Education Works!

It was my 25th college reunion and I ran into one of my former professors, Jim Webb, Professor of Literature. I had taken a class from him years ago in Victorian Literature, studying Ruskin and Morris, Blake, Rossetti, the whole crowd of dreamers and believers in the value of nature, the work of the hand.

Webb was the iconoclast, the maverick professor. He presided over his class, smoking his cigarettes and wearing his shades. He held sessions in his own home, the walls covered in dark fabric, the windows drawn against the light. It was extremely hip. He was extremely hip. Smart, intense, cool.

I didn’t remember much about the class but a few things stuck. One was that time in a debate I cited a book we were reading as proof of my cause. I said it was in the book. Webb said to me, “you believe what you read in books?” The student I was arguing with scoffed. Ouch.

Another was the time he wanted our class to get lathes and put them on his porch so we could start turning wooden bowls and things, like Morris wanted folks to do. This would be a step away from the Industrial Revolution, a step toward mingling literature and the crafts, melding mind and body. At the time, I scoffed at the idea.

When I saw him at the reunion, he was selling beads and things on a carpet spread under one of the grand beech trees there on campus. He made or traded for these things on his New Mexico hideaway where he raised goats, and who knows, peyote, probably. Still weird, still hip, still the voice in the wilderness, the self-proclaimed outcast.

I went up to him and said, ” I took your Victorian Literature class years ago and when you said you wanted to put lathes on the porch so we could turn bowls I thought it was the most fucked up idea I had ever heard…
I’m a woodworker now. ”

He jumped up into the air and yelled, “Education works!”

Nice moment.

Who can say where our influences may come from?

Published in: on March 7, 2008 at 8:55 am  Comments (2)  

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Gary,

    Thanks for starting the blog. I’m still trying to figure out a way to take some courses from your studio.
    If I didn’t love my job so much, I’d figure out a way to blow it off more often. Anyway, as far as this post, great insight. It always amazes me how much influence our favorite educators have influenced our perceptions.
    I was lucky enough to have several that really had an impact.

  2. Great blog. I’m also trying to figure out a way to take your classes – full time work, kid, school. Anyway, appreciate your insight and will be a regular reader. Education does work!

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