The Young Turks

Arthur James Clancy Lewis Hogarth came to town for a brief visit last Saturday. Lewis has been a special part of my life for almost a decade. He was there the day I brought Topper home from the shelter. He introduced me to Charlotte.

There was, of course, much to catch up on as we did the standard tourist routine–Morro Rock, Black Hill, Montana de Oro, the Madonna Inn. But I also knew that it was important for Lewis to visit Cal Poly. And to see Don.

To understand why, you have to know about three young college professors who once thought they could make a difference. It was Spring, 1984. Greencastle, Indiana. A small, private, liberal arts school–DePauw University (Yes, the college that decided that Dan Quayle really was smart enough to graduate).

Don, Lewis, and I were honored that year for being the best teachers on campus. And, believe me, modesty aside, we were. We hailed from different backgrounds, represented different academic disciplines and had completely different classroom styles.

Yet Don, Lewis, and I shared a deep passion for teaching. Our classroom approach was simple–be fair, unpredictable, and most of all, caring. Don, for example, knew every student’s name, even in the larger lecture classes, within the first week.

It was not unusual to find Lewis working with his chemistry students in the lab well past midnight.

And me? Well, I had a great dog and reminded everyone of David Letterman. Students came to class not sure of what to expect. The truth was neither did I.

We were the Young Turks of teaching. Our students got every dime’s worth of their $11,000 annual tuition. And then some.

Well, that was then. This is now. Much has happened since 1984. Lewis, despite meteoric teaching evaluations and a prolific publication record, was denied tenure in 1985. He now works on baby formula for a corporate lab in Ohio. Stunned by the news of Lewis’ misfortune, by the petty treatment of such a gifted teacher, I stopped caring, lost my passion for the classroom, and eventually fled academr three years later.

Only Don remained to fight the good fight. A combination of luck and pure coincidence brought him to Cal Poly in 1989.

Lewis and I met Don at his campus office last Saturday. It was the first time we had all been together since 1986. Our first time back on a college campus together. Okay, so it wasn’t a reunion of the Beatles. It was still special.

Don had something he wanted to show us. We walked across the Cal Poly campus to the new business complex. Don took us inside the large lecture auditorium that is the state-of-the-art cornerstone of the building.

“Here we are,” Don said, with just a touch of cynicism. “The future of education.”

Row after row of empty seats, a hall large enough to hold hundreds of students. The college classroom of tomorrow. Shrinking budgets means increasing class size. Forget about teaching students. Just process them along, like we do any other product.

We sat there for awhile in that large, empty classroom, all agreeing that much had changed. Ten years ago, Lewis, Dave, and Don were hungry and eager to prove themselves. We believed that anything was possible in the classroom. Anything.

Looking around that classroom, I guess we just weren’t prepared to find out how right we really were.

San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune (1993)

Published by Dave Congalton

Writer. Radio Host. Screenwriter. Enjoying the Good Life on California's Central Coast.

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