Michelle: Turnabout is fair. You interviewed me; now, it is my turn to interview you. I would like you to talk about your fall last spring that nearly killed you. It has been just over a year ago. What has the past year meant to you with all its struggles?
Al: The fall off the deck was an accident; I was on a stepladder staining the side of the deck. Fortunately, for me, Ann was working with me. However, I don’t recall anything that happened. In fact, I don’t recall going to the hospital. I don’t recall the three or four weeks in the intensive care unit at St. Mary’s hospital in Hobart. I owe my life to my wife. If it hadn’t been for her quick work of getting the paramedics there, I wouldn’t be here. I feel that my life was spared.
The only downside to the fall is my hearing for which I have two hearing aids. Outside of that, I’m taking no medication now. I have had no seizures or no complications. The neurosurgeon, Dr. Kaakaji, had to take out a round part of my skull-plate from of my head. He did this to reduce the pressure of the swelling, drain the blood, and whatever else he had to do. The surgery was a couple hour procedure. I was without that part of my skull that was the size of a bagel for months. After the first month, the recovery was fairly quick. It is really interesting that I always thought that someone would get better on a steady upward curve. However, it wasn’t like that for me. I would get a little better and remain like that for several weeks. Then I would be much better one day. That would remain level for several weeks, and again there would be another jump in improvement. It just wasn’t a steady upward curve.
I appreciate Dr. Kaakaji greatly. I told him when I went for a check-up that I am a Protestant whose life was saved in a Catholic hospital by a Muslim doctor. The world needs to get with this ecumenism.
Michelle: Like what kinds of improvement?
The neurosurgeon told Ann that I had a 50/50
chance of making it through the surgery. I made it through the
surgery. The next issue was what I was going to be like after the
surgery. Several days after the surgery, Dr. Simaga came into the
hospital and asked me questions that I answered very well. However,
I don’t remember him being there, I don’t remember you being there,
or Ann being there. I don’t remember being in the hospital.
Michelle: What do you love about teaching?
Mt. Lebanon was at that time the 19th best school system in the entire country. My father was more than happy to live there so that his children would get a superlative education in the Mt. Lebanon schools. What he didn’t realize was that we had gone from an average school system to one of the very best in the country. That educational jolt really knocked my socks off academically along with my brother. We weren’t used to that kind of excellence in education. I was in 5th grade when we moved. I wasn’t prepared for what was expected of me. I was able to get through school with Cs and Bs. I was not where I should have been, and I wasn’t where all my friends were who had always attended Mt. Lebanon schools. Many of my professors in high school had doctorates. I didn’t think that I wasn’t smart, but I knew that education wouldn’t come easy. Therefore, I played it safe...I didn’t really try. I just wasn’t going to put a lot of effort into something that seemed like a dead-end street to me.
Michelle: Why a dead-end street?
Michelle: Was it because you weren’t putting in the effort or did you just not understand?
Al: I put in some effort to get by, but it didn’t seem like it paid off. So I didn’t spend a lot of time putting the effort in. Again, it seemed like a dead-end street to me. I was so used to the reality that all the students that I knew had parents who had been to college. Because of that, they were, from my viewpoint, super students. There were some students that would goof-off. However, all my friends were exceptional students. I went through four years of college and three years of graduate school with mostly Cs and Bs and the occasional A. Then I went to my work-a-day life. Halfway through that life, I woke-up academically and educationally to the need of a good education and more education. So went back to get my doctorate. By then, I had realized that I needed more education. It woke me up, and I graduated at the top of my class with honors.
Michelle: What made you realize you needed more education?
Al: Because I wanted to succeed at a higher level. I wanted more job opportunities. And I knew that the only way to do that is to prove to yourself educationally. So I went and got my doctorate. That coming of age took me almost twenty years to wake-up. When I woke-up, I realized that I wasn’t dumb, I wasn’t lazy, and I understood why I had suffered and stalemated much of my education in high school, in college, and in graduate school.
Another thing, for which I am very grateful, was a college professor who really gave me an opportunity to do well in education. His name was Louie Palmer. He taught, what was called back at Muskingum, The Arts. It was an art history class of five hours for two semesters. Those ten hours in my junior year planted the seeds for me and teaching. I did well in that class—well enough that he asked me to help him teach subsections the following year. I became his teaching assistant. Students would attend three large lectures weekly and then have two smaller subsections. So I would teach a half-dozen subsections a week. In fact, for that year when I was a senior, I wrote all the midterms and the finals and taught the subsections. That had a profound effect upon me. I was teaching students who were contemporaries of mine. It was a hoot. It was also the first time a professor ever said to me, "You know, you are really good at teaching." He gave me the opportunity to teach without any testing of me to find out if I could do it or not. In fact, it still intrigues me that he would trust me that much. He must have seen something. I was a homecoming committee chairperson, I taught, and those were probably the best two things I did in college.
Michelle: Because of how it made you feel?
Al: Yes, it was really the first time that I really felt good about education. It started to give me that kind of feeling that all my friends had back at Mt. Lebanon, and that I had missed for the years prior to that teaching experience. So I love teaching and taught The Arts for a whole year. I can’t remember what I was paid back in those days. It was a several hundred dollars a semester, which was good money back then. However, I would have done it for free. It was the most valuable lesson that I ever learned. I owe Louie so much. He took classes to Florence, Italy between semesters. I used to babysit for his dog and live in his house when he was away. Louie changed my life. After I got out of graduate school, I went to Scotland and took a year of graduate study there, but there was also another reason to go overseas. I wanted to see and visit in person what I had learned and then about which I had taught in The Arts. I went to school at New College in Edinburgh, Scotland for a year. In the summer before and the summer after, I went through all Western Europe and parts of Central Europe in large part to see firsthand the buildings, paintings, and sculptures, which I knew so well from The Arts. It was a great experience for me, and I owe Louie a great deal of thanks for helping me on my way.
So what I learned about myself and about
education is critical for the way I view teaching. Not everybody in
my classes are going to be straight A students. Some of them are
working and many of them are as I was before I turned my educational
life around. That is the great thing about teaching; you have an
opportunity to turn students onto learning students. I guess that I have
become a Louie Palmer to another generation of students. You have
the opportunity to save somebody from wasting away twenty years of
his or her life.
Michelle: What specifically do you want them to take away from your class?
Al: I tell them there are two grades that they are going to get for their class. The one that goes to the registrar that I don’t care about at all. I tell them that five years from now, you will forget the grade you got, and in ten years from now, you will forget the class. However, the grade that I care you get will make all the difference in your life and work. I want them to take from this class lessons that will make a difference in both their professional and personal lives. I want them to take away something that will help them change, motivate, and strategize in your workplace or home.
For example, I teach an art history class. How’s that for a surprise? In the class, they have to write a twelve-page paper about an artist of their choice. However, all art comes out of some sort of pain. Pain generates creativity. Therefore, they will pick an artist of their choice and find out what that pain was that motivated that person in the arts. The paper can’t merely be about some artist, but it does have to deal with the artist’s pain. They will learn about the artist and his or her pain. There are two lessons there. One, the artist overcame some sort of pain while making the artist great. Two, the pain and the resultant drive to deal with the suffering is a good lesson for each student. Don’t avoid pain...deal with it. You can’t name an artist that doesn’t have some kind of pain/suffering/personal problem, etc. It is true that there is no such thing as a great artist that hasn’t dealt with a great deal of pain. Whether it is family pain, drugs/alcohol, physical pain, psychological issues, racism, sexism or even educational pain, that pain drove them to greatness. What I want my students to take from the paper is a lesson about their own lives. I want them to vicariously live and learn about where greatness comes. Pain, if dealt with creatively, is a good thing. It is the thing that will help motivate them to go on beyond the pain and push them to greatness also. It doesn’t matter whether a student is right or left-brain. They can use that pain to ask, "How I can gain from my pain?"
I teach a 20th and 21st
century history class. We deal with great leaders of the world.
They don’t have to be artists to be great, but they all have dealt
with pain well. That is what dealing with pain does for the
person. If you don’t have the pain and creativity, you won’t be a
good leader. Winston Churchill became a great WWII leader, but he
came out of a painful situation of screwing up in WWI. In every
pain, there is going to be gain if you look for it and seize it.
What I want my students to learn is a critical lesson of life.
My class has now to figure out what various sociologists are doing to resolve those types of problems or pains, which could include sexism and racism. They are given a golden opportunity to learn in the classroom something that pertains to their real world. If they do what is expected, they will get an A or B. However, the grade that is most important will be given to them out in the world. What I really want them to do is to learn a problem-solving strategy. They can take what they learn in the class and apply it to their real world. Instead of merely complaining and suffering, deal with the issue. Research what others suggest. However, I want them to be proactive. Address the problem and deal with it. Many of these classes are taken because they are required courses to graduate. From me, they are learning to deal their problems head on and not merely to avoid them. If they learn that lesson, they will be building the foundation for their greatness. And I think that is real teaching.
Michelle: Do you have any antic dotes about any particular students that really
I helped him the rest of the semester. He wound bringing up his F to a B-. That was remarkable. He turned his life around. The kid just happened to be another Al Campbell. He came from inner city school that really didn’t teach very much, but he had the brains. However, he didn’t have the guts and the understanding that he needed. Once he was given a little bit of help, the kid accelerated.
During that semester, Ann and I happened to be going to a movie that I really didn’t know much about it other than Sean Connery was in it. It was called Finding Forrester. We weren’t into the movie very long before Ann nudged me and said, "That is you and your student; isn’t it? You are Forrester, and he is Jamal." I told the student to see the movie when I saw him the next time. In the meantime, I had asked a friend who managed a theater to give me the poster of the movie. I was going to frame it and put it in my office. The following week I get a note in the mail. It was that student. He started his thank-you note by writing, "Dear Forrester". He wrote a nice note and signed it "Jamal". I had the note framed at the bottom of the movie poster.
I have all my students see that movie or The Emperor’s Club. Both of them were about teaching situations with students—some who get it and some who don’t. All my students have to write a two-page paper, for which they get no credit, but I tell them that if they don’t get the paper in that I will forget to enter their course grade with the registrar. The title of their paper is "Why in the Hell Does Campbell Want Me to See This Film?" Both those films raise important questions about teaching, education, and the student.
Michelle: What frustrates you about teaching?
Michelle: What specifically bothers you about it? Is it that they are not putting forth the effort or lying about it?
Al: Both. In addition, I have told them not to do it, and it is not going to help them. It is going to be detrimental to them in life beyond the ivy-covered walls of school. I am serious about that. I can understand why some students are tempted to cheat, but it will hurt them both while in school and when they get out into the world. I went to school; I have nearly 300-hour of post high school education behind me. Three-fourths of the professors, which I had, might have been smart people but weren’t teaching very well. At least, they weren’t concerned about the student both while in school and when the student is in the workplace. The vast majority of my students do not cheat, but two or three students each term will plagiarize. That just drives me nuts. I haven’t gotten through to them. It is not going to help them academically or in life in general.
Michelle: You mentioned that you were different from other professors in what way
Michelle: How many years have you been teaching now?
Al: Twenty years. I have taught at Purdue North Central, St. Francis, DeVry, and Moraine Valley.
Michelle: Do you think your teaching has changed at all over those years. Or has your focus or drive changed?
Al: I think that I am much more in my students’ faces about issues and see it as much more important for them. Each year, it becomes more important that they get it and is much more of a verbal thing for me.
Michelle: Why does it become more important?
Al: Probably my age. I know that I have x number more years to teach and actually live. I have to teach and I am going to make every effort to be the best that I can be. The students that I have helped wake-up have motivated me more and more. It is a win/win situation. I see students that I have helped in some way, and it is a hoot to see them and know that I helped them. I hope that my students will remember me as their Louie Palmer.
Michelle: Do you think your attitude or anything about your teaching has changed because of your fall?
Al: I don’t think it has necessarily changed anything because of my fall. I am in an economic situation where I could be fairly forceful about wanting to teach and wanting to help students.
Michelle: You feel that just has to do with economic reasons.
Al: I think that one of the things that the fall did for me is to skate me close to death. While avoided it, in 2008, one of the things that I have learned was how close I came to dying. And yet, I didn’t, but that has rattled my brain.
Michelle: Physically and ahhh?
Michelle: How much longer do you think you will teach?
Al: I’m teaching now about three times the number of hours a normal professor teaches. So I spend all my waking hours doing housekeeping, ironing, cooking.... Just kidding. However, I spend a great amount of time either in the classroom or in front of my computer teaching online. I will do that for the rest of my life. Teaching is like being a parent. It goes back to what I said about teaching and loving my family. It is the same kind of thing; how long am I going to be your parent? There is always going to be something I can offer to my children and/or students. When am I going to quit being your parent? If I maintain my health, I will teach as long as they will have me. We have enough money to quit teaching right now. Retiring would resolve issues like plagiarism, but what would I do? We could go travel and I could learn more things so I could take them back to where? I love taking pictures of places we have been and have them blown up for the walls in our home, but there is a limit to the total number—and we are nearly at that limit now. I am going to go out and learn, so I can share that with other people.
Michelle: Is that what you like most about traveling?
Al: Well, I like to see and experience some place new with Ann. I like to see something we hadn’t seen before. I love the excitement and the opportunity to learn the history of the people and that kind of thing. I love to see things for the first time; I love to go to places where most other people don’t go. Ann and I have this little deal between us. It is called "good trip/bad trip". The bad trips are the ones I really love. Ann likes the good trips like to Bora Bora and Easter Island. I like the bad ones that are difficult trips—like our trip to India, Tibet, Nepal, China, and Mali. The trip to Africa in many ways was quite difficult.
Michelle: What was difficult about it?
Michelle: In what way?
Al: We were talking about my teaching a world religion class. We were covering some issues in some African religions. One item, which drives students up the wall, is circumcision that is still performed on some children--males and females that are ten to twelve years old. The students got into arguing about circumcision and whether it was still done. I showed them pictures in Dogon Country where it is still done to both boys and girls prior to them becoming teenagers without antiseptics. Dogon Country was on the way to Timbuktu. This is the place where the locals hid out when the Muslims came through North Africa over a millennium ago. The locals fled into the hills and hid from the Muslim invasion. Over the centuries, the locals filtered down from the mountains and mixed with the Muslims. Now, Dogon Country is completely a Muslim dominated area. I could bring to the discussion what the locals in Dogon Country thought and said about circumcision of both sexes. Having been there, you bring to the classroom an inordinate amount of information about what isn’t in the textbook.
In the art history classes that I teach, I
spend so much time talking about what never shows up in the
textbook. There is the debate about the lost continent of Atlantis
in both the philosophy of Plato, history, and in the arts. Many believe that
Plato was talking about the Greek island of Santorini also called
Thera. The liberal arts classes can easily be interrelated. There is
an amazing amount of information out there that students float
passed when reading a textbook.
We were in Egypt were someone told us that they
like everything about the Americans but the government and the Bush
administration. I replied that he should wait until the next
Michelle: Speaking about education, what about your job offer to teach fulltime at St. Francis?
Al: They offered me the job that would have started in August, but then I fell in May. They weren’t sure how long my recovery would be so they offered the job to the next person. However, I was fine, because I was back teaching as an adjunct in August. Nevertheless, what is more important is how I handled the loss of the job. I would have preferred to learn some other lesson of life. However, it goes back to art history and how artists become great because of some sort of pain. I haven’t changed my teaching style, my attitude toward students, and I will never quit teaching. I’m still teaching three times what a normal professor would teach...and I still love it.
Michelle: What is next for Al Campbell?
Michelle: Did it affect you emotionally at all?
Then a couple months later, I fell off the ladder and that was no snap. I have always had problems with breathing, which has nothing to do with the fall. However, I had gotten to the point where I was tired of problems and wanted to be proactive. Again, it was one of those times where I was floating along for a while, and then you jump up to an all-new level. I got to the point where I put my foot down and got my ass in gear. I went in to see Dr. Simaga, my neurologist, and told him about my breathing problem. He said to go Dr. Covello in Munster. Dr. Covello saw my records, looked at my nose, did some tests, and then he told me what he’d do. Again, it was a nice clean surgery, and I haven’t breathed so well all my adult life. Again, if you have a problem with breathing, call Dr. Covello.
Then I had some leg muscle problems, not spasms just twitches, for a couple weeks. This was something related to my fall. It was a neurological problem that I wanted resolved. So I went to two tests that were separated by several weeks. By the time that I got the second in-depth test, the problem was going away. Now, I hardly recall it. 2008 was not a great year medically, but it could have been a lot worse. I could have been dying of prostate cancer, or I could have died from the fall. So it wasn’t that bad...right?
Dr. Simaga had asked Ann how I was dealing with the aftermath of the fall. She said, "Oh, he gotten back to his normal, crazy self like he was before the fall." I took that as a compliment. I’m not sure whether Dr. Simaga he did or not. Again, if you have any neurological problems, see him.
Michelle: Again, what is next for Al Campbell?
Al: One of the things in the history class that comes up and one thing about which I feel very strongly about is Aung San Suu Kyi. Ann and I have a little argument occasionally about my desire to interview her. She's afraid that the Myanmar government might kill me if I attempt to do so. That isn’t much of a concern. Since my fall last year, I don’t fear of death. However, the fall hasn’t quelled my fear of torture. Having said that, there is no one that I want most to interview...other than Aung San Suu Kyi. Looks like I will settle for Barack Obama...at least for now.
Michelle: Why would you like to interview Aung San Suu Kyi?
Al: Because she is like the daughter of George Washington to the Burmese. She has guts and determination, but she is pleasant without being aggressive. She is a woman who is in her own league and isn’t afraid to live that way. It would be an honor for me to sit down with her for a couple hours of conversation. Just a couple weeks ago, some Westerner tried to get into her place where she is under house arrest. I would love to interview Aung San Suu Kyi. Again, it would great for my teaching of a 20th and 21st century history course. Most of my students don’t know who she is, yet she is a woman that has intimated the communists in Burma. All Westerners need to know who Aung San Suu Kyi is. She won a Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991. However, like I just said, it looks like Barack Obama’s interview will be easier to obtain.