Saturday, May 7, 2005

Lessons of Spring & Richard Stallings

Every April and December I sit down and look through the class schedule for the upcoming semster, carefully considering my options, and debating with myself over which will be the better option for my unique educational approach. Last December I knew immediately what was right for me. I knew that one general Sociology class was not enough to satisfy my growing interest in the institutions of socialization (i.e. the family, government, religion, etc.) and that I had to take a class on social problems. I knew that I was severly lacking in my knowledge of European Culture and had to take two classes to satisfy both the historical and contemporary aspects of a culture so foreign to me. I knew this amazing English professor, whose classroom I would sit in for the rest of my life, was teaching a literature course that would certainly be interesting. I knew that if ISU was offering a class on the Vietnam War I would be there and most of all I knew that anytime I have the opportunity in Idaho to take a class from a Democrat and former congressman I will jump at the chance. That was that and my schedule was set in stone.

My European History knowledge has definitely broadened. Both in my Contemporary European Culture class and my Foundations of Western Civilization classes I found that I knew more that I thought and I learned more than I thought was possible in sixteen weeks. In European Culture I learned the value of a B and recognized true genius in a professor who was educated at Trinity College--Dublin. In Western Civilization I was entertained, educated, and excited to have met a history professor who could not care less about whether or not we memorize dates. The last class day I FINALLY learned the only date she knew off the top of her head and the date I'd been wondering about for sixteen weeks...1453. In 1453 Contantinople became Istanbul.

Only twice in my life have I been in a classroom environment that I can honestly say has redirected my life, inspired me, and taught me lessons that I can't even comprehend yet. I have been in school for the last fourteen years of my life and only twice can I say this. Once it was a U.S. History class, a natural place for me, and now, a course centered on British literature. I love Oscar Wilde, my favorite novel is of course The Picture of Dorian Gray. I've read countless novels by British authors. I enjoy Virginia Woolf, though I think she was more influential on America than the U.K., and Howard's End is amazing. Percy Shelley gives me chills. But it is all British lit and it is safe to say that my interest is in 20th century American literature. That doesn't matter. I truly believe that you can put an impressionable mind in any classroom, whether that be math, science, or language, and despite their natural abilities and interests, they can succeed if the instructor loves the subject and genuinely cares about his or her students. This one is beyond personal and I don't know how to explain it, but there are lessons you will learn, in and out of the classroom, and they will become a part of you and follow you for the rest of your life. It takes a uniquely brilliant instructor to allow such a thing.

The Cold War is my era. Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. If, as my Ray Charles philosophy suggests, I have one talent, it is my interest, passion, and understanding of those three administrations. Nixon disagreeably, Johnson aggrivating as he is, and Kennedy especially. My Vietnam class has enlightened me. I have grown to appreciate the hesitation of the Kennedy administration, the unyielding passion Johnson had for domestic policies and The Great Society, and I've grown even more so critical of Richard Nixon. The topic of Vietnam deserves its own post and in due time will receive one.

Last, but certainly not least is my Idaho Politics class taught by former congressman Richard Stallings. Learning about Idaho politics and politicians is always interesting. From Shoup, Borah, and Dubois to Glen Taylor the "singing senator" and George Hansen the "dragonslayer," never is there a boring moment. Not only do we get the unique insight of a former congressman who knows how politicians work, we get the insight of one of Idaho's few die-hard Democrats. I say die-hard, because I am one and in this state if you're not "die-hard" you are Republican.

Twice a week we started with current events on the national scale, narrowed down to local politics, and then dove head first into stimulating lectures about the most famous and infamous Idaho politicians. It surprises me that at Idaho State University, in one of the most liberal counties in the state, there are so few liberal minded individuals. In the political science department, of the political science majors, I know only a handful of Democrats-- a few libertarians, greenies, and independents, but mostly Republicans. (Much different than the History dept.)

Richard occasionally said things that only a small percentage of us agreed with, but for the most part he provided a very interesting perspective of the paradox that is Idaho. Idaho began fighting Mormonism in the beginning, something that still occurs to an extent. Idaho fought long and hard the gambling, prohibition, and silver issues. And just as Jeffords, the state makeup changed dramatically. Now a dominantly one party system with a strong conservative base, Idaho once, like many other states, road the wave of New Deal politicians and FDR Democrats. Talk about a paradox!

Beside the knowledge I've gained on the subject, I have grown to admire, appreciate, and understand Richard Stallings. It has been an honor to sit in his classroom. My party affiliation is stronger for it and I would take advantage of the opportunity a million times over. I guess the lesson that I've learned from this that is the most important is, as Adlai E. Stevenson once said, "all progress has resulted from people who took unpopular positions." Stallings did it once with Ronald Reagan in a state that Reagen swept. He stood up to Reagen on the Contra issue in Nicaragua, something that could have killed him politically in his home state, and his popularity grew. It takes great courage to stand up for what you really belive in. Richard Stallings does this often. He is, in my book, on the same page as Adlai Stevenson.


Teresa said...

I think the most valuable part of a college education could be the chance to choose classes based on exactly what it is you want to learn.
I completely agree that anyone can learn anything if the instructor loves to teach, loves the subject and genuinely cares about his or her students. Instructors like that are so influential and unforgetable.

Tara A. Rowe said...

Since Teresa commented on teachers, I just wanted to mention that one of our high school teacher, our English teacher, passed away last week, and we have began jointly to realize (not just with this, but over the last two years) that we were blessed to have some very amazing teachers in high school. Our English teacher, as crazy as she was, was very dedicated to her students and loved teaching more than anything. She was an active learner and I think that taught us the most out of everything she did. (That and I learned to love Nathaniel Hawthorne and finally understood the meaning of "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost.)

Though I am not an education major of any sort, I truly believe that teaching is the most noble profession and one that we should all aspire to in some capacity.

For everything "bad" experience we could have in public education, there was always a Mary Null or a wonderful history teacher to make it worthwhile and positive. I am very pleased, honored, and thankful to have attended and graduated Declo High School.

Nick Speth said...

Teresa said: "I think the most valuable part of a college education could be the chance to choose classes based on exactly what it is you want to learn."

Unless you actually want to graduate, then you've got to take all sorts of generals that don't pertain to what you want to do for the rest of your life. Explain to me why I needed Intro to Astronomy to be a German teacher.

Forgive me, I'm a little fed up with the University system.

Tara A. Rowe said...

Nick I understand your frustrations. I don't understand why I must force myself to take Math and Science classes. The university system is not sensitive to the academic desires of those here for the actually intellectual stimulation.