Professor of English and Fulbright Scholar
by Sandy Gholston - July 29, 2011
Great educators oftentimes are great learners at the same time. Phillip Middleton, a Languages and Literature professor at Ferris State University and Fulbright scholar, is on a continuing mission to deepen his knowledge base.
Middleton is in a distinguished class of educators – a class that is aggressive in pursuit of greater knowledge.
People, places and things all have educational value for Middleton, who is a willing learner as well as an eager globetrotter. Indeed, Middleton’s worldwide travels have proven mutually beneficial from an educational perspective. During the Spring 2011 semester, Middleton taught African-American poetry to students and faculty – with lectures that focused on the works of poets Gwendolyn Brooks, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Etheridge Knight and Sonia Sanchez – at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, just outside Dublin. The topic was natural for Middleton, who teaches a diverse range of literature and composition courses for students at Ferris.
Middleton’s travels next took him to Senegal’s Gorée Island, a historic departure point for ships involved in the Atlantic slave trade during the 18th century. It is a painful but important topic for many historians and even non-historians. In the Spring 2011 edition of Ferris Magazine, Middleton describes the moving experience of his visit to Gorée Island as, “Tremendous, but tremendously depressing.” He added, “I look pretty grim in all of the pictures.”
Middleton, who has an interest in the continent of Africa in general, was drawn to the particular region’s powerful history – a history tied to the Atlantic slave trade. He spoke about it at length prior to the journey that would take him to Mauritania and Senegal in northern Africa.
“I’ve never been to these two countries in Africa; 17 others, but not these,” Middleton said prior to his trip. “Up until 1983, Mauritania still had slavery. On the books, it was banished at that time, but from other sources, I know that it still exists there. I want to go to this country to observe – to be a tourist – a fly on the wall – and just live; to check it out and see what I see. I’m looking forward to it.”
Middleton’s post-trip thoughts perhaps reflect the powerful nature of what he experienced – particularly during his time on Gorée Island, Senegal. Middleton hosted a forum at Ferris to discuss his time teaching African-American poetry in Croatia during the summer of 2010. The forum provided Middleton a platform to explain his mission to help the Croatian students understand the cultural background and historical context of the genre of poetry. One of his goals was to help the students understand the dialectal significance of the genre of poetry.
The educator in him was eager for the mission.