There are few things in life more precious than an inspirational teacher.

I was fortunate to have attended St. Louis Park High School (1978-1981) at a time when the faculty was comprised of teachers educated in the 1950s and 1960s when the American ethos still held there was no nobler calling then to teach.

Indeed, the Talmud urges: "Appoint a teacher for yourself."  (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 1/6).

The commentary on this passage notes the following:

  • Studying with another person is more effective than studying alone since the exchange of ideas provides greater clarity;
  • Teachers play an important role as spiritual mentors -- indeed every city and congregation should have such a spiritual mentor;
  • Teachers are critical for conveying tradition and that direction in life is needed otherwise a person is directionless; and
  • The Talmud is spot on for high schoolers needing guidance in late adolescence.

Stepping onto the St. Louis Park High School campus -- an open campus (McDonald's and Palm Bakery, here we come) -- was a little intimidating for a five foot 15 year old from Minnehaha Circle.

Those of us sophomores opting to take AP American history in 11th grade took our junior year social studies in 10th grade -- naturally, with the juniors.

For us anxious sophomores, our spiritual mentor for "USSR" and "Western Ways" was a gentle giant, (who played football and basketball for Augsburg) Wes Bodin.  (Over milkshakes at Byerly's in St. Louis Park and a discussion about inter alia Ted Williams and Willie Mays playing for the Minneapolis Millers, Mr. Bodin gave me a copy of his spring 1979 seating chart for "Western Ways" which showed us sophomores congregating at two tables in his classroom -- like crews at the end of a power line.)

However, beyond being a friendly and warm presence in the literal great circles of St. Louis Park High School, he was a master teacher.  Mr. Bodin was equally at home explaining the philosophy of John Locke and its influence on the Declaration of Independence and the development of American democracy and capitalism as he was explaining the February and October, 1917 Russian revolutions and the creation of the USSR and its ramifications for the world.  For us 15 and 16 year olds, these courses were great preparation for the survey courses we would take within a few years at our respective universities.

A course I did not take -- regretfully -- at Park was "World Religions" which was a survey course of Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu traditions.  It is regretful since Mr. Bodin and the late Lee Smith were Project Co-Directors of the World Religions Curriculum Development Center whose books and materials (see picture) are still in use in schools thirty years later.  Mr. Bodin was kind to give me a full set of the books and teacher guides. (I always wanted a teacher's guide to a textbook.)  He also gave me a "specification speech" for the entire "Religion in Human Culture" curriculum which explains that it was a project of the St. Louis Park schools supported by a grant from the federal Elementary-Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as well as the Northwest Area Foundation.

The foresight of the curriculum is striking since it long proceeded the present community value attached to diversity nationally and, locally, the rise of Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist communities in the Twin Cities manifested in mosques, temples, election of public officials, community building and sometimes, controversy.  Indeed, the JCRC is engaged with Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist institutions on many levels.  Putting aside the cassette tapes and film strips on the specifications page picture (that brings a smile to those remembering a world decidedly less cyber) the "World Religions" curriculum is more relevant than ever with religion inspired clashes growing sharper and more common.

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