Banner

“To Love the Minds of Young Men”

Steve Charles—My grandson Myca is the first boy I’ve helped to raise from infancy. I have four sons, but the first died before he was born, and I came to know the other three only after I married their mom and they were 7, 10, and 12 years old by then. Experiencing these first two years with Myca, I regret more than ever that I missed their earlier years. I think I might have treated them with more understanding, been less put off by their surge for independence, better stood by them in their difficult teenaged years.

What prompts this reflection is a recent visit with Professor David Blix. I was walking home late couple weeks ago, noticed the light burning in his second floor Center Hall office, and stopped by to talk (one of the great luxuries of this job.)

At some point the conversation came around to Wabash teachers. David’s not only one of the best, but as a Wabash student he was taught by some of the most revered—men like Eric Dean, Raymond Williams, Hall Peebles, Vic Powell, and Jack Charles. I asked him what he thought were the essential qualities of a Wabash teacher, and David said, “I think, in a sense, one needs to love the minds of students. Here, of course, that means one needs to love the minds of young men.”

His words have been echoing in my mind ever since. In part because he captures so well an essential mindset of teaching in this place, but also because he put into words exactly the characteristic of teachers that caused me to want to be a part of Wabash College soon after I came to work here 16 years ago.

One of the first themes we went after with Wabash Magazine was “Teachers,” and for that edition I interviewed David’s classmate and closest friend, the late Bill Placher ’70. I walked into the office of one of the most nation’s most respected theologians and saw fascinating artwork—a Tibetan woodcut, a painting of Lao-Tzu “riding into the unknown,” a photograph of Bill’s father—but very few items on his wall that hinted at his many books, his extensive work for the Presbyterian church, or his own deep faith. When I mentioned this, Bill said, “I never thought about this much before, but if there were a lot of crucifixion scenes on the walls of this office, there would be less of the kind of space I try to give students.”

Anyone who ever watched Bill teach or had a long conversation with him experienced that safe “space,” that intellectual hospitality that this brilliant mind offered students. They walked away from those conversations thinking more deeply, and having articulated their thoughts more clearly than ever before, because they had been in the presence of a teacher who respected, challenged, enjoyed, and invested a good part of his life in their developing minds.

I’ve seen variations on that same hospitality as I’ve interviewed professors here across the academic disciplines over the years. These come immediately to mind—Professor Scott Feller’s genuine joy in learning alongside his students in research, economics Professor Kay Widdows’ descriptions of traveling with her students in Ecuador, theater Professor Dwight Watson’s praise for the student stage managers he has collaborated with here—and the list could go on and on.

But last week I got to see that respect and hospitality live and up-close. I sat in on Colloquium on Important Books, the course in which seniors discuss great books every Wednesday night with a different two professors for each session. The students run the class, and the professors are guests. These professors volunteer to participate—the class doesn’t count toward their course load. But Professor Brian Tucker ’98, who coordinates the course, says he never has trouble finding teachers. And teachers from Spanish Professor Dan Rogers to psychology professor Preston Bost to math Professor Chad Westphal have told me how they value and enjoy the depth, the seriousness, the humor, and personal growth so evident in those conversations, which often stretch beyond the allotted hour and a half.

It’s a place to see teachers who respect, challenge, and revel in the minds of their students, and to see how students respond when that deep respect, challenge, and enjoyment have been offered to them here for four years.

Last week’s guest professors were David Blix and philosophy Professor Mark Brouwer, who allowed me to photograph the class. Here’s a photo album from that session, along with photos from an earlier session I photographed in the fall. I’ll have some quotes from those sessions in the next issue of Wabash Magazine, but I hope these photos tell a story of their own.

We just had 325-plus prospective students on campus for Honor Scholarship Weekend. If any of them, or their parents, were to ask me why they should consider Wabash over their other college choices, I’d talk about the Gentleman’s Rule, about the opportunity to learn alongside brilliant men and women whose students’ education is their first concern. I’d add that they’ll make friends here that they’ll keep for the rest of their lives, and that they’ll be able to take chances to be the persons they were truly created to be.

But asked to give a single reason, I’ll refer them to the words of Professor Blix and what seems to me a foundational value at Wabash: You’ll have the opportunity to be taught by men and women who have come to love the minds of their students, teachers who love the minds of young men.

In photos (from top): Vincent Tran ’10 listens as classmate Edward Davis makes a point about Lu Xun’s short story, Diary of a Madman, during a Wednesday session of Colloquium on Important Books; Professor David Blix ’70; Mark Thomas ’10

Photos by Steve Charles