By Chris Wangler, '96 BA
My dad, Dr. David Wangler in Educational Policy Studies, has a unique library in his office. When he and my mom moved to Edmonton from Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1968, he had little more than a rusty Datsun and several boxfuls of sociology textbooks. During his 33-year stint as a professor at the U of A, he's built up a rich and incredibly unique library.
It's impossible to generalize about the collection. His passion for the "Great Books of Western Civilization" is everywhere apparent. Any one of his students will know the names Plato, Rousseau, and Socrates, not only because he reaches them but because he makes a habit of dressing up as them in class. Unorthodox, yes, but over the years it's proven highly effective in generating a discussion. Surprisingly enough, he looks pretty good in a toga.
But there's more to his library than older classics. The titles include The Skeptical Feminist, The Closing of the American Mind, Why Johnny Can't Read, The Disappearance of Childhood and, oddly enough, The Incredible Lou Ferrigno. The broad scope is not accidental. Education students often come from disparate backgrounds, so he likes to have books for every interest. A former econ major might find E.F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful useful, while a psychology grad may benefit from a chapter in behaviourist B.F. Skinner's Beyond Freedom and Dignity.
It's not only books, either. Along with the library, he keeps an infamous cabinet of dog-eared articles spanning an awesome range of perspectives and disciplines. These briefer pieces lend themselves especially well to discussion during the interviews he schedules with his students, all of whom are expected to write "reactions" to what they've read. Or what they've seen—classic "teacher movies," such as Stand and Deliver, Dead Poet's Society, and Lean on Me, are also on the syllabus, which students help to develop as the course progresses.
What really amazes me is that my dad lends his books to his students. This may not seem unusual, since many professors will lend books to particularly keen students. The difference with my dad is that he expects his students to borrow— and read—his materials; it's a part of his teaching philosophy. Over the last 30 years, some of his books have been read more than 50 or 60 times. I wouldn't be surprised if his three copies of Lord of the Flies have been borrowed more than any at Rutherford Library.
One of those copies is particularly interesting. It's a beautiful golden cloth educational edition from the 1960s, complete with notes and questions at the back. Judging from the apocryphal inscription inside the front cover—"Eric Hamber Secondary School"—I don't think he bought it in a bookstore. Regardless of its mysterious origins, it has been the subject of endless conversations in his classes—about good, evil, and the nature of childhood in society. Like so many of its neighbours, the book is beginning to wear now, but somehow it refuses to give up the ghost. I suspect the ideas it touches upon are as indestructible as its tightly sewn binding.
Other books arc missing pages or display underlining in an occasionally brilliant rainbow of highlighter and pen colours. Still others, such as M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled and Freud's Two Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, are falling apart at the seams. I couldn't he more glad—it shows the books have been read and shared, that they have lived through the years.
The book-sharing focus was part of my dad's "homeroom" philosophy of teaching. He became familiar with his students as people, always encouraged discussion, and shared his wisdom with them. As a teacher in vself, I found one of his habits fascinating: he learned all his students' names after the first or second class—sometimes as many as 50 of them. Most students were aware that if you skipped Wangler's class, he would know. My feeling from all the glowing praise he's received from his former students, however, is that few ever skipped. Along with countless cards and gifts from over the years, he's been given enough bottles of Chivas Regal to inebriate an entire English cricket league.
A recent gift he received—an elegant green leather bookmark inscribed with a quotation from Socrates, "Wisdom begins in wonder"—seems particularly fitting. Having attended his classes and having seen his students grow, I can safely say that my dad brought this wonder alive.
Retirement looms at the end of the semester. So now my dad faces the daunting challenge of retiring his most eclectic and human collection of titles. I can't bear to think of any of these treasures going unread.
Published Spring/Summer 2002.