Last week, we officially closed out the weirdest BYU semester with which I’ve ever been involved, whether as student or as teacher. On the whole, I think that it went about as well as it could have gone. In my case, though, it went well to a large degree because of two people (beside my long-suffering wife, of course, who is always a superb help and without whom I could scarcely tie my shoes):
My teaching assistant, Maddison Thyer-Brown, who has now been with me through more than one campaign, was pro-active and always on top of things despite her own academic obligations, and she is genuinely concerned about the progress and well-being of the students. A wonderful help. For most of my teaching career, I haven’t had teaching assistants. (My choice.) In recent years, though, I’ve had several very good ones. I hesitate to name any, because I’ll be omitting some for no very good reason. Recently, though, Anne Wallace, who now writes for the Deseret News, was reliably helpful. And, before her, Emily Jensen taught me over several semesters how very valuable a good teaching assistant could be. Emily went on afterwards to graduate school at Texas A&M.
And when, just before mid-March, classroom instruction at Brigham Young University was shut down for the remainder of the semester, the University as a whole went over to using Zoom. For my IHUM 242 class, though — its formal title is “Introduction to the Humanities of Islam” — I appealed to my friend and neighbor Tom Pittman VII, who also often pitches in with technology for Interpreter Foundation events, to help me create materials on art, architecture, and literature for what became a private IHUM 242 YouTube channel. Although I missed the personal interactions, it seems to have been a success. Two or three students actually told me that, for various reasons, they preferred that approach over their Zoom-based classes. One of them, though, spilled the beans: He found that he could speed my lectures up to the point where he could get through them in only one half to two-thirds of the normally required time. (Think “Alvin and the Chipmunks.”)
For some weeks now, my wife and I have been going for a walk every evening in the 22-acre Nielsen’s Grove Park, which is not very far from our home. I thought I knew the history of the park, and that it didn’t extend very far. I was wrong. Just the other day, I learned a tiny bit about its history, which goes back considerably further than I had imagined:
I’m grateful for Jørgen Nielsen, who had the vision in 1880, and for those of the more recent generation who brought his vision back to life. In the last month or so, with its now-fading tulips, its beautiful flowering trees, and its large multitude of suddenly-appearing ducklings, the park has been an unusually welcome respite from the four walls of our house.