In November we learned that
Karl Fields, a professor since
1990 of politics and govern-
ment, and of Asian studies, was
named the 2012 Washington
Professor of the Year by the
Carnegie Foundation for the Ad-
vancement of Teaching and the
Council for Advancement and
Support of Education.
This is the seventh such
honor awarded to a Puget
Sound professor, giving UPS
more Professor of the Year selec-
tions than any other college or
university in the state.
Once seemingly destined
to be a fourth-generation Idaho
cattle rancher, Professor Fields
says he fell in love with teach-
ing during his own college
years. His highest objective is
to inspire students to take full
responsibility for their own
learning—and for them then
to teach others. He’s known
to hand classes over to well-
prepared students and sit
unobtrusively in the back row
as they debate issues, or he’ll
keep students on their toes
with intensive writing exercises,
daily quizzes, and multimedia
presentations. “Posing puzzles
and giving students the ability
to address those puzzles seems
more important to me than giv-
ing answers,” he says.
Candidates for U.S. teach-
ers of the year are nominated
by their own institutions and
are judged by two separate
panels of education experts and
professionals on the basis of the
teachers’ impact on students,
scholarly approach to learning,
and contribution to education
in the institution, community,
and profession. This year profes-
sors were chosen from 30 states
and the District of Columbia,
and a pool of 300.
James Evans
Physics; Science,
Technology, and Society
Nancy Bristow
History; African
American Studies
Suzanne Barnett
Asian Studies
Mott Greene
Honors Program;
Science, Technology,
and Society
Robert G. Albertson
Asian Studies
Michael Veseth ’72
Political Economy
Karl Fields
Politics and Govern-
ment; Asian Studies
Morrison’s characters reminds us, “Can’t nothing heal without pain.” Only
the dutiful though difficult attendance to the damage of our past can free us
for the future.
What has stunned me in my years as a teacher is how many students
prove willing to take on this work of analyzing, understanding, and own-
ing this country’s past. As these students would surely attest, though, even
for the willing, such work is rarely easy. In
The Glass Bead Game
), one of Hermann Hesse’s characters suggests, “To study history one
must know in advance that one is attempting something fundamentally
impossible, yet necessary and highly important. To study history means
submitting to chaos and nevertheless retaining faith in order and meaning.
It is a very serious task.”
When I was a new teacher, this serious task frightened me, and even
after 23 years at the university I still find its demands daunting. I continue
to teach because I am buoyed by the example of those about whom, with
whom, and to whom, I teach. In 1963 James Baldwin urged Americans to
mobilize for racial justice. “I know that what I am asking is impossible,” he
wrote. “But in our time, as in every time, the impossible is the least that one
can demand—and one is, after all, emboldened by the spectacle of human
history in general, and American Negro history in particular, for it testi-
fies to nothing less than the perpetual achievement of the impossible.” As I
teach American history, and particularly African-American history, I find
myself both moved and inspired by the strength and beauty of the countless
people, both known and unknown, who have fought to make their lives and
their children’s lives better, their communities freer and stronger, their na-
tion more principled.
My comrades of the present, too, offer me models of the expansive pur-
suit of the impossible. Every day my campus and community colleagues in
the history department, the African American Studies program, the athletics
department, and the Race and Pedagogy Initiative convince me that educa-
tion matters, that it need not, indeed ought not, be limited to the classroom
or the campus, and that it is a right as well as a need of every human being.
And it is perhaps my students, most of all, who keep me teaching. Day
after day, semester after semester, year after year, I watch as my students
engage with the most intellectually and personally challenging issues and
topics, and realize with great humility that they do so critically, compassion-
ately, and courageously. They remind me repeatedly that learning is not an
end point but a process, and that in the very act of taking on the impossible
search for historical truth we open ourselves to the wondrous moments of
discovery that can remake our lives and our nation.
I am not so naïve as to believe that what I do will change the world. It is
one of the great privileges of teaching, though, to know that the students I
work alongside just might. In fact, another look back at 2012 confirms that
they are already hard at work doing so. From John Hines ’05,
teaching social studies at Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, Wash.,
to Keith Ferguson ’05, working as a regional field director for the 2012
Obama campaign in Florida, from Janece Levien ’09, currently volunteer-
ing with the Peace Corps in Guatemala, to Ayanna Drakos ’11, serving at
The REACH Center (Resources for Education and Career Help) in Tacoma,
Puget Sound alumni are out there making change happen. And so, finally, I
teach because these remarkable young people help me believe that our fu-
ture really can be more just, and thereby more beautiful, than our past.
At Puget Sound Nancy Bristow teaches 20th-century American history and
works in the African American Studies program.
Nancy Bristow, the author of the essay on
these pages, is a Washington Professor
of the Year. But she is not alone in that
distinction at Puget Sound. Far from it.