Finding wisdom in the life of a humble man: Lessons learned from my father

Patricia Alexander


In truth, it feels rather pretentious of me to consider my life to be a meaningful source of wisdom that might guide future scholars. Perhaps that is why I have chosen to draw on the life of my father, William Cecil Mullins, as the inspiration for the guidance I proffer here. I rarely speak about this good man and only few of my friends and colleagues ever had the pleasure of meeting him while he was alive. Yet, forever etched in my memory are his stories about growing up in the hills of Southwestern Virginia during the Great Depression, the survival instincts that those years instilled in him, and the abiding love he had for his mother, eight siblings, and for those hills he called home.

Because I spring from such humble roots, I have always felt different from those I regarded as born to a career in the academy. Indeed, I see the fabric of my life as more akin to the quilts that my paternal grandmother, Creecy Lou, made from feed sacks and the remnants of tattered garments rather than to the rich tapestries I have seen adorning the halls of academia. That is not to disparage my upbringing or my grandmother’s quilts. In fact, the one quilt I have of hers that has survived all these passing years remains among my most cherished possessions. Every faded or worn piece carries memories and feelings that are truly precious to me. Like that quilt, my life is a patchwork that is not easily stitched together to form a clear or coherent tale of academic success that others might wish to emulate. Yet, I have achieved success. That I must admit. I also do not believe that my success came in spite of my humble roots. Instead, if I merit the right to stand among renowned scholars in education research contributing their acquired wisdoms, it is because of those roots and the insights they have afforded me.

With that backdrop in place, let me share several basic “truths” that I have stitched together from my father’s words and deeds. These patchworked lessons have been instrumental to my academic success. Perhaps these lessons might inspire others seeking guidance. Whether these lessons represent “wisdom,” I cannot say. Yet, as with my grandmother’s quilt, I am confident in their practical value.

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Copyright (c) 2020 Patricia Alexander

Education Review

A multilingual journal of book reviews

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