Distance Learning is One Thing: but social media is neither
It was as if every cleaning service in the world had combined to descend
on campus the night before, finished their work, and scurried away only the moment
Each leaf on every tree along the crisscrossed walks connecting dorms
and facilities were flipped and spritzed until every stem, vein, and
lamina were fresh and
Spread across the commons hundreds of thousands of grass blades were buffed
and polished to a sparkle using only the slightest dusting of an early spring
Small interspersed flowers and plants green but not grass
had all been touched with equal
This perfect work extended down to the very air
molecules themselves all gently scoured till gleaming, tossed back up into the singing blue mirror sky.
Soon there would be cicadas.
If not for the few scattered clouds which tempered the light, it would have
been too much.
For this tiny midwest campus, MacMurray College, it all meant just another
typical springtime morning, routine and mundane, vibrant and eternal.
Slightly removed from the light and under trees where a breeze still
flipped a few leaves winking, I walked head down beside Dr. Hilda H. Hale coming
from her senior-level class in Modern Literature.
My rare lucidity had been goaded upon me by the threat of exams.
So though it was a few days since the last party, I still had the relieved
feeling of being just returned to earth from an extended off-world odyssey
I could not look Dr. Hale directly in the face.
Today was the day before her midterm, and she had stopped class when a
friend and I arrived late surreptitiously slinking to the side of the back row.
With not a glance toward us she turned away from the blackboard and said, "Class, today we have visitors.
Welcome Marc and Bob. They must have heard about tomorrow's test."
She did it so smoothly I was looking around excited to see the
special guests when I realized it was us.
Now Dr. Hale was walking beside me coming from MacMurray Hall (which
everyone called the
science building) beginning the route past the spired Georgian chapel and along
the sidewalk through the
broad grassed corridor between Rutledge and Jane Hall up to the
substantial three story library then over to the modernist student
union—the Irma Latzer Gamble Campus Center.
No impractical ivy, but mature trees and shrubs were all around.
Her comment was cautionary, "You know, Bob, people are different. Some
are stronger than others—drugs affect people differently. Some
people may get by
for awhile, but for others..."
She meant that Marc might survive our activities while I probably would not.
She asked, "Have you been writing?"
I shuddered a small reply, "A bunch of poems but none are any good."
Ashamed that I blurted, I ducked a little further to the side, winced, and waited
for the standard response I always got from people when I slipped and said something like that, "Oh, I'm sure they are nice. You
are good at that sort of stuff."
But without hesitation Dr. Hale stated flatly, "Bob, it is good you
know your writing is not good, because if you know it is bad you will be able
to figure out why and fix it."
"Oh wow!" rushed my thought between breaths, "That was refreshing.
Somebody finally giving me credit for knowing what I'm talking about. Makes
perfect sense, too. Maybe
I can get better."
She had just nudged me toward a process I would follow for
Write everything down. Put it aside. Read it again later (aloud) to see
why it sucks. Throw away 98% and start over. Do that again and again until it
That nudge came before I understood how this ittzy bittzy out-of-the-way
college was compressing me into an education equal to any in the world,
so I missed the fact my walking beside Dr. Hilda Hale was no accident.
She had tracked me down after class to do what all great teachers
do always: make an impression.
MacMurray College was full of these great teachers.
A large class was 15 students, most were smaller, and almost all were
taught by a PhD who expected us to think and perform like one ourselves.
I would not know the full truth about the quality of what was provided until my
later involvement with some people at
Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.
The commonplace excellence at MacMurray was easy for me to take for
granted, because Dr. Hale was fairly typical of a faculty
where almost every classroom teacher was a full professor holding a PhD in their field—often
with International renown as well.
I began to assume this was bottom line for college educations, because like most people I thought there was a great divide between
what was provided by small schools and the gold-standard of the well
known Ivy League.
I was wrong, and here is how I found out.
It was years later, and Marc was off teaching English at Chulalongkorn
University in Bangkok, Thailand.
wife's sister was working at Cornell, mostly in the Human Services Office
but for a brief time actually Dean of Students.
Having one of their own employed at Cornell elevated the school above
my wife's family's
prejudice that Harvard was the only place worth attending, so eventually two
of my nephews were studying at Cornell.
Over non-alcoholic Jell-O eggs during one Easter dinner in Ithaca my sister-in-law pulled out a recent
term paper of one of the nephews.
A very big deal was made about how hard Cornell was, how
incomprehensible the assigned topic was, how impressive it was that my
nephew could write such a profound paper.
After much ado and passings around, the paper was handed to me.
I read it carefully saying, "This is terrific. Very deep
subject. Wonderful work."
But what I knew was this; the topic was merely standard college fare, and
the writing was sophomoric at best.
Due to the fact I had written a few dozen of my own sophomoric papers on the same
and similar subjects at MacMurray years before, I knew sophomoric very
well when I saw it.
I also knew this was not the time to mention it.
Actually I loved the paper, because it brought back memories.
What struck me as odd was how the mothers did not see
it for what it was.
Since that nephew was already gone to work on the next paper, he was not
there to hear them, so their comments were well beyond simple motherly pride and support.
I struggled to understand, "How can they think that? There is nothing particularly
hard, unique, nor excellent about that paper. Why are they so bowled over impressed?
Just a standard
college topic rather poorly executed."
I managed to keep my mouth shut long enough for the answer to strike me.
It didn't take long—a few years at most.
Maybe my realization came when the younger of my two nephews at Cornell later showed me his own
senior thesis which was excellent while the moms were oblivious.
That earlier paper only appeared typical to me because MacMurray
College had force fed me a world class education despite my best
efforts to avoid it.
On the other hand the mothers had gone to just another college; and, given the time
and place, it was one where women were never expected to become other than,
well, moms; so as hard as that job may be (and it certainly is) there was no
particular need for a rigorously disciplined research, analysis,
documentation, and publication process.
Sure it was false logic, but that is how things were.
As for me, I found the rigorous process I learned at MacMurray was not
just valuable for an academic; it was crucial for all sorts of things
in the real-world when the goal was something innovative, creative, and
By the time I was reading the Cornell student paper, I had already enjoyed an insanely exciting job as Assistant Studio
Coordinator for one of the world's top fashion design studios then teamed
up with my wife to put together our own successful art and music studios
which in part resulted in my composing the very first commercial release
of all original all digital music produced using a totally new technology
(which I was beta testing) while my wife, Mary Endico, was well on her way to selling
over 21,000 of her own original hand painted watercolors world wide.
That is just a selected sample.
Briefly, not one bit of what I was doing could have happened without my
four years in the academic pressure cooker at MacMurray College, and that
despite the fact I left school a few credits short of my degree.
As for the moms their orientation toward the teaching staff at Cornell
was also skewed.
The word faculty was always said with a slight tone
of ecclesial devotion.
What I observed in the teachers at Cornell was, to me, not so unapproachable.
They could have easily been transplanted to
MacMurray with no notice taken.
Certainly they had the energetic infectious excitement about their area
of study that almost guarantees success from their students.
Certainly they had turned that energy and infectious excitement into
disciplined world class courses of study—the kind that would ever after serve
their students well, even those whose immediate academic success was less than splendid.
As for those facts though, didn't they merely articulate the bottom line standard
for higher education?
I myself felt no awe toward the Cornell professors, only a comfortable
familiarity like they were old friends from Mac.
Swap Cornell PhDs to MacMurray or MacMurray PhDs to Cornell, it
wouldn't make a difference.
Well, maybe there was one difference.
There were more PhDs per capita students at MacMurray,
and that allowed for such things as a top professor having time to
track down a struggling low performer and plant a seed.
It also allowed for my requests (as a senior) for admittance
into an oil painting class plus an applied-music piano performance class; both
those requests were granted despite my having little background in either
I had pleaded, "Well, these are electives, and they are what I am going
to be doing for the rest of my life after I leave school, so I would just
like to get started."
Sadly not everybody is lucky enough to attend a MacMurray, or a Cornell, or a Harvard
(did I mention MacMurray), or a similar institution in order to mingle with
preeminent instructors intent on teaching best practices process, so the Cornell moms
had missed getting a ride on that particular boat.
Not to mention they also missed the equally important parts not handled by
any college faculty.
Turns out all my best friends at MacMurray were also distinguished
They were only at MacMurray for the moment, just long enough to pick up their
certifications and run off to find the best place to settle into their
Doubtless they had no interest in waiting for somebody to hand them a
piece of paper telling them it was ok before they started educating.
The major requirements for their careers were an unflagging concern for
the people around them, a willingness to take a careful informed look
at a situation then respond accordingly, and the drive to continually
improve their programs based on what they learned from their students, so with golden opportunities
provided by challenges like me, they were all moving full burners straight
Simply said: all my friends taught.
Freshman year Nancy Ahrens, Holly Chepko, and Mary Rockefeller, dragged
me to the library every night and made sure I stayed awake in the stacks
churning out research paper after research paper, speech after speech.
I happened to enjoy a fortunate lack of money which helped focus my
attention when Bruce Mathieson
started charging me a quarter every time I responded to a question or
Judge Judy would be proud of him.
Every submitted assignment had to be typewritten, so my lack of money
also meant I could not hire a student typist but had to teach myself to
Sometimes I forgot to swipe the return lever and typed off the end of the
page and onto the typewriter
Cindy Pavlak helped by laughing at me and shrugging when I had to start
Time to man up and perform like Cynthia!
Dr. Hale once pointed to her as a research role model, "Take a
look at Pavlak's papers. She has this down to a science."
One semester Patti Seib kept my hands off her by shoving a French
textbook in my face, and that got me through another year (sophomore) I had no business
Rich Firebaugh kept me healthy by showing up saying, "We're doing the 10. Get your
He added that if we couldn't get out to run the 10 mile loop we
could always, "Take a bunch of Ex-Lax and beat our legs with a
hammer. Does exactly the same thing only quicker."
Every time a major test was nearing, somebody from one of the dozens of
little study groups would find me and roust me out of nonsense to make me
come sit and listen.
"Look, you don't have to answer anything. Just get in here, sit over
there, shut up, and listen."
Robert Meyer showed me how to use a darkroom and gave me a roll of
film (a king's ransom) for practicing.
It was a long time after before I realized that trying to find Bob in the
yearbooks is like looking for Waldo, because although he was a major
force in producing the books, he was himself an absent enigma and somewhat ahead of
Steve Ambra and Peggy Dorn showed me how to do paste-up for Charybdis, the campus newspaper
(sometimes transmuted to Scylla).
Also Steve once made me sit in his room while he finished a paper before
going to get John Dahlem (also just finishing a paper) to drive me to the
hospital after I had so carefully planned my own death and taken the
Actually I never have quite forgiven Ambra for that one... not for the
delay in delivering me to the hospital but for not saying, "The fuck you
did!" then killing me himself with his own bare hands.
Marc Bergman kept me awake one night making me read A History of the English
Language before a Dr. Rose final.
Everybody agreed that book was the best example of what one would
expect a college text to be.
It was a few inches thick full of detail after dreary detail of such
things as the tiniest sections of phonemic changes and typographic
alterations to guessed at verb endings progressively simplifying or
becoming more complex one direction and then another again and again over hundreds of years in
languages that were English but you wouldn't know it (sort of like
how nobody will be able to understand this page soon enough) and all of
that tedium was broken only
by long to even sometimes multi-page footnotes which were themselves more minutiae ridden
All this without recordings of words that had not been spoken in
Marc would yelp, "Fuggit! You still awake? Keep reading. Don't try
to memorize it. Just pay attention and keep reading. And no,
we're not taking a break. You can sleep after the test."
Years later one of the authors of that book wandered into my music
studio, and I got to tell him how everybody characterized his work.
He started laughing so long and hard I almost had time to record it.
There were also people adept at tying it all together with a quick
Jay Edelnant (who went on to edit dictionaries) once
described the typical question from a Dr. Rose bluebook final as being: "Describe the universe and give three
He also once derided me for being stupid beyond belief after I told him how
much I liked the music playing in his room, but when he told me what it
was I gasped, "Wow, and you even know the name of it?"
"Yes, moron, I know the name of my favorite music! Who does not
know the Brandenburg Concertos? By the way, it's Bach, dufus. You're in college.
Try to learn something."
I had arrived.
Jim Sharp pushed one of my proudly finished papers back at me smirking, "Sophomoric drivel."
I thought, "I know 'drivel', better look up 'sophomoric'."
There were plenty of other people who had equal impact on me, so if
anybody is here reading but failed to receive mention, you are quite
welcome and do not need to thank me.
As an aside I should mention I did some teaching myself.
I taught Bob Bell how to flick his finger against his cheek to make a
sound like a rain drop.
It was a skill taught to me by somebody in the back of high school
study hall where we used it to drive the Physics teacher nuts as he walked around
looking for the leak that first sounded over here, but then sounded like
it was coming from over there.
Robert is now a lawyer, and I believe he still cleverly uses the rain drop
as a court room distraction to put opposing counsul off their game in
order to get somebody an acquittal or maximum sentence depending on which
side he is being paid to be on.
Almost forgot; some people taught me without a word.
When I took the oil painting class as a senior, I got a closer look at the
school's most prolific student artist, William Cooper.
Bill had taken over the unused third floor skywalk connecting the Art
Building to Main Hall having already filled up every other available
space campus wide.
That is how I learned what true artists actually do; they make things, lots
of things, lots and lots of things, and they never stop making.
A couple years later I was in familiar territory when I
started seeing the same behavior from artists at the Vera Newmann art
Here comes a big grand finale summary.
For my job as Assistant Studio Coordinator (for 25 world
class artists) I was required; to stay awake and be self-motivated, to not
sound like a dweeb, to be careful and not type off the page, to do
the whole thing over if it wasn't right, to handle backup for the
darkroom, to organize and report information just like a newspaper, to put in long
focused hours answering my own questions, to learn the names of everything
around me, and to not drivel on.
It was all the stuff I had very quickly learned at Mac.
Maybe a person doesn't need to get to a campus to learn like that, and
great opportunities to learn differently, but too
many helpful subtleties of close contact with other people are lost without
"being there," so it is a lot harder to get the same sort of
quick and certain learning without the full on-campus immersion experience.
People do it, but it is harder and takes longer.
Remove the close proximity of a strong group of competitive students
all being pressure cooked by the same engaged and challenging faculty, and
the fine result is never going to be achieved as efficiently.
Why would anybody serious ever want to take a chance trying to put
together a virtual experience to replace the real thing?
Which brings us to today.
The idea that a community can be built online without bodies being
next to bodies is just ludicrous.
If that is your only choice, ok, but otherwise don't fall for it.
Here, take a look at the icons below but do not click them.
All three of these icons (and others like them) are nothing more than
corporate logos, and somebody gets paid for making you click one every
time you do it.
The term 'social media' refers to nothing social nor anything media but
is merely a
marketing slogan trying to get your eye off the ball and onto a page of
One can only hope smart phones and ear-buds will always be confiscated
at the doors to Campus Centers everywhere—just the way firearms were
collected at the doors of Old West saloons.
Distance learning is one thing, but social media is neither.
Is it any wonder former students of MacMurray periodically return to be
in the same space with others who attended at the same time they did, hoping for just one more
huff off, "Something happened here, Man! Something really happened."
People show up because it beats clicking icons, and right now is possibly their last chance to stand with others
holding on to the railing of the Campus Center while watching the full horizon behind Henry
Pfeiffer Library explode into another one of those famous broiling sunsets that always
steps away too soon from the autumn evening.
mundane, vibrant and eternal.
Irma Latzer Gamble Campus Center
Tartan Yearbook - 1971
(scanned pp. 18-19; 11/09/2016; image is flipped left >
right as found in yearbook)
Homecoming Reunion 2012
MacMurray College, Jacksonville, Illinois
CAVEAT: While the history of a place never changes, places do change
over time, and the quality of past faculty and students gives only the
vaguest insight into the possibility of quality in the present faculty and
students; therefore at this college your mileage may vary.