In the spring of 1965, I graduated from high school and looked forward to the end of my formal education. After four years of being force-fed information for seemingly no purpose other than regurgitation for exams, additional schooling was on the bottom of my list and the last thing I wanted for the next four years of my young life. My parents, however, had other ideas.
Like many of their time, they believed college was the next appropriate step for me, their son, who hated school. They had witnessed my distaste for formal education through low marks and my less than ideal performance in the classroom. Despite evidence to the contrary, my parents insisted college was the next step for me and so I set out on finding one that would work. After applying and being rejected from colleges near me in New Jersey, I expanded my search and found a small school, far away, that had a football team.
At that time, I hated school, but I loved football. The idea of playing ball while at school changed my entire outlook on college. As the summer of ’65 ended, I boarded a bus and began my journey north for the first time. Like many who arrive at Northland from other parts of the country, I was struck by the deep wilderness and rural environment that would be my home for the next four years.
The rush of experiences did not hesitate; I was quickly swept up in the “college life” and surprised by my discoveries. Coming from a background of disdain for the classroom, I was shocked to find myself entirely enthralled with a three quarter freshman seminar course. Three professors from varying backgrounds collaborated to provide a curriculum that captured my curiosity. For the first time I experienced learning as it is meant to be, or at least how it worked best for me.
This experience fundamentally revised my attitude toward education. For the first time I realized school was not merely about accumulating information but involved careful inquiry and critical thinking by not only myself, but my professors and peers. Through the series of selected readings and class discussions involving careful analysis, I found my love of learning.
This changed everything. As I progressed through my four years at Northland, I enjoyed the opportunities to be part of the football and wrestling teams. I pledged to Sig Tau fraternity and was even the president of the student government. But the best gift that Northland helped me find was my deep love of learning. My passion for critical analysis grew and soon I was considering graduate school.
Although I thought pursuing a master’s degree in psychology would be my final academic degree to enable me to work as a practicing psychologist, I was wrong. It turned out to be just a step on the path toward a PhD in psychology, philosophy, a JD in law, a career practicing psychology, and finally a thirty-four-year tenure as a professor with the University of Nebraska.
Now, all these years later, I can say things got a bit out of hand and I may have pursued too many degrees for a reasonable person. But, if it was not for Northland College and the idea of playing a little ball, I never would have found myself falling in love with learning during a three-quarter seminar in rural Wisconsin. And, that one class changed my life forever.