The first college class I ever taught on my own was back in 1982: a section of freshman composition at the University of Virginia. I’d just gotten my M.A. and I’d led a discussion group as a TA, but this was the first time I was truly flying solo. The overall format was pretty well set: one two-to-three page paper a week on a topic or theme of some kind. I decided to get creative. With co-conspirator Alice, I devised an assignment that asked students to write as observant and detailed a paper as they could about a statue of a winged aviator that stood just outside Alderman Library. The bonus prize went to the students who were shrewd enough to discover that the same guy that did Mount Rushmore did the statue. A few of them got it, though most got stuck at the statue’s shiny crotch, polished by years of student “veneration” as they made their way into the library. The rest of the statue was green, but the crotch was burnished bronze.
In any event, one paper I got exploded all my expectations. In this paper, the statue came to life, slung a backpack over its shoulder, and made its way to Manhattan, where it walked among the city streets with panache and caused quite a spectacle. I took the paper home and read it to Alice. I said, “I’m not sure what to say about this paper, but I am sure there’s something quite extraordinary about this writer.”
That writer was Eddie Dean. Having talent like that just appear on a class roster as if by magic is one of the great, great rewards of the vocation of teaching. I did the best I could to keep up with his talent, but even then I knew that my first job as a teacher was to Do No Harm. I didn’t want any of the things I *could* teach Eddie to alter one bit of his native genius. In some respects, I suppose I was trying to enact that wonderful motto of Heidegger that Hillary B. unearthed in the course of her reading and blogging: I was trying above all to “let learn.”
I hope my teaching was of some use to Eddie, but given his many accomplishments as a professional music journalist over the ensuing years, I am confident I did no harm. I’m also very, very proud to say that Eddie’s second book is now out: the Ralph Stanley memoir that he’s been working on for years. Here’s the article in the NY Times, and here’s a tasty little piece of nastiness from The Boot. I look for widespread acclaim for the book and for Eddie’s labors in putting it together. And I can’t wait for the third book to appear–though I imagine Eddie’s ready for a book breather at this point, a breather of great extent.
They say strangers should be welcomed, as one may thereby entertain an angel unaware. Turns out English 101 should be welcomed too, for I entertained an Eddie Dean unaware.
Yes, let learn!
And rock on, brother.