Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Hall of Fame Teachers in My Academic Life, Part 1

Dr. Thomas Dowdy passed away last Sunday evening; he had battled brain cancer for several years.

The news asked me to reflect on those teachers that had shaped my life; Dr. Dowdy was certainly amongst that small group. Initially though, I should clarify that those professors who impacted my life the most were not those who provided me with the most information or even that information upon which I draw most often. The best teachers were not necessarily those who provided the easiest route to an A or made that process incredibly arduous. In fact, the contributions of the best teachers in my life are like wine in that their insights have to age before I appreciate their true flavor.

Dr. Dowdy deserves a place on this list. Admittedly, the practice of strict grade curving and testing us on the minutiae of picture captions are not ones I intend to emulate in my own teaching. However, he forced me to be excellent in my thinking and writing. He helped me understand for the first time that reality was but a social construction. In light of this, however, we were not free to make our way through the world thoughtlessly. That the world was constructed by us required and demanded our best, for we were ultimately responsible for what we made of this world. Even more important to my intellectual mindset, he taught me the central role languages plays in this construction. When I am squinting my eyes seeking to parse a Greek verb, I can remember that language matters.

Most subtly, however, Dr. Dowdy believed in me in a sincere way. Instead of the off-hand compliment, he pointed out my gifts but encouraged me to sharpen them even farther.

For all these things, I thank Dr. Dowdy and pray for peace in his family. I know that he is in peace even now.

My plan is to make this an ongoing feature of this blog; feel free to laugh at my blog ambition at this point. Nevertheless, I am going to focus on teachers through college; I think seminary and graduate school are still too close to assess them properly. Some of the teachers will include Carolyn Cole, Richard Luckert, Kevin Mays, Warren McWilliams and others. More forthcoming...