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Aug 20, 2004 7:16 am

Some Of My Children ...

I just got an e-mail from one of my former students thanking me for a course he took with me over 10 years ago. You'd have to know more of the story than you care to hear to understand it fully, but I'm an emotional kinda guy and it almost made me weep. My academic" career" was a disaster – more than that – disaster piled on disaster. And, yet, like other teachers, I have my academic children. I don't even know who all of them are, but I know some of them and I take great pride in their success.

Here's Tom Mockaitis, for example. Tom was one of my best students at Allegheny. After earning a doctorate at Wisconsin, he went to DePaul and is a full professor now. He's published or has under contract seven books. That's more than I have done and, of course, in less time than I've had. He teaches modern European history and counter-insurgency studies. I'm impressed.

Another of my Allegheny children is Michael Baxter. Had you known Father Michael J. Baxter, C.S.C., when he was an undergraduate, you might not have anticipated his teaching theology and social ethics at Notre Dame. Let's just say that he had a fairly lively libido, but he was smart enough. His appointment at Notre Dame was also fairly controversial because Mike's a radical kind of guy, a student of Stanley Hauerwaus at Duke. I know Mike is a great teacher. He just would be.

I have daughters from Allegheny, as well. Susan Brewer earned her doctorate at Cornell and teaches American diplomatic history at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. She was a wonderful student and I know she must be an excellent teacher.

Carol Reardon left Allegheny to earn her doctorate at the University of Kentucky. She teaches American military history now at Penn State. Carol's also published a good bit, including an important recent book on Pickett's Charge in American History and Memory.

It wasn't my Allegheny children who nearly brought me to tears, however. It was one of my Antioch children, Harvey Amani Whitfield. I was under attack at Antioch from the moment I got there and eventually accused of every imaginable offense: racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, elitism. You name it; I was accused of it. Amani took a course in African American history with me just as things were building to a crescendo that would be my tenure denial. In the midst of all that mess, this young African American man stopped by my office and, before he left, he said:"May I give you a hug." The doors were open to the world, so I said:"Yes, of course, you can." There was something about his grace that almost made me whole again.

Amani left Antioch (because, he says, it was so" crazy") within six months, finished his degree at Colorado State, and did a doctorate at Dalhousie University in Canada. He's a tenure track assistant professor of African American history at the University of Vermont now. And, do you know what? He wrote to thank me. Whether my tears were of joy or sorrow, I don't know, but I can't begin to say how much I owe to him. Thanks, Amani.

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Ralph E. Luker - 8/20/2004

Thanks, David. I was afraid that this post was awfully self-indulgent, but I am pretty proud of my sheep.

David Lion Salmanson - 8/20/2004

Forgive my Navajo kick this morning. But in Navajo there is an expression "To think for the sheep." It has a lot of different meanings, but one of them is a way of thinking about others before oneself. This is the essence of good teaching. If one thinks for the sheep, one is eventually rewarded with prosperity, health, etc. etc.. It is pretty clear that Ralph has been thinking for the sheep all these past years. And that he continues to do so.

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