Wednesday, October 19, 2011

C. W. Young and History

C. W. Young

C.W. Young. Not many people have ever heard of him and of the thousands of young people whose path’s he crossed, it is likely that not many remember him. To those who never had the pleasure of knowing him or knowing and forgetting, the loss is truly yours. His accomplishments were not reported on the local or network news shows, nor have they been recorded for posterity, even though, because he was far better than any of the candidates on the ballot, I did “write in” his name in a presidential election once, so he does have the distinction of having received at least one vote for President of The United States. That one vote, although lost in the millions and millions of pieces of election data, remains a fact of election history. If it were within my power, his name would be engraved in some monument that recognizes those great Americans that shaped the country from behind the scenes, without fanfare, usually without thanks, Teachers.

His name is engraved in gold on my heart, and I would hope many, many other hearts, and will forever be remembered as a man of honor, a man who recognized that his mission in life was to not only teach but to teach his students how to think about and to understand the myriad of things filling their young minds. To him, just covering the prescribed subject material was not the supreme duty of a teacher but instilling in his students a love of learning and a thirst for understanding were the paramount components of the teachers calling. Most students, even years later, probably failed to recognize and appreciate the effect he had upon them. Recognize it or not, C. W. Young touched the hearts of untold young men and women with his dedication to his profession and what is more important, to them, his students.

C.W. Young was not a politician, not an entertainment celebrity, not a newsmaker or newspaper reporter, not a corporate executive, did not build houses, sell cars, design rockets, or run a tavern. There are many things that C. W. Young was not and many things he did not do and likely had no desire to be or do, but man-oh-man, could he teach history. Through twelve years of public education, four years of college, two years at university, and a lifetime of learning, no other person has ever brought history more alive to me than my eighth grade history teacher at Loren Andrews Junior High School in Massillon, Ohio, C. W. Young.

I had always liked history and had slightly more than a passing interest in the subject but hated memorizing dates for every event that ever occurred on planet earth. Mr Young taught me to look at history, not as just a jumble of unrelated dates, names, and people, but as a never ending book full of adventure stories that tells us where we, as humans, started, where we are now and where we are going; and what happened to us every step along the way. He showed me how only a handful of dates were of extreme importance and how starting at any one of those would lead from the events that made that date important,step by step, forward, backward and sideways to the stories of events and the eras they occurred. Through the reminiscence’s of those who lived through those years, the tales and lore that have been passed down, both orally and written, through the generations and the documents that established the importance of the era, we become part of the story. Some years ago, in the late 1970s, there was a program produced and broadcast by PBS called Connections. The moderator would show how unrelated events, inventions, and discoveries could be connected creating a a chain that would, for instance, show how the discovery of fire led to the first man stepping onto the moon. Mr. Young used that same exciting and adventurous technique to teach history as far back as the 1950s and to generations prior to my encounter with him. He opened the door to history as a panorama of never resting action, alive and exciting and drawing each of us into every scenario that played out before our eyes as if we were there. He took me from liking history to developing a love of history that has grown even deeper as the years pass and I realize that each one of us are, in our own way, an integral part of the progression of living history.

Mr. Young had an outline of history hand written on blackboards on three walls of his classroom. Each week, one panel changed. Good students copied it all down and maybe still look fondly at the copious outline he presented us all with. I wish I had been one of those good students. When I think about that hand written outline, I always wonder how many hours he spent updating the blackboards, writing in his distinctive style. My fingers ache every time I think about it.

Mr. Young once told me not to look at an event as a singular occurrence. He said to look at the event, the time, and the place of the event and then open my eyes to the panorama of the entire world. What was happening in Egypt that allowed the Romans to conquer such an old and powerful kingdom? What was happening in the Americas when the Romans were ruling so much of the European Continent? What was happening in Africa when the first band of hunter/gathers followed the large game animals that their lives depended across the Arctic land bridge? Who were the hunter/gathers? He showed me that once you ask and answer one question, many more pop up in an endless succession that leads one to the conclusion that history is fluid and that every person that has lived has contributed to that flow of history and that those who follow us will contribute their part to the never endless and borderless saga of history.

Back in those days, I was not what anyone would refer to as an ideal student, in fact I was a one of those students that not much was expected of. Mr Young did not believe in low expectations and more than once he told me that I was using other peoples opinion of my abilities as an excuse to not work at proving them wrong. He invited me to many after school sessions and tried to guide me in a more positive direction than I had been traveling. He spent many extra hours with me, without reward, other than his paycheck, and without the benefit of knowing what the long term effects, if any, of his efforts might be. I wish he were here today so that I could thank him in a more formal way but the best I can hope for is that he can look down from his lofty perch in the ether and see the good he did and smile and hope with all my heart that he can look at many, many former students and smile many, many times.

There are good teachers and bad teachers. There are teachers that some would call fantastic or sensational. None of those terms describe Mr. Young. Every student has favorite teachers and teachers they don’t like so it is likely that not every former student will share my deep regard for this man who went far beyond the call of duty help young people gain the confidence to succeed in life. To me Mr. Young was much more than a history teacher, he was a man that took time to counsel a troubled young man, to treat that young man like he had value, and to do all that out of an honest concern, some may call it love, for a young person that needed help.

You have lived in my heart for over five decades and will be there on the day that I pass from this stage of life to the next. Mr. Young, I hope you can see and feel the warmth of the room in the castle I have built in my heart for those I most cherish.

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