an African history course, “Africa and the World,” a few years later. Shaw said teaching the African history class heightened his interest in developing countries and motivated him to attend graduate school. He proceeded to leave Andover for the second time in a decade. “What formulated my graduate school work were the questions that kids in that class asked. To me, it seemed like the questions they were asking were the most interesting and most important questions,” he said. Shaw later received his doctorate from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. Shaw said he became a “real, live economist” after completing his studies at Tufts. Specializing in the development of French-speaking sub-Saharan African countries, Shaw traveled to Madagascar, Rwanda, Mali and Morocco, each for up to a year at a time between 1989 and 1994. During this time, Shaw conducted a study on the relationship between a family’s fuel source and its income level. His research allowed him to travel through rural areas in African countries, interviewing the native inhabitants. One Moroccan woman’s story struck a chord with him in particular. “This was a woman who was probably 30 but looked 50. She lived and worked in a tiny kiosk where she sold coffee and had seven children,” Shaw said. The kiosk was less than five feet in length and width, and it was only equipped with a small stove, which boiled the coffee that commuters picked up on their way to work. Her stove required fuel, and because the woman could not afford to purchase whole bags of charcoal, she had to buy it a few chips at a time. Most surprising to Shaw was that this Moroccan woman spent “70 percent of her income” on charcoal to fuel her kiosk. “That blew my mind,” he said. “I think about [the woman’s story] all the time. I think frequently that the way we live here in the northeastern U.S. is the exception. More people in the world live like that woman and her coffee than us,” said Shaw. But his love for his home and family eventually came to overpower the passion Shaw had for his work. Shaw was still working on long trips overseas to Africa when his son Turner Shaw ’11 was an infant. Shaw said that when his son was eight months old, “I came back after two months in Madagascar and [my son] didn’t recognize me. That tore my heart out.” Shaw quickly resolved to find work close to home. In 1994, after browsing colleges and universities in the Boston area, he was invited to guest-teach a course on international relations at Andover. On the basis of that class, he was invited to teach a full class, and in 1995 he eventually interviewed for and secured a full-time position. Shaw also taught, in addition to an economics course, the very same African history course that launched his career as an Andover teacher. Dr. Carroll Perry, Instructor in Social Sciences, History and Economics, has been Shaw’s colleague and friend for many years. When asked about Shaw, Perry said, “The problem is I’m just going to gush.” Both teachers share common interests in international markets, although Perry comes from a finance background, and Shaw, a social development background. “We learn from each other,” Perry said. “This is my tenth year and Chris [Shaw] has been here the whole time. We became friends right off the bat. You establish an instant bond if you have the same interests,” he continued. Perry added, “[Shaw] elicits from students what they’re interested and passionate about, so they’re involved and begin to form their own opinions about something they care about.” During the 2008-2009 school year, Shaw left Andover on sabbatical and moved to Cape Cod. Last fall, he took a job as a bus boy at a popular restaurant called Scargo Café in Dennis, Mass—a job that paid eight dollars an hour. “It was interesting to be invisible,” said Shaw. “People gave me coats and kept on talking without even looking at me. A small number of people treated me like their personal servant.” For a psychology major in college, the working experience was fascinating, Shaw said. On Cape Cod, a popular vacation spot for many PA students, run-ins with familiar Andover faces were inevitable and amusing. “It was weird, and it was funny. They’d be super polite and kind of make conversation, but you could tell they were like ‘Why are you here? Were you fired or something?’” he said. In Shaw’s own words, “It’s been an incredible life.”