English 1102 classes around the history of the Mad Housers, a group of late-‘80s Georgia Tech Architecture students who built hidden-away huts for homeless folks. In true Crawford-class fashion, his students didn’t just research the Mad Housers as a writing assignment, which would have been a worthy undertaking in itself. Hugh and his students went further. They decided to build a full-sized Mad Houser hut on their own, using the original design, and then to put it up on campus as a meaningful display about the ongoing problem of homelessness in our society and in our city during Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. And again, they didn’t just focus on the physical structure. Beyond building the hut, they researched the issue of homelessness, interviewed former Mad Housers and some homeless folks who lived in Mad Houser huts, put their research papers and videotaped interviews together in a creative display, and then set everything up in the courtyard to the Skiles Building, where everyone could walk by – and indeed, into – the hut for the rest of the semester. Then, after the hiatus of the holidays, Hugh and his students moved the hut into the Georgia Tech Library, where they installed it in the Neely Room during the period surrounding the Martin Luther King holiday in January. The combination of the spare, low-tech plywood hut and the sophisticated multi-media presentations about the construction of the hut and the larger question of homelessness struck me as the essence of what education could be at Georgia Tech – a blending of high-tech savvy and simple hard work to address a fundamental human need. And finally, although I think it sounds comparatively minor at this point, I should also note that Hugh’s students also wrote the requisite five-paragraph papers to satisfy the English comp curriculum.
I have no idea what Hugh Crawford and his students will do next, but I know it won’t be anything done just by the book. In his own sly, Tom Sawyer-like way, Crawford lays a taste of imaginative engagement before his students, and they go on to do fascinating things. Hugh doesn’t preach, posture, or make a fuss about himself. He just does good work, and by doing that, gets other people to do the same. I’m enormously proud of the work Hugh Crawford has done, and I know from having talked with several of his students that the experience they shared in his class has seemed life- changing, giving them a fresh perspective on their education and on themselves. It’s for that reason that I nominate him for this year’s Teaching Excellence Award, confident that his example will be both an inspiration and a challenge to teaching colleagues in the Georgia Tech community and throughout the whole University System.
Professor of History and Director, Georgia Tech Honors Program