“Don’t let that education change you.” These were my father’s words he shared 33 years ago as I prepared to trek half way across the United States to attend college. I agreed. I would not let it change me. I was wrong. Education is too powerful. It took me 25 years to realize how powerful it really is. All those years in its grasp, education molded me into a different person. It impacted my beliefs, ideas, goals, character, and desires along with many other areas of life.
Dr. Brian Peckham was one teacher who wielded his craft masterfully. He inherently knew how much pressure to apply; when to challenge, when to praise. As he directed me through the process of writing of my doctoral dissertation, he coached me to trust my insights. He developed and then encouraged me to rely upon my conclusions as I read and critiqued the enormous amounts of works produced by the giants within my field. This experience was transformative. He also taught me how to view and treat other people. Allow me to explain.
In my doctoral program we did not take classes. There were seminars. Each seminar met once a week and lasted for three hours. One week of prep for three hours. I needed all that time. Dr. Peckham’s seminars were special. On the first day he explained that he was far more interested in hearing what we thought than boring himself listening to his own ideas. Remarkable. Three hours he spent asking us questions, listening to our thoughts and occasionally interjecting insight we were not aware of and ask us to consider how that impacted our conclusions.
It didn’t take many weeks to realize that Peckham favored the women. A female doctoral candidate would make a point and he seemed to go overboard in praising her insight. A male could have made the same point and more than likely it would receive minuscule acknowledgement.
One day, Peckham and I were walking to lunch and I mustered the courage to ask him about this phenomena. His reply remains ingrained in my being. When Peckham entered the field of Biblical Studies, there were no women. He thought that was wrong and set out to do his part to change it. Therefore, whenever a female attended his seminar, he overly emphasized that they and their thoughts were welcomed, valuable, and needed in order to further the development of the field. He hoped his little contribution would somewhat compensate for the treatment these women received from others who proudly guarded the doors of their academic lair. This practice of his I remember more than any technique he taught me in studying the Hebrew Bible. It transformed me.
The events of this last week continue to bother me. I wonder how I should respond personally and professionally. This coming Tuesday, President Trump is holding a rally only a few blocks from where I live in downtown Phoenix. The organization, Protest Trump Downtown Phoenix, is planning a demonstration. Their call is to “stand up for decency, and equality, and good. Stand in solidarity with the brave people in Charlottesville. Stand up against bigotry, hate, white supremacy, Nazis, Islamophobia, transphobia, xenophobia.” I imagine some members of my spiritual community will attend. I wonder if Dr. Peckham would have. I don’t know. I do know he would encourage me to do what I thought best to address all forms of racism and prejudices. I know he would tell me to first start bringing about change where I live, work, and move about. He would challenge me to become intentional in how I treat all who are marginalized by the privileged. Especially, since I, like he, am one of the privileged. I know he would ask me to consider what political policies and candidates I support and make certain they aligned with my view of humanity, equality, and justice. I know he would chastise me, if I did not allow my education and the change it wrought within to serve as an agent of change.
Dad, I tried to heed your advice. I was weak and education was far too powerful. Education ended up having its way and transformed me. Dr. Peckham was a significant part of the transformation. He taught me how to think and live in a way that can also change others.