Dexter Mahaffey - Vermont Commons School Skip to main content

Dexter Mahaffey

Head of School, African Studies Instructor - Appointed 2014

Graduate Degrees

  • M.A. English, Bread Loaf School of English
  • Ph.D. English, University of Louisville

Undergraduate Degree

  • B.A., Middlebury College

Inspirational Quote

“What you want to do as a teacher is to make people aware of the complexity of experience, of the complexity of the world—that our little corner is real and very important, but it’s not the whole. And we should make the effort to understand as much of the rest as we can possibly manage. This is not a threatening position: it is an enriching one. If we can do it, we will be richer, we will be better. This is what education should aim to do: to draw out from us what is there so that it can interact with what’s outside.” –Chinua Achebe

Interests and Hobbies

World literature, writing, cultural exchange, trails and waters, Ghana, small farming, and music.

Brief Biography

Over the years, I’ve worked at public and private schools at the primary, secondary, and university level around the country, in a variety of teaching and administrative roles, most recently as Director of Diversity at a large independent school.  Along the way I pursued a master’s degree at Bread Loaf, with time at Lincoln College, Oxford, and a doctorate at Louisville, where I indulged my passion for international relations culminating in my 2013 work, The Rhetoric of Africa:  Historical Turns in Constructing a Continent, 1780-1890.  I’ve undertaken further, post-doctoral study at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Nonprofit Management and Columbia’s Klingenstein Center, Teachers College.

I have always enjoyed writing, at times working as a journalist for alternative weekly newspapers, magazines such as Paddler and Canoe and Kayak, and Mountain Hardwear.  My passion extends to creative writing as well, especially poetry and fiction:  my 2002 poetry collection, An Agreement with Gravity, received honorable mention from the Zoo Press Poetry Prize, and two novels are in process.

Selected academic writings include:

  • “Samuel Crowther and the Limits of Rhetorical Sovereignty in the Transnational African Experience”
  • “Learning from Ghanaian English Composition:  An Argument for Empathy in Translingual Ecology”
  • “What Does the Test Test?  Official Language Policy Rhetorics, Local Language Practices, and Africa’s Translingual Models for English in the World”
  • “Linguistic and Rhetorical Sovereignty as a Human Right: the Occasion of Englishes in
    Abina and the Important Men”
  • “War and Peace Commodified:  Writing the Peace and Stability Operations Industry into Existence”
  • “The Power and Place of Affinity Groups in Institutional Recruitment and Retention of Diversity”
  • “Driving Blind but Getting Somewhere: African Literature in the Secondary Setting” (with Lowell Libby)
  • “The Story of Miss Li.  Uncommon Ground:  Morality Tales across Cultures”

For several years I volunteered with Sister Cities of Louisville and International, particularly in the Louisville-Tamale (Ghana) and Louisville-Jiujiang links, as well as co-writing and then administrating the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation African Urban Poverty Alleviation Grant for the link with Tamale.  Since then, I’ve served on the Council of Independent Schools for two Vermont Secretaries of Education, as Vice President of the board of the Vermont Independent Schools Association, and as chair of NEASC accreditation visiting teams.

My favorite courses to teach include

  • African Literature
  • Arab Women Writers
  • East Asian Literature
  • Race Rhetorics in Tolkien and their Origins in Medieval England (thanks to Prof. Andrew Rabin for his class, from which this is derived)
  • an advanced Shakespeare Seminar and
  • the Creative Writing Workshop.

Scholarship. Community. Global Responsibility.

Students emerge from their time at Vermont Commons School intrinsically motivated to seek out their role for improving the world, with the skills and competencies to do so.