I was saddened to learn that Professor Frank Moretti passed away over the weekend. I don’t know if it was something in the air, but when I heard the news, I was already thinking about my time as his student and working at CCNMTL a little over 10 years ago (perhaps because I’m trying to rework my teaching statement and looking for inspiration). At the time, I was transitioning into doctoral work and trying to make a new path after years of work with high school students in an afterschool program in Harlem. Conversations with Frank and discussions in his classes helped me contextualize my practical work in a theoretical frame, and shaped my course through the rest of graduate school.
So here is my favorite educational technology-infused cocktail party story about Frank (that appropriately invokes the god of wine):
During a discussion of the Bacchae in his Theories of Communication course, students were looking particularly glazed over. Maybe out of frustration with us, or to fill the dead air, Frank offered his rationale for having us read this text. He said he liked to think of himself and Robbie McClintock as Tiresias and Cadmus–in Frank’s words, “two old guys” –who had covered themselves in animal skins and were heading over to participate in the rites. Their embrace of the Bacchic rites reminded him of his own interest in new technologies, his willingness to jump in with both feet and get to know the new. He painted a great image of the two elder statesmen looking at each other clad in the latest trends and giving a shoulder shrug that indicated, “can you believe we’re doing this?!”. This interest in the new, the willingness to see the world evolve from the place where you first found it made a big impression on me. It takes courage to go with an open heart and mind toward the future, and particularly from the seat of power that tenured and emeritus faculty occupy. I have always admired Frank (and Robbie, too) for this openness, which also manifests in their generous support of young scholars with their interest and time.
I have returned to the mental image of these two great educators clad in animal skins many times and it always makes me chuckle. And now, as I approach 40, I feel my understanding of his comment deepening. As a teacher and teacher-educator, I strive to embody this attitude in my own classroom and all areas of life. Thanks, Frank, for being such a great teacher.
“Remember this! No amount of Bacchic revelry can corrupt an honest woman.” Euripides, Bacchae