Every so often I receive from the National Council of Teachers of English its online newsletter called "Inbox." I usually skim it, occasionally read something--follow a link somewhere. But on November 18, I was shocked to see the following:
George Hillocks Jr. Has Died
Educator, author, and researcher George Hillocks Jr., professor emeritus in the Departments of Education and English Language and Literature at the University of Chicago, passed away on November 12. He also had taught writing in Chicago schools for more than 25 years.
In 1997 Hillocks won the NCTE David H. Russell Research Award forTeaching Writing as Reflective Practice. In 2004 he received NCTE's Distinguished Service Award. Of Hillocks's 1986 NCTE book, Research on Written Composition: New Directions for Teaching, former NCTE Executive Director James Squire called it "a splendid piece of work that needs to be considered carefully and soon."
As you can tell from the item, he was quite an accomplished scholar. But he was more. To me he was a connection to one of the men who had the greatest influence on me early in my teaching career--Bernard (Bernie) J. McCabe.
I met McCabe at what was then called the Educational Research Council (ERC) in Cleveland (1957-1984; link to brief history of ERC). Schools that were members of the Council (as Aurora was) got all kinds of services from them--including workshops for teachers--in the summer and during the school year. And it was at one of those that I met McCabe--a crusty, brilliant man whose abrupt manner annoyed some but inspired others (like me). I attended a number of his workshops, but the most influential was one on film study and filmmaking with students (late 1960s? early 1970s?). I dashed back to Aurora and was soon teaching kids about film history--and "supervising" them as they ran all over the place shooting their own films.
McCabe occasionally spoke fondly of a former colleague--George Hillocks--with whom he would write what I long thought (still think?) was the best book for English teachers I'd ever read: The Dynamics of English Instruction, Grades 7-12 (1971--a third author was James McCampbell, whom I never met). I had this book for years, consulted it often, stole from it routinely, and only recently (wouldn't you know!) gave it away during our current Downsizing Frenzy. I wish I had it right now ...
Joyce and I met George Hillocks many years ago at an NCTE function (I can't remember where or when--it was in my pre-journal days), and we talked a lot about Bernie. I remember thinking they sounded a lot alike: the nasality, the keen intelligence, the eruptive laughs.
On May 1, 1975, not long after I arrived at school, my principal, Mike Lenzo, called me into his office. Showed me a story in the Plain Dealer. "Lakewood Couple Found Shot to Death" says a headline. Bernie. A double suicide. He was only 45; his wife (a first grade teacher), 42. No note. No reason given.
Years later (2010 or so), writing my memoir about my teaching career (Schoolboy), I wanted to know more. So I found George Hillocks' email address and exchanged a few messages with him about Bernie. But he didn't really know a lot more--or was not going to share what he did know. But he said he missed Bernie--a lot. (I'll add that I never again taught Edwin Arlington Robinson's suicide poem, "Richard Cory," without thinking about Bernie McCabe. Link to the poem.)
And now George Hillocks is gone as well. Two titans in the profession. Irreplaceable.