To Whom it May Concern:
Dr. Thomas Hugh Crawford possesses an infectious joy for teaching that translates into a true love of learning for his students. My most memorable and fulfilling moments as a student came under his nurturing guidance. While I am certain that you will read many letters that express the same sentiments about other professors in the state of Georgia, I would like to outline the unique behaviors and methods that distinguish Dr. Crawford from his peers.
Georgia Tech students are notoriously busy, often running from class, to lab, to meetings. The ability to truly immerse oneself in an unfamiliar subject rather than just learn enough to make the grades at Tech takes determination, focus, and desire. Of these three, desire is the most difficult to conjure because it is infers that a student is interested and engaged in the classroom setting. Dr. Crawford is gifted in his ability to cultivate students’ desires to learn. I believe this is a result of his humility and innovative approach to discussion and inquiry. Dr. Crawford seems like he is in pursuit of the same knowledge that he asks his students to discuss. While he quickly establishes credibility with his students by demystifying challenging texts, he never rejects a new interpretation of a reading; he never curtails discussion around an assignment. He is willing to let students lead the conversation, helping them think their way through a text instead of pushing them through an assignment. He is willing to let students experience learning.
A vital dimension of the Crawford learning experience is finding the application and context of a work on several levels. Dr. Crawford’s extraordinary sense of humor and creativity bring these layers of learning to life. For example, while a senior at Georgia Tech, I took a seminar titled The Epistemology of the Hammer. Dr. Crawford asked us to examine the values and social constructs surrounding different types of knowledge. The first day of class, he walked in with safety goggles, a large plank of wood, a giant hammer, and a box of nails. He announced that attendance would be taken by each of us hammering a nail by our names in the plank, in the process learning about a different kind of hammer and nail each week. This set the tone for the class: Clever exploration was the rule. Although a simple gesture, the point of Dr. Crawford’s exercise was clear: Experiencing knowledge in context clarifies the application, making learning seem valuable to a student.
As a result of that class, I saw the world of learning through a new set of eyes, and learned to think critically about learning. This class completely changed my life and led me to undergraduate and graduate level research on epistemology. Dr. Crawford supervised my research efforts, never failing to take extra time to discuss my ideas, thoughts, and questions. I did not realize it at the time, but he was also encouraging me and building my confidence as a student and as a human being—something I know that he does for each of his students.
Though Dr. Crawford has been featured in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and various other news outlets for his work with students (the madhousers project providing shelter for the homeless of Atlanta), I would like to discuss one of his most recent efforts. He recently taught a class on Henry David Thoreau that resulted in the rebuilding of the poet’s cabin on the Georgia Tech campus, utilizing the same methods and tools that Thoreau used (no power tools, no modern-day conveniences such as pre-cut, pressure-treated lumber). He gave the class the freedom to conceptualize and execute the project as a way to better understand Thoreau. As a result, he spent countless weekends, vacations, and working days with the students, building and finishing the cabin by hand, interviewing scholars, and documenting the experience. I frequented the build site to gather data for a story and found a community of students that were making an equally large sacrifice of their time and efforts to see the project through.