Reflections on Verne Oliver and on the New Lincoln School
by
Edward L. Rocklin
Class of 1966

Recently, my brother Arthur sent me a link to a website containing hundreds of pictures from the 2008 reunion of several generations of students who attended New Lincoln. The picture that riveted me was of Verne Oliver, who was my twelfth grade core teacher and who profoundly influenced me as a student. The photograph shows her standing at the podium as she gave her address to the assembled graduates, and although she is now in her 80s, the tilt of her body as she leaned into her words, the animation on her face, and her smile captured a look I had seen hundreds of times, and brought back what it was like to be her student. And this re-animation was intensified when, thanks to the technology of the web and to those graduates who created this website, I read and listened to her moving speech, reflecting her own enduring commitment to the schoolıs experiment in education, and to the hundreds of students she taught in her decades at the school.

Verne Oliver was a magnificent teacher, and it was in her class that I first studied Hamlet -- a play that I have now taught for thirty years, and written about in my book on teaching Shakespeare and in several essays. Looking at this image also reminds me of my junior and senior tutors, Roger Rosenblatt and Peter Pitzele, who did so much to shape my trajectory as a reader, writer, and teacher, even as it reminds me how much of my pedagogical DNA comes from the progressive education embodied at the New Lincoln School. This photograph of Verne Oliver is now the last thing I see as I leave my office to go teach my classes ­ and it is one of the first things students now see when they come to my office to discuss their current projects and their plans for the future ­ including, in many cases, their plans to teach at the high school, community college, or university level.

I am in my fortieth year of teaching, and my book on Romeo and Juliet has recently been published. It is dedicated to Joe Stodder and to his wife, Marion. Joe was the senior Shakespearean when I joined the English and Foreign Languages Department at California State Polytechnic, Pomona in the fall of 1986. Like Verne Oliver, he is in his 80s, and he, too, helped shape my path. The book appears as our granddaughter is completing her fourteenth year -- and when her parents, Kate (my wife), and I are wondering what world she and her two younger brothers will enter as they, in turn, enter college.

Even as Olivia moves toward college, Kate has just retired after forty years of teaching, including many years in the EFL Department. One way Kate has prepared for retirement is that she has redesigned our garden. As a native of New York City, I still find it amazing that we have an orange, a lemon, a peach, and persimmon tree in our not-very-large plot. Although it is only a few feet from our house, when we sit there we feel a meditative calm and an intense focus on the "minute particulars" of life, including moments when a hummingbird hovers inches away, sipping nectar from the red flowers rising from the succulents at our feet. If you are ever in southern California, please do call or email and stop by to spend some time sitting with us, telling us about your own odyssey.