Humanities Moments

An Unexpected Insight

Contributed by Jaroslav Folda, N. Ferebee Taylor Professor emeritus, UNC
Plutarch's “Lives”

At the end of my sophomore year in high school, during the awards ceremony in June, I received my varsity letter for playing football. And then my history teacher, Mr. Harvey, got up and gave three academic awards. To my complete surprise, I received one of those prizes. It was a book of Plutarch’s Lives, which was inscribed to me in part as follows: “This book ... represents his persistent toil toward clear, precise and meaningful expression in history at the Paris American High School.”

In addition, Mr. Harvey had also written the following quotation on the inside cover of the book, for me to ponder: “In times of danger and change when there is a quicksand of fear under men’s reasoning, a sense of continuity with generations gone before can stretch like a lifeline across the scary present.” –John Dos Passos

Title

An Unexpected Insight

Subject

Mr. Harvey was the most outstanding, demanding and humane teacher I studied with during my four years of high school. His course in world history first opened my eyes to the excitement of historical studies, to discussing the interpretation and meaning of historical developments, to independent and critical thinking, and to the challenge of writing [my historical essays] well. He would write copious comments on my papers, counseling me, e.g., to choose words wisely, especially verbs — remember what Voltaire said, he reminded us: “the verb is the soul of the sentence.” Receiving this recognition from him was so unexpected and so wonderful; the way I felt you might have thought I had won a Nobel Prize. And as part of this gift, he offered his final unexpected insight, with that quote from John Dos Passos. He was sharing another idea, giving me yet another view — a long and capacious view — of how and why the study of history is so valuable and important.

Description

At the end of my sophomore year in high school, during the awards ceremony in June, I received my varsity letter for playing football. And then my history teacher, Mr. Harvey, got up and gave three academic awards. To my complete surprise, I received one of those prizes. It was a book of Plutarch’s Lives, which was inscribed to me in part as follows: “This book ... represents his persistent toil toward clear, precise and meaningful expression in history at the Paris American High School.”

In addition, Mr. Harvey had also written the following quotation on the inside cover of the book, for me to ponder: “In times of danger and change when there is a quicksand of fear under men’s reasoning, a sense of continuity with generations gone before can stretch like a lifeline across the scary present.” –John Dos Passos

Date

June 1, 1956

Contributor

Jaroslav Folda, N. Ferebee Taylor Professor emeritus, UNC

Identifier

unexpected-insight

Location

Collection