Twenty years ago today I taught my first class of college freshmen at King College. Even though it was an adjunct gig, and I had to drive 40 minutes 3 times a week to campus, here’s my journal entry from that day:
While I cringe now at the overblown prose [clearly modeled after Thomas Wolfe, a southern writer with whom I was obsessed at the time], I can distinctly remember what it felt like to walk into that classroom for the first time. I was reminded of this fact mainly because of finding in my vast archive of ephemera the class roster, which led to scanning names and seeing if faces would come to my memory. While most of the names on that roll [printed by dot matrix printer, of course] didn’t help me recall much about the individuals, one did stand out: a quiet, very creative girl named Frankie. I was curious to find out what she’s doing now — two decades later — and, thanks to the interweb, it didn’t take too long. Turns out Frankie went on to study fashion design and has established her own label and boutique in New York City. One of the greatest things about being an educator is to learn of such success stories.
Also, as I started back with meetings and workshops for this new academic year this week, I found myself listening to a topic regarding Black Mountain College which was both perfectly timed and thought provoking. Here’s the snippet, from WUNC radio:
“Unconventional by almost every standard, the college served as an alternative to traditional education and was one of the first schools in the nation to create an educational plan embodying the principles of progressive education. One of the major tenets of the school’s plan was to elevate the fine arts to full curricular status.
The school was based on a “whole student” concept, where students and faculty lived and worked together and there were no required courses.
Owing partly to the imbalance between the arts and sciences, Black Mountain College was never accredited. Despite that fact, many of its graduates enjoyed successful careers in the fine arts, education and letters.”
And, from another source: “Legendary even in its own time, Black Mountain College attracted and created maverick spirits, some of whom went on to become well-known and extremely influential individuals in the latter half of the 20th century. A partial list includes people such as Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Josef and Anni Albers, Jacob Lawrence, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Cy Twombly, Kenneth Noland, Ben Shahn, Franz Kline, Arthur Penn, Buckminster Fuller, … and many others, famous and not-so-famous, who have impacted the world in a significant way. Even now, decades after its closing in 1957, the powerful influence of Black Mountain College continues to reverberate.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students I have taught over these fleeting years, and hope that I’ve had some small part in their development as critical thinkers and creative contributors to this culture so in need of their gifts and youthful vigor. Though it can be very challenging and enervating at times to endure much of the conventional tropes of academia these days, I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach graphic design and am humbled by the responsibility.