Our faculty spotlight is on Mr. Colin McCarthy!
This picture is from a trip I made to Turkey last year. Part of the aim of the trip was to explore the Byzantine and Armenian churches present in modern-day Turkey. Here I am, at the border of Armenia and Turkey, overlooking the medieval Armenian city of Ani.
Q: What subjects are you currently teaching?
A: I teach chemistry to the 10th grade boys, Literature/Composition to the 8th grade boys, and both History/Geography and Math to the 6th grade boys.
Q: What is a book that you picked up recently?
A: I have recently finished a book titled The Evolution of Physics by Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld. In this book, Einstein and Infeld trace the major developments of physics over the last three centuries. Rather than dismissing some of the earlier, 18th century developments, these scientists take a sympathetic view. Although some of these theories are now completely displaced by newer ones, Einstein and Infeld seek to understand the motives and foreknowledge that led to such theories. Moreover, they show great admiration for those scientists who used their creativity to arrive at what were then novel theories. My favorite part of the book is an analogy that the authors use to capture the nature of the evolution of scientific knowledge. They provide a description of a man who, in a valley, grasps the order of the environment around him. His world, the valley, is complete, and the man has a way of understanding it. However, as he climbs a nearby mountain, he begins to see much more than the valley. He sees far and away, and now understands how these new realities around him are ordered. Though the valley is small in comparison, what he saw there originally was not false or illusory. That reality is still present, although now he understands the valley as part of a greater whole. I find this analogy apt in describing the human experience of learning and acquiring knowledge of the world around us. We start with our limited views (which stem from our limited experience). As we grow, we do not necessarily dismiss those views but we see them as participating in a much greater reality.
Q: What hobbies do you have?
A: I love to sing and play music. I grew up playing classical piano and then picked up acoustic guitar, banjo, and harmonica in high school. When I was in the 6th grade, I had the opportunity to sing backup for a band called Guster (maybe some parents know of it) during one of their concerts. It was the first time I had gone to a concert, and I happened to be onstage! Suffice it to say that I was quite nervous, but also excited.
To the extent possible, I seek to integrate music into my classes. In 6th grade History and Geography we were learning about sailboats and their use in the Great Lakes. I had happened to be listening to (and singing) many sea shanties at the time. The timing was perfect, and I decided to teach the 6th graders a sea shanty. We were planning to sing the shanty while taking a tour of ship on Lake Michigan, but, unfortunately, the trip was cancelled due to a thunder storm. Next year!
At the beginning of the year, I was reading J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit with the 8th graders. There are many songs (lyrics, that is) written down at various points in the book that are supposed to be sung by the different characters (dwarves, elves, hobbits, etc.). As we were reading, I had the distinct memory of skipping past these lyrics when I read the book as a kid. To me, at that time, I received little satisfaction reading through lyrics of a song if there were no melody accompanying it. To remedy this while reading with the 8th graders, I decided to make up a few melodies on the spot. The melodies were not very good, but we had fun with it. However, the real fruit of this experience came when a student offered to write a melody to one of the songs. After two days of working on the song at home and on the piano, this student came back with an extraordinary melody that was both beautiful in its own right and that perfectly matched the tone and style of the lyrics. That same day, I asked every student to write a verse of the song that would match the style, rhyme scheme, and meter of Tolkein’s original verses. The next day, the students came in with their verses, the composer of the melody sat at the piano, and we all sang the verses together.
These two moments (both musical) have been some of the most memorable for me during this first year of teaching.