TO SHOUT OUT JOY IN LEARNING
By Robert Bennion
Gene England already had a colloquium staff and a two-semester class going before I joined at mid-year. He called it “Learning How to Learn,” and the staff typically had two or three from the English Department, John Gardner from Physics, and me, from Psychology. What follows are a few of my thoughts about Gene England and his impact on the experience of his students.
In most of my one-semester classes, I could see that only a very small minority of my students formed friendships and developed a kind relationship that was life transforming. So very many came in, sat down, survived the lecture, and left, without having been affected by each other’s existence. In the colloquia organized by Gene, things were radically different. Because of the study groups, and because of Gene’s peripatetic style of lecturing, students were drawn into learning situations that truly affected their lives, the development of their minds and personalities. Some were more affected than others; they married each other. But I think it is fair to say that for many of those students, the colloquium became a major basis for their development as persons and as members of the church. Many became more powerfully involved in the church, not so much out of duty, as out of deeper appreciation and love of the gospel and for the Lord.
The geology field trips were times of great change. The poor geologists had a tough time getting the attention of the students in buses I rode in. The kids were not looking out at the soaring cliffs of Arches National Monument, they were talking across the aisles, or they were up Rock Canyon, singing until 2:00 o’clock and then talking in their sleeping bags until three or four. Relationships that took root in those classes lasted for years, at Harvard and at Stanford, and beyond.
I think I saw students finding out for the first time in their lives that it is interesting to think, interesting to see new things, and to see things in new ways. They found out, as Gene kept suggesting, that they could be surprised by how much they could learn. Those colloquia were like prying the cap from a soda pop bottle. Once released, the minds blossomed like a trapped Arabian genie. One student in my last Colloquium said, “We just can’t get classes like this any more.” Gene England’s contribution to BYU, and to the Church which doubted Gene in the end, was simply staggering in its impact.
I will always remember the study group in which a girl who had labored to overcome her fear of John Gardner’s calculus and Lorenz Transformation lectures asked if this in English literature and that in psychology and something else in John’s physics were alike in this and that ways. I said, “Yes, you have it.” The sweet child sprang from her chair and bounded out of the classroom and down the hall like a jazzed up kangaroo, shouting out her joy. She was a little more demonstrative than most of those affected by what Gene instituted at BYU, but in more subtle ways, she was very typical.
I do not miss the staff meetings of the Psych Clinic or of the Psych Department. Psychiatrists used to call schizophrenia “Dementia Praecox,” early loss of mind. In Psych staff meetings I thought I observed Dementia Pretense, psychologists vainly trying to impress each other. But I do very much miss the adventures in transformation that I daily experienced in Gene’s Colloquia; they were simply marvelous. I would have paid tuition to teach in them, and still would.
I miss Gene. He was a very good idea for us all. Knowing him and sharing in what he brought to pass at BYU constitute much that I value about my entire career.