Lecture Me. Really.

Molly Worthen, assistant professor of history, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina, has written an article about lecturing in history that captures my teaching method as to why and how “lecturing” is fundamental to thinking and interacting with other minds in the classroom, hence, in the world.

From the article, I have used the very same John Henry Newman’s quotes to justify teaching by mainly lecture since I began in 1965.

I liked her idea of having a student rebut parts of the lecture, in some fashion, the next time in class.

The vogue for active learning blinds us to the value of ancient teaching methods.

Source: Lecture Me. Really. – The New York Times


My last lecture


Five minutes before I lecture, I place a candle on the desk and light it.  The lectern stands apart from from the desk.  Some students have already arrived, others come in; some are puzzled at the candle, others not.  At 11:10 a.m., May 5, 2015, I stand and deliver my last lecture in history before college students.  I begin…

Good morning.  I have lite a candle, as you can see, and hopefully none of you are allergic to the scent.  This is my last lecture of my career in teaching and I want you to share this time with me.  I light the candle because I want some physical remembrance of this class, of this time, of my career, of you.  I turned in my letter of resignation to retire yesterday.

This is my last lecture.

We have material to cover, but at the end of the lecture, I will make a few personal remarks.  But, first, let’s begin with the First Persian Gulf War under Bush the First’s administration.  Of course, we didn’t know that there would be a Second Persian Gulf War, so it was merely called, the Persian Gulf War…

[I proceed to lecture for about an hour, finishing with the presidential election of 2012, the Obama victory coming from the gradual, but not complete, recovery from the Great Recession, the ongoing withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and Mitt Romney’s ill-chosen remarks about the 49% of the American people being “takers.”  The economy nearly always has affect upon the party in power.  I ask for questions. I close my notes, pause, and then proceed...]

Since 1960, I have either sat in desks like you are today or I have taught college and university courses in history, government, anthropology.  I have taught a total of forty-seven years, twenty-four at Amarillo College, seventeen here at Cisco, and several years at Texas Christian, the University of Texas at Arlington, and Texas Wesleyan in Fort Worth.

I am seventy-two years old and I want to do some other things while I am in good health such as hiking, mountaineering in northern New Mexico, travel to Europe again, write.  I may teach again, perhaps.  Texas Wesleyan students want me to teach a course in Native American history and I would like to teach a course in the philosophy of history.  But, we’ll see about all that.

In my teaching I have striven to be unbiased, giving as many sides to interpreting an event as I can.  If I have taken one side strongly or the other, I have done it with disclosure to you, playing and arguing a position: liberal, conservative, socialist, communist, fascist.  I have not played that role or presented that method to you.  I’ve done that technique in the past, but not recently in our class. Nonetheless, the constants in my lectures have been science, naturalism, reasoning, rationality, evidence, corroboration.  Those are methods that must remain constant.  They must.

I have given you the definition, early on, that history is philosophy with examples.  I have not explicitly spelled out the philosophies of history, but you may find the philosophies if you parse my lectures and review the constants of science, naturalism, and the reasoned approach to life.  I wish I had done more to explain examples, the historical events, with contrasting philosophies, but I have not. I want to tell you some quotes or axioms that have guided me and my teaching over the years.  Some of these I have already given to you, but here they are again.

Say what you mean.  Deliver what you promise.  Fight for the right [1].

Now, fighting for the right doesn’t necessarily mean take up arms or drop bombs, but it might.  Here it means to take a stand, argue reasonably, talk to power.

History is not dead; it isn’t even past [2].

That is a Faulkner quote, and I believe it fervently.  I add my own dimension to his words:  You may not want to live in the past, but the past lives in you.  What that means is nothing spooky, but your genotype, phenotype, the narratives you carry within from your mother and father, me, your friends, the books you read, even the way you walk, are related to the past that you carry now, within you.

If you are not for yourself, then who is for you?  But, if you are for yourself alone, what are you?  If not now, when?  [3]

I am neither religious nor Jewish, but this quote from the Talmud expresses much, both taking care of yourself and entering into a civil life with others, unselfishly–now. Then, finally, you have heard this quote from me in class, but it is quite significant.  It comes from Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 2,400 years ago.

Happiness depends upon freedom and freedom depends upon courage. And, courage is the knowledge of what is sweet and what is terrible, and yet notwithstanding, going out into the day to meet it [4].

There has not been a a class I have taught that I have not had anxiety until I am fifteen or so minutes into the class.  Lecturing, presenting before you is both sweet and terrible.  All of my career, it always has been both.  Thank you for being with me today.

I paused and looked over the class through the years.  I then walked over to the lighted candle on the desk and blew the flame out


[1]  Codes of fealty, Middle Ages, Europe, various sources.  This was the mission statement of American Airlines after World War II.

[2]  William Faulkner, various sources, perhaps the Nobel Prize speech he gave in literature.

[3]  Tractate Avoth, Chapter 1, Mishna 14 (New York: Judaica Press, 1965).

[4]  Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War (New York: Penguin Classics, 1972).  This comes from Pericles’ funeral oration.

Hexa Lecture 1


I have six (hexa in Greek) lectures before the end of the semester, Spring 2015.

Hexa Lecture 1 begins with Sputnik and continues until the rise of the President JImmy Carter Imperium; also a reflection upon the summer of 1976, our bicentennial when I saw the brilliant white sails of ships in the New York harbor.

Hexa Lecture 1 establishes the first of six lectures of what determines the course of history and does history lead towards a better life?  All lectures subsumed under United States history with references to global affairs.