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Retired Professors Reflect on Truth in Teaching

Apr 15, 2019
Physics and astronomy professor emeritus Dr Brian Martin, building a model trebuchet with students.
Physics and astronomy professor emeritus Dr Brian Martin, building a model trebuchet with students.

By Janet Vlieg-Paquette

As the corridors at King’s filled with students after Labour Day, Dr. Brian Martin and Dr. Henry Schuurman were comfortably settled in their respective homes, idly thinking ahead to a leisurely day. Retirement has changed September and a whole lot more in the lives of these two esteemed, long-serving professors.

“I’m out of the loop—that’s why you retire,” says a smiling Dr. Martin, who guesses he taught about 5,000 King’s students in his 36-year career in physics that began with teaching math in 1982. Now he often starts his day tinkering with a project in his workshop at his Sherwood Park-area acreage, sometimes staying there for hours. He might spend the evening in one of his observatories, monitoring the stars, taking photographs.

“You miss the community, your colleagues especially, who were an inspiration to me,” says Dr. Schuurman. After 32 years of teaching philosophy at King’s, he’s finally clearing his house of accumulated stuff and contemplating trips to visit children and grandchildren. “It’s a long haul,” he says of teaching at all levels at King’s, calculating he may have taught upwards of 4,500 students. “You can only mark so many papers.”

Both emeritus professors reflect fondly on their interactions with students, especially the eager first-years crowding into the introductory classes. “For many of them it’s the first time when they really are starting to see the scientific process,” says Dr. Martin.

Students change over four years, growing from young people waiting to be fed information to searchers prepared to question and reflect on the material they uncover. “They’re a little more reflective,” says Dr. Schuurman, “a little more ready to say ‘I don’t know,’ more open to learning.”

“What we represent is this broad creation perspective; you want them to understand the world. We think that’s good for its own sake: understanding how creation works. To be an image-bearer of God is to be a participant in that creation.”

After decades of nurturing students to grow as thinkers, the retiring professors voiced praise for the theme of September’s IS Conference: Post-Truth? Facts and Faithfulness. In fact, Dr. Martin was so impressed he led one of the breakout sessions entitled "Scientific Integrity in an Age of Alternative Facts".

“Truth is always projecting us forward,” he says over lunch. “King’s shows students a different way of thinking about truth. When they leave here, students will always find that they are different than other graduates. We always get back to the fact that ideas have to come from somewhere. We try to explain physics, or chemistry, or math in a rich cultural context.”

“Truth is what you’re aiming at,” says Dr. Schuurman. “We think we know things, but we really don’t. It’s that ongoing openness to a deeper understanding, and that includes truth.”

When Dr. Schuurman reflects on his students’ search for truth, he points to dialogue as the key vehicle. “I think that’s how you get to truth. You discover it, not on your own, but by interacting with other people. You’re grounded now because you believe that there’s something out there for you to discover, that there is an order out there that is truth.”

Openness to creation’s beauty inspires Dr. Martin to continue being creative in retirement, combining his love of astronomy with art. His photographs are an effort to engage people in learning more about the stars, moon, and skies. “These images invite people long enough to marvel at the world around us,” he says of his photo collection.

He and his wife, artist Evelyn Martin, are redoing the images on fabric with a view to showing these works at a local gallery. Evelyn is a faculty supervisor in art at King’s. In his workshop, Dr. Martin is also building musical instruments, mostly as a hobby, but also for the Physics of Music course he began teaching at King’s in January.

“And of course,” he says, “I’ll continue my work monitoring the stars.”

Retirement won’t separate these former professors from the King’s community, as they anticipate attending events on campus, using the library, and finally finding time to do more socializing with former colleagues and friends.

Dr. Martin jokes, “The beauty of King’s is, as Stuart MacLean used to say, ‘We may not be big, but we’re little.’ It’s a great community to be a part of."

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