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Every year, the Brutocao Family Foundation honors outstanding SCU faculty through two teaching awards, the Louis and Dorina Brutocao Award for Teaching Excellence and the Brutocao Family Foundation Award for Curriculum Innovation. This year’s recipients, Classics Professor John Heath and Political Science Professor William Stover—through the pursuit of the examined life and the quest for peace in the Middle East—are creating the kind of educational environment called for in SCU’s mission: a place of “rigorous inquiry and scholarship, creative imagination, reflective engagement with society, and a commitment to fashioning a more humane and just world.”
Established in 1987, the Louis and Dorina Brutocao Award for Teaching Excellence is designed to recognize those teachers who have made a lasting impact on the lives of students. Santa Clara’s highest award for teaching, nominations are solicited from both students and alumni. “I’ve never met anyone more committed to undergraduate education than Professor Heath,” says Christine Lechelt ’04. So inspired by Heath her first semester at SCU, Lechelt changed her major from music to classics.
“Heath always had a way of helping us feel connected to what we were studying,” adds Evan Pivonka ’04. “Classical literature has it all...feelings of rage, jealousy, pity, envy, sacrifice, determination, political identity, love...all of the problems that everyone deals with in their own lives.”
Tom Garvey ’03, class valedictorian and one of the students who nominated Heath for the Brutocao Award for Teaching Excellence, says, “I most earnestly desire to teach, to have the same effect on others as John Heath has had on me. If I can touch even just one student the way that John Heath has touched me, then I would consider my life a success.”
All three of these former SCU students are now studying classics at the graduate level—U.C. Santa Barbara, Stanford, and the University of Virginia, respectively—mirroring Heath’s own experience. As an undergraduate, Heath, inspired by his professors at Pomona College, found himself preferring Latin to his American Novel course and changed his major from creative writing to classics.
Today, Heath says he finds teaching classics immensely rewarding. “I get paid to read what I want to read anyway and then go into class to talk about it,” he says. But more importantly, “there is absolutely nothing more satisfying than getting people engaged in thinking in a way they haven’t before.”
What Heath finds most inspiring about teaching, though, are the moments when students ask the challenging questions, the ones that make the teacher engage with the material in the same way the student is. “We’re actually peers at that moment,” Heath says. “All of sudden you feel alive thinking about the material in a new way.”
Heath is so passionate about the value of teaching the classics that he co-wrote a popular book on the subject, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998) with Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. The book asserts that classical education is nearing extinction and that we are looming on the edge of ignorance about the core ideas that founded Western civilization.
“The Greeks and Romans asked all the good questions in provocative ways that we’ve been addressing in Western society ever since,” Heath says. What he finds most interesting about the Greeks is their tragic vision of human life, which embraces human limitations rather than infinite potential, and the dignity in the struggle to meet or overcome those limitations. This just happens to be the subject of another book he’s working on while he’s on sabbatical this year—the notion that the tragic Greek vision is a possible, if not healthy, antidote to the current self-help mania. “The Greeks looked inside the human psyche and found a struggling animal looking for a better nature. In order to do that, we need to work in a community to foster an environment where we can create our better selves,” he says, and then quotes Aristotle: ‘Man is a political being.’ “He didn’t mean we should vote; he meant that we, by nature, require other human beings to fulfill our humanity.”
Heath says he believes that one answer to that community is the university. “One of the things a good university can become is that community in which we explore how to be good—a place that teaches people to discover what Plato referred to as the good life, which means the ethically examined life.”
Heath says this is precisely the reason why he gets up every morning and walks into the classroom. The Greeks and Romans wrote about characters that were placed in ethically interesting situations in which there weren’t answers. It’s the examination of that struggle that he finds so rewarding: “Classics is relevant; my job is simply to deliver it,” he says.
Although Heath says he’s enjoying his sabbatical, he is looking forward to returning to teaching. “To be a good teacher requires engagement in your research. On sabbatical, you get recharged not because you’ve rested, but because you’re motivated to share all the new ideas you’ve learned with your students.”
Heath teaches all levels of Greek and Latin as well as courses on classical literature in translation. In addition to his bachelor’s from Pomona, he has master’s and doctorate degrees from Stanford. He has published more than 20 articles on Latin and Greek literature, myth, and culture, and is the author of Actaeon, The Unmannerly Intruder (Peter Lang 1992), and co-author of Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing Classics from an Impoverished Age (ISI Books 2001). His latest book, The Talking Greeks: Speech, Animals, and the Other in Homer, Aeschylus, and Plato, was published by Cambridge University Press this April. He has also written the lyrics for 30 musicals with elementary school friend, Ron Fink. Together, they created Bad Wolf Press, a company that creates musical plays for schools and was recently honored by the California Kindergarten Association.
Colleague Victor Davis Hanson, who has known Heath for more than 30 years, says, “John has always been a serious but magnetic person, both in the classroom and in print. Students are drawn to him, and, through this engaging personality, to Greece and Rome.”
The Brutocao Family Foundation Award for Curriculum Innovation, created in 1992, honors faculty who have brought new approaches to teaching and learning into the classroom. Faculty and department chairs make nominations for this award.
A group of students walk into Political Science Professor William Stover’s office musing, “The U.S. and Israel didn’t make it to the peace conference last night.”
“Are you getting a sense of what it’s like to be a Palestinian?” Stover asks.
“Yeah, it’s really hard to communicate with Israel,” the students respond.
One by one, teams from Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Lebanon, the United States, Syria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey file into Stover’s office in five-minute increments to discuss their team’s “moves.” Stover greets them in Arabic, Pharsee, or the language native to the country they’re representing.
These SCU students are participating in the International Conflict Simulation, created by Stover, where students act as political leaders and are advised by actual diplomats, journalists, or students from the countries they represent. Within their respective teams, students take on individual roles like head of state, minister of foreign affairs, ambassador, or national security advisor.
For their in the simulation and for the papers they will write, students rely on Stover’s vast collection of resources on the game’s homepage at www.scu.edu/itrs/Stover/ics_m/. There, they will find hundreds of links, including ones to Arab TV station Al Jazeera, Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, and Israel’s Jerusalem Post.
For the simulation, Stover’s office is designated as the control center and the Web site serves as the central information point. Students meet in teams and negotiate with other teams outside of class at a designated place on campus or in the game’s online conference rooms. Stover posts the teams’ moves online where they can be viewed worldwide. The students can check out what moves other countries have made and devise their strategy accordingly.
“I’ve always had an office near his, and it is so much fun because you can see the students waiting in the hall and they’ll be completely in character,” says Jane Curry, a fellow political science professor and the colleague who nominated Stover for the Brutocao Family Foundation Award for Curriculum Innovation. Junior Eric Rojas, a dual political science and philosophy major who has participated both in Stover’s Middle East and Cuban Missile Crisis simulations, says “The most compelling thing about taking part in the simulations is simply dealing with the other participants.”
“Last night, I helped stop a war between the U.S. and Iran. Last month, as Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis, I confused the Americans so much that I was able to install missiles in Cuba before they even realized what had happened,” Rojas adds. “It’s all about the personal experiences you have with other people within the simulation. You really feel like you are part of that simulated country and will do anything to advance its goals that you uncovered during your own research.”
Junior Emily Bjorklund acted as the defense foreign minister from Israel when she participated in the Middle East simulation while her roommate was on the Palestinian team. “We get the Wall Street Journal delivered every morning,” she says, “and on certain days, my actions in the simulation were actually paralleled by the headlines in the paper. The final day of our simulation, the cover of Newsweek and The Economist showed democracy spreading in the Middle East and I was actually excited; I’d like to think we had something to do with that.”
Ara Sarkissian, a Lebanese national who knows Turkish politics due to his professional activities there, serves as the advisor to Turkey’s team. “As an advisor living in the Middle East, I could sometimes offer the students a different opinion than the one they had,” he says. “SCU students tended to put all Middle Eastern countries—except Israel—in one basket when each has its own politics, agenda and interests.”
To Stover, that is the key to the simulation: to help students understand the counties they represent from the perspective of being in their shoes. It’s really about developing empathy. “If we lack empathy, we will never fully appreciate the subtle complexities of international affairs,” Stover says.
Stover’s inspiration for the game dates back to when he was being trained for the U.S. Foreign Service. “We did a similar thing in Washington. It was really impressive in how it made me think like the North Vietnamese,” he says.
About five years ago, Stover received a Technological Innovation Grant from SCU that enabled him to put the project online. He also subsequently received several other grants from the University that have enabled him to travel extensively in the Middle East and secure international advisors for the project.
Curry called Stover’s initiative “quite remarkable.”
“It’s one thing to teach about the Middle East, but it’s another to actually go there and create the kinds of contacts he has,” she says. “It takes a certain amount of guts to go there, when people are getting blown up at a café down the street, and get people to sign on to this project with (an American) university,” she adds.
But Stover is attracting an international audience to SCU. “Through this project, people are starting to recognize the University around the world,” Stover says. “SCU is becoming known in an area that is important—information technology. But, there’s a reasons for the technology. We’re not just showing off. We’re connecting people around the world.”
And it’s not just SCU students that are benefiting from this innovative project. “This is one of the first places where Israelis, Arabs, and Iranians can talk to teach other through the students. It’s like a two-tier negotiation,” Curry says. “He’s also taken it a step further and worked with religious leaders—ministers, rabbis, imams—in this area to help students understand the moral issues in the Middle East conflict,” she adds. In addition to his international relations course, Stover teaches international law, national security, and politics and mass media. He has authored three books: Information Technology in the Third World (Westview Press, 1984), Military Politics in Finland (University Press of America, 1981), and International Conflict Simulation (Foundations Press, 1983), which is the basis for his groundbreaking simulation. He has also written articles about terrorism, covert action, arms control, and U.S.-Vietnamese relations. A former foreign service officer, Stover also serves as a director and pilot for the Flying Doctors, taking medical personnel to needy communities in Mexico.
—Kim Kooyers is a freelance writer in San Jose. See the www.scu.edu/itrs/Stover/ics_m for more on Stover’s Middle East research.