Our Story

Here we describe aspects of our lives that reflect responses to often-asked questions either by students and/or audiences when we have made presentations about our work. Like many other individuals we have constructed narrative interpretations of own experiences, some of which show up in the way we describe events and their significance to us. As is invariably the case in partnerships, parts of our lives merge and dovetail. Thus, each story lacks some details because these show up as elements of the other person’s story. Paula’s is the narrative voice for both of us. 

I was born at what is customarily known as the Leading Edge of the Baby Boom. I am the eldest child and only daughter of British immigrants. Coming to the U.S. when I was 12, I was just in time for the emergence of the l960’s to coincide with the onset of adolescence in a new country – and in New York City! Whew!

An otherwise reserved child, I did not ‘take’ to the year or so of upheavals (a whole other story) preceding my family’s arrival in the U.S. But in time resistance gave way and a grand love affair – that continues – began with what is otherwise known as Gotham City or The Big Apple. I think of NYC as a person, a person with a broad range of gifts and flaws, who helped me grow up in ways that I have mostly grasped in retrospect.

Although I would not know it for several decades, until I took courses and learned about immigration, the immigrant experience was likely a crystallizing learning experience. Forming friendships with other immigrant young people and their families was a buffer against the isolating and often disorienting encounters common among immigrant children. As immigration invariably challenges our assumptions about ourselves and the world, it played a significant role in establishing the basis for my appreciation for the learning demands of transitions and the value of learning how to learn, characteristics that mark my professional life. I believe this is in large part due to the fact that I did not initially ‘take’ to the disruptions. I did not like the experience. I protested. There was resistance. I suspect we are often best informed about those things that did not come so easily to us. 

Neither of my parents are college educated. In fact, by U.S. standards neither parent graduated from high school. During their mid-teens (between WWI and WWII), like many of their generation, both parents were required to leave school and begin working in order to contribute to family economics. In this context, it is no surprise that the idea of a college-educated daughter was impractical to people who were in other ways successful without the benefit of very much formal education. 

Like many individuals who have been the first in their families to pursue higher education - or the first to depart in any significant way from an established family pattern - I am more than familiar with the challenging renegotiations invariably marking such a process. Though such things were once unusual, the complexity of life now requires of virtually everyone some form of what is essentially a kind of  ‘scriptless’ renegotiation between and among generations. People do survive these often uncomfortable ‘border crossings’ and amazingly rich unexpected relationships can and do emerge from them.

In the late l960’s and early l970’s I was doing what many women in my birth cohort were also doing; some academics refer to this as PHT – Putting Hubby Through. ‘Armed’ with a high school diploma and the task of supporting a husband in medical school and beyond, I refer to this period as a ‘white knuckle phase of amazing and unexpected opportunity,’ times and places where I acquired a good deal of professional mentoring well before I had started my own college career. Jobs where I was often ‘in over my head’ coupled with the good luck of working with demanding but otherwise supportive people was a memorable experience. Being fairly new to America at the time, I was largely unaware of the status of the individuals (for whom I worked) or the institutions such as Johns Hopkins (where I worked when I was first married) and the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF – where I later worked and much later earned a Ph.D.). Nonetheless, working for – and sometimes volunteering with – individuals guiding the emergence of many innovative programs in health care, medical, and nursing education proved to be another crystallizing experience, especially as this was a time of considerable upheaval in America, an upheaval marking personal and public lives often in indelible ways. 

Teaching now, in a world where the young are often overprotected at home and assigned to boring, repetitive, undemanding tasks at work, I am appreciative of being asked to do things I did not know how to do and being mentored by patient but insistent people. I recall taking notes in meetings of what were essentially multidisciplinary teams (e.g. geneticists, psychiatrists, gynecologists, etc.) at Johns Hopkins. I was unfamiliar with many of the terms but jotted them down the best I could. After expressing my concern about being unfamiliar with terminology, I was told, ‘Well, you need a library card, a medical dictionary, and you need to come to rounds so you hear it all more often.’ Nobody criticized me for not knowing the terminology but I wasn’t let off the hook either. There was no suggestion that I should be relieved of the task, but there were many suggestions about how I could go about resolving the dilemma.

By the mid-l970’s I was in a position to consider my ‘on hold’ intentions of going to college. Once the opportunity was a reality, it was filled with a mixture of excitement and also terror. I began, as many students do, with a strong desire to do well and a fragile understanding of the importance of taking meaningful risks. An appreciation for ‘doing well’ as distinguished from ‘doing well at what?’ eventually evolved as a result of several accidental encounters with particular community college professors/counselors. I believe that these ‘accidental encounters set the stage for what would become a successful transition to UC Berkeley (UCB) and beyond. My UCB transfer experience involved professors whose course requirements clearly reflected assumptions about student competencies. Though I had a healthy GPA from the community college, it was the accidental professors/counselors that established the groundwork for my ability to do well upon transfer.

As is often the case, beginning college coincided with a number of life changes. Between the mid-l970’s and the mid- l980’s my first husband and I divorced, I enrolled at a community college, transferred and graduated from UCB (in Anthropology), began graduate studies in Human Development and Aging at UCSF, conducted research in Japan and China, and worked on a number of research projects (e.g. adolescent risk taking, attachment, gerontology/long term care, moral development).  Ted and I married in l983.

Also a member of the Leading Edge of the Baby Boom generation, Ted is the third of five sons born to mid-West natives (Southern Illinois) who relocated to California’s Central Valley in 1955, when he was 7. Ted thinks of his family background as “super-normal,” mainstream, and Protestant. His family actually comes close to fulfilling many common American family stereotypes. His parents’ origins are in the American cultural, linguistic, and religious heartland. They knew each other as young people and in many ways could be described as having grown up together. If his mother had lived (she died in 2006), his parents would have celebrated 65 years of marriage in 2008. In 2015, the year his father died, the Hamilton’s had lived at the same address for over fifty years, since 1957. In fact, the Hamilton street address could be described as a world-famous-address. As I discovered when I first met the Hamilton family, knowing any of the five Hamilton “boys” (Ted has four brothers) also seemed to mean knowing the street name and the number of the Hamilton home; while it was an address it was also much more than that. It was a special place of stability and continuity made possible by the times as well as the people.

Post-secondary education for Ted’s parents was a function of historical accident for one and unusual good luck for the other. His paternal grandfather was a steelworker who worked in the only steel factory to remain open throughout the Great Depression. Until W.W. II Ted’s father and his uncles worked in that factory, expecting it to mark their lives as it had marked the life of their own father. Service in W.W. II and the G.I. Bill offered the opportunity for a shifted trajectory for Ted’s father – as it did for a very large number of individuals who served in W.W. II. College and graduate school led to a career as a high school and junior high school music teacher, a community band director, a church choir director, and someone who, into his 90s, continued to give private music lessons (usually free of charge) to anyone interested. Ted’s maternal grandfather was a successful contractor and mason. Unusually progressive for his time, his grandfather believed the best thing he could do for his two daughters (Ted’s mother was the eldest) was to send them to college. College, he believed would make them better mothers and citizens. 

Many of the themes in Ted’s growing up years can now be seen in some form or another on the History Channel! His family took the famous American ‘road trip’ during the summer, usually to visit relatives but often just to see different parts of America. Averse to idleness as a matter of principle, time in the car was time for games of engagement – the first letter of the license plate of the car in front: name a city/state/country that begins with that letter. Ted’s family lived on a street where there were 28 children – including Ted and his four brothers. Street football was a tradition as was driveway basketball; these games could and did close the street. Ted’s mother could oversee these ‘events’ from her kitchen window. As a keen observer of rules, she was ever ready with voiced corrections from the front door and/or dragging someone to the back entrance bathroom where the ‘soap’ treatment awaited anyone using bad language! In spite of a house full of children, Ted’s family participated in a foreign student program. A constant flow of communication has remained between them and the foreign students who stayed with them during those years. When his parents traveled outside the U.S. they would often visit these former ‘house-stays.’ When Ted’s mother died (2006) memorials were said for her and trees planted in her honor in several countries where these now-long-time friends have made their homes.

The approach to college at the Hamilton household reflected parental values as well as the context of possibility at the time. The offer: the parents would pay for the senior year of college. The message: first two years at the community college, the third year on your own steam, and the last year, they would support. Ted did not want to go to the local community college for the same reasons that most students now offer for not wanting to start college at a community college. Furthermore, upon graduation from high school Ted was academically eligible to go directly to UCB. However, Ted’s parents were economically unable to make an extension for one child that could not be made for others. In addition, Ted’s father was incensed that in order to secure scholarship assistance he would be required to divulge the family’s economic conditions. Thus, with reluctance, Ted began higher education at the community college at the college where, ironically, he would eventually teach for 25 years (l973-l997).

Much like my own community college experience, though Ted had a healthy GPA, it was a couple of accidental encounters with particular professors that set the stage for his ability to transfer successfully into the History Department at UCB. When he was at the community college he was a technically good – if not excellent – student. But he had not been required to develop habits that transcended the technical. He had not been required to move into disequilibriating territory. As a result he also lacked the strategies for doing so. Or at least so he thought. Over time, encounters with disorienting courses – courses requiring more than mechanical or technical proficiencies – resulted in an awareness of up-until-that-point little appreciated lessons resulting from a long string of childhood injuries and surgeries. Beginning to grasp the broad principles associated with the costs and benefits of transitions and transformations marked the beginning of an important thread of Ted’s professional life.

Going to UC Berkeley at the end of the l960’s was a life changing experience, the details of which amount to what would be a separate lengthy story. Although it is commonly believed that UCB was an academic wasteland because of the disturbances of the sixties, this was not the case in the History Department. Studying under some of the most respected and demanding professors at the time, the experience was both terrifying and exhilarating – still! The demands were traditional, accelerated, and unrelenting – perhaps in response to a sense that social and political upheavals elsewhere might somehow contaminate the integrity of the department. Among the many jobs that Ted held while in college, one of the most rewarding was working at the Public Health Library. The experience gave him the sense that he had the opportunity to be educated in disciplines other than those recorded on his transcript. Ted ‘graduated’ from UC Berkeley in 1970, the year that UCB did not hold a graduation ceremony because of the Cambodian Invasion, Kent State killings, and campus-wide outrage.

While Ted then and now firmly supports the changes that took place as a result of the Civil Rights Movement, the effects on him personally were both compromising and liberating. As employment options for white males at the time were not good, he reasoned that cross-cultural experiences trumped unemployment and/or underemployment. Teaching in Japan and writing history and directing archaeology in Iran – both without specific preparation in those fields – reinforced the belief that learning how to learn and how to take meaningful risks was an imperative. Much like my own ‘white knuckle’ experiences, these resulted in unexpected personal and professional opportunities (e.g. studying at the University of London). The group who worked together in Japan have stayed in touch over the years, returned to Japan, and recently (2008) held in reunion in San Francisco.

Ted’s almost thirty years in higher education have coincided with many social changes, changes which have placed considerable demands upon the professions in higher education. In trying to understand and respond to these, Ted has defined his role in ways that unintentionally exposed fault-lines in current definitions of professionalism. By defining his professional obligation as substantially more than preparing and teaching, Ted engaged in roles of faculty leadership (e.g. negotiations, association presidencies, state-wide faculty leadership and national representative roles). While these roles made it possible to understand some of the confusing traffic of intentions and assumptions flowing between and among faculty and leadership, they also resulted in unanticipated consequences. Never wanting to be an administrator (despite numerous offers) made him a maverick among faculty leaders and continues to mark him to this day. The world of faculty and the world of administration and leadership are compartmentalized. Thus, interest in and knowledge of administrative, policy, and leadership matters by faculty are assumed to reflect a lack of commitment and desire to leave teaching. Likewise, interest in and knowledge of learning and learning-related matters by administrators and leadership are assumed to reflect a lack of administrative commitment. Under such conditions, is it any wonder that college graduates lack collegiate competencies!

The Merging of Our Lives

Between the early l980’s and the late l990’s, in the backdrop of otherwise busy professional lives involving travel, working on what has become my ongoing independent research on childlessness, teaching, and occasionally housing at-loose-ends students, Ted and I transformed a 1940’s tract home into a passive solar residence. Doing much of the work ourselves was another big learning experience involving endless encounters with tasks about which we essentially knew nothing. Besides honing a good deal of patience (always useful for those who teach) the experience was a valuable mechanism for absorbing the frustrations in education resulting from the challenges of a rapidly changing society.

Although we loved the home environment that we had created, it involved a hefty commute for Ted who had been making the 80+ mile trip between the college where he taught and our home in San Francisco East Bay for seventeen years. In the late l990’s we seized the opportunity to remove what was in our view an unnecessarily compromising aspect of our daily lives. Moving to the California foothills Ted assumed a position at the sister college to the college where he had been teaching since l973. Two years later, in l999, I also joined the faculty. As a result of the move our commute is now more than bearable; less than 30 minutes if we walk to work from home and less than ten minutes if we drive.

Teaching together at the same institution, and eventually sharing an office (thanks to the support of then college president Dr. Jim Riggs) made the work that we had begun in the early l980’s on teaching and learning so much easier to orchestrate. Although we had kept sketchy data on the High Demand x High Support (HDxHS) teaching pedagogy as we built it and tried to learn about student responses to it, this process became much less complicated when we worked together in the same institution.

The HDxHS ‘journey’ (as we refer to it) has been and remains filled with frustrations and exasperations but also indescribable high points. We are convinced that whatever our flaws, the HDxHS concept is more than the right thing to do IF the democratic promise is to remain a community college priority. Indeed, under current conditions, it is the only thing to do. Most of the challenges facing our culture and humanity as a whole are novel, exceeding that which has been required of ordinary people for most of human history. There is no social institution in our country other than higher education charged with providing society with a broadly based opportunity for full democratic participation.