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Three's a lucky number for
University's English department
October 5, 1998

When LIFE magazine reporters were looking for famous people to interview for a feature on "What I Learned in School," they turned to UConn's English department - three times.

The cover story in the magazine's September issue features three English professors talking about their experiences in school.

The story, subtitled "An influential teacher, a memorable - sometimes shocking - experience, a special subject, a rough day on the playing field: These are among the things that form us," includes recollections from novelist Wally Lamb, associate professor, who is cited on the cover; and Regina Barreca and Samuel Pickering, both professors.

The article also quotes celebrities, including actors Harvey Keitel and David Duchovny; singers Tony Bennett, Gloria Estefan, Willie Nelson and Aretha Franklin; writers Frank McCourt and Dominick Dunne; and politicians Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun (D-Ill.), Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and San Francisco Mayor Willie L. Brown, among others.

"Inclusion of our faculty in the LIFE magazine article is not only warranted and merited, it is a manifestation of the University's progress both in academic quality and in national recognition," says Chancellor Mark Emmert.

The article includes Lamb's recollection of high school students making fun of a retarded student by throwing coins at him. As he was working his way into the crowd, Lamb recalled, a 15-year-old girl entered the circle of students, threw her arms around the retarded boy and led him away. "I witnessed this incident perhaps 20 years ago, but it lingers as a vividly imprinted lesson in the necessity of immediate moral response to human cruelty," Lamb said. "Cathy James, wherever you are, whoever you've become, you remain one of my heroes."

Barreca recalled drawing planets and having the girl next to her complain that she was "doing it all wrong.".

The teacher, however, praised the picture and "gave me permission to color outside the lines, at a time when the world didn't think that was a terrific lesson for little girls," she says.

Pickering, who like Lamb also was a high school teacher before joining the ranks of college faculty, says he was an inept athlete who learned from sports to be satisfied with small victories. "I learned to be satisfied ... getting, for example, into a football game for three plays. Sports taught me that my days were going to be ordinary, and instead of dreaming about the extraordinary and faraway, I learned to appreciate and love the familial and the neighborly."

The model for the teacher in the movie Dead Poet's Society, Pickering is an essayist who often writes about those subjects.

The story also notes that Pickering's advice on improving American schools is to "tell teachers 'We're dealing with children. Let's ease them through.'"

Karen A. Grava