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A journalist living humanely

Steve Charles—TIME magazine Miami Bureau Chief Tim Padgett ’84 travels to New York next month to receive the Cabot Prize from Columbia University for his outstanding reporting on Latin America.

But I’ve learned much and been moved by his recent coverage of the devastation caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita on the Gulf Coast.

Some of his best work is found at TIME Online. His "Flying with a New Orleans Rescue Crew" snatches you up for a ride on a CH-53 helicopter called "Voodoo Child" as it takes to a sky "frenetically dotted with all types and sizes of choppers, bobbing and weaving like bumblebees in a barely controlled chaos amidst the smoke of fires burning along the Mississippi River below."

Padgett’s reporting illuminates challenges I’d never heard about in other coverage, such as the difficulty of providing air traffic control during the "saturation rescue scene" over New Orleans, and then takes you face to face with physically and mentally disabled survivors the crew plucks from the floodwaters. The final paragraph is as carefully observed as the best fiction, but this is reality at its most desperate. Padgett’s words burn these images on the brain and inspires compassion better than any photograph or video coverage I’ve seen.

You can read the article at:

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1101340,00.html

And Padgett’s article, "The Complicated Mayor of New Orleans" asks if Ray Nagin is the right man to rebuild the Crescent City. That one’s at:

http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1109261,00.html

“We can get better!”

Jim Amidon — As the home game photographer for Wabash’s athletic teams, I like to shoot more than just game action. Some of the best shots I get come after a game, when the Little Giants are taking off their uniforms and preparing for their coach’s post-game comments.

So, after games, I tend to stick close to the players. After Saturday’s 50-2 win over Earlham, most members of the Wabash football team were in great spirits —†high fives and hugs were exchanged by all. Coach Creighton gathered the team together and one of the very first things he said was, "We can get better."

Coach Creighton is successful — and makes his men successful in sports and in later life — because, like faculty, he always challenges his student-athletes to improve. And he knows that being overly congratulatory after a 50-2 win would go straight to the heads of his players. Instead, he focused on the penalties the team made and a few things on which the team needs to improve this week at practice.

Having spent a good bit of time in the classroom this month, I know faculty have precisely the same approach: "We can always get better."

“Gorgeous, disturbing, and grippingly alive”

Jim Amidon — I read Joy Castro’s powerful memoir The Truth Book quite some time ago, before it was in print. I knew instantly that it had the grace and muscle to attract a large reading audience. Just before its release, The Truth Book was named a "Notable Book" by Booksense.

And the word is spreading.

In Sunday’s Boston Globe, Caroline Leavitt wrote about Castro’s book in her regular Sunday column, "A Reading Life." This week’s column was titled "Rewriting damaged lives with eloquence and truth," and featured Castro’s book along side Floyd Skloot’s A World of Light.

Leavitt called the English professor’s book "an exquisitely powerful and beautifully written memoir."

And:

"Castro, like Skloot, moves effortlessly back and forth through memory, as she tries to ”feel my way into what it all means." Glimpses of her future spark and glint amid the rubble of her past, and she even imagines a richly evocative monologue from her heartbroken birth mother. Castro not only saves herself from her brutal childhood, she saves her brother. And when she has a son, she gives him the childhood she and her brother never had a chance for. Her son is doted on, never struck or scolded. ”Sweetheart, this is what you deserve," she tells him.

"Gorgeous, disturbing, and grippingly alive, Castro’s book offers the kind of hope her background never supplied."

Just a quick reminder that the Wabash Bookstore has plenty of copies, and that Joy will read from The Truth Book on October 27 at 8:00 p.m. in Salter Concert Hall.

Floats that don’t float

Jim Amidon — Many colleges and universities have Homecoming parades complete with bands and floats. I gather that many years ago that was the case here at Wabash. Today, though, the freshman floats don’t float. In fact, we call them "decorations." But simply because they don’t roll down the street behind a John Deere doesn’t mean our kids don’t work just as hard as anyone else. Just take a look at the tired eyes of the freshmen from eight fraternities and and the independents who built Homecoming decorations — I’m sure some pulled the first of what will become many Wabash all-nighters.

Kudos to Rick Warner, Patrick Myers, and Sherry Ross, who rolled out of bed early on a damp Saturday morning to walk the entire length of campus to serve the Sphinx Club as judges for this year’s competition.

The Delts put on a boxing match for their "KO the Quakers" theme; the independents, who built decorations over 20 feet tall at Crawford Hall, attempted to bribe the judges with juice and fruit; and the Phi Psi’s decorations stretched 60-70 feet across the lawn. Interestingly, the Fiji decorations feature a burning pot, complete with dry, old wood around the base —guess that will make it easier to set fire to it (anybody else remember the huge blaze there a few years ago?).

But the moment of the morning came after I had taken pictures on the west end of campus and was headed south to Lambda Chi. There I saw the Delt queen having his, er, her nails painted. I was so confused.

Ah, Homecoming!

Jim Amidon — Okay, I can side with some members of the faculty who say Homecoming is a giant sleep-depriving waste of time and leads to an unproductive week in the classroom.

But it is a lot of fun — for the freshmen and for those of us who wish we were 18 again.

Chapel Sing, in its new format, worked well, I thought. None of the kids were really screaming the song (well, maybe Sigma Chi and Phi Delt), and the Sphinx Club did a good job of evaluating those freshmen who really knew the words. Independents were a part of the fun again this year. The students I talked to after it was all over said it was "a blast," the "most fun I’ve had at Wabash so far," and a tremendous "bonding experience." And best of all, the guys I talked to Thursday afternoon still had their voices!

Friday morning as Howard Hewitt and I were planning out coverage of the weekend, we noticed a Beta freshman crashed on top of his house’s Homecoming decoration. Not exactly sure why they feel the need to guard them all night, or why the guy was nestled so deeply in a sleeping bag — it was, after all, hot and humid. But it made for a great picture.

I love Homecoming. Leaves are beginning to change; the bright red banners line the streets; the stadium will be packed on Saturday; and sure, for one week this fall, the Rhynies are exhausted… but having the time of their lives.

Robinson to Visit Campus, talk about Teach For America

Jeremy Robinson ’04 is working at an inner-city high school in Chicago with Teach For America. Jeremy, who is from Indianapolis, was a Lilly Scholar while at Wabash and a Summa Cum Laude graduate.

His experiences at Harper High School will be detailed in the winter edition of Wabash Magazine. Jeremy is teaching at one of the city’s most under-performing high schools. He is in his second year and has faced many unique challenges during his experience.

Jeremy is going to be on campus Monday, October 10, to talk to any senior interested in the Teach for America program. He would like to pre-arrange interviews. Any senior interested can contact Scott Crawford at the Career Center or send an e-mail directly to Jeremy at: jeremy.robinson@corps2004.tfanet.org

- Howard Hewitt, 9-22-05

A Classroom Immersion

Jim Amidon — Spending a couple of days in the Wabash classroom with Details magazine reporter Jeff Gordinier was precisely what the doctor ordered to start the school year. Over two days, we made it to nine different classes taught by Wabash’s newest and most legendary professors. While the goal was to give Jeff a sense of what it’s like to attend a college for men, the experience charged my batteries in a meaningful way.

John Aden took his world history students outside to the Fuller Arboretum, where they broke into a pair of warring armies. Aden didn’t carefully choose the groups; he just split the class in half. He acknowledged that only a handful "had read the text" and knew what to do. For example, archers (who could move five steps when it was their turn) took high ground, naturally, but were too far away to strike. One side filled its ranks with catapults, the other had none. It was a crude display, but it was also quite clear that Aden was making his point about the strategies that went into medieval warfare. If I imagined really hard, I could almost see our guys dressed for a scene in Gladiator. Okay, not really, but it was a cool way to bring the material to life.

Before David Kubiak’s Intermediate Greek course, I asked the students what they thought of their professor. One said, "He terrifies me." Another: "The hardest teacher I’ve ever had." Then, in unison, three guys said, "Probably the best teacher I’ve ever had." When Kubiak came into the classroom, he briefly discussed the quizzes from the previous week. "Don’t you know by now I only give you these quizzes so that you’ll know the things that really irritate me." He then went over the various issues the students continue to get hung up on, that "irritate him." He was, in that 50 minutes, equally tough, challenging, and supportive.

Bill Placher’s Religion in Literature class provided a completely different look at classroom dynamic. I would later learn that the class includes freshmen through seniors, roughly 25 percent of each. And the conversation was amazing. They were discussing John Updike, and while I didn’t know the text, I felt as though I did by the high level of conversation and the way Placher eased it along. Bill’s been in the Wabash classroom a long time, and I doubt any student has ever felt embarrassed in his presence. His classroom is a safe one, where students can express themselves freely.

We dropped in on Greg Huebner’s figure drawing class in the art department on a day when the students were sketching a nude model. What shocked me most was the "all business" approach the students had. If anyone felt uncomfortable in the room, it was either Jeff or me — the outsiders. When the model disrobed, the students started sketching as though it was a disciplined exercise involving a bowl of fruit. This at a college for men!

I never had "Fast" Ed McLean for Constitutional Law, but I gather from most of my Wabash lawyer friends that it was their best training for their careers. Jeff and I sat it on an early morning version of the same class taught by one of McLean’s former students and a practicing lawyer, Scott Himsel ’85. At Wabash, we don’t go in much for adjunct professors, but Himsel was amazing. What he got out of the students at 8 a.m. on a Tuesday morning was spectacular; they were well prepared and discussed the day’s Supreme Court case with detail and clarity.

There were other classes, too, that were equally impressive: Steve Webb’s freshman tutorial class during which he had students read aloud their essays and critique one another; Joy Castro’s creative writing class that began with a 10-minute free writing exercise in which Jeff participated; Warren Rosenberg’s freshman tutorial on Men and Masculinity, during which the guys — in sometimes blunt terms — said that "Yes!" men can be friends; and Peter Bankart’s Human Sexuality course where guys, with some discomfort, discussed hormonal problems in women.

What an immersion for our reporter friend and for me. In fact, I think I’ll make such immersion experiences a regular beginning to every semester.


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