Lindsay Barnes Returns to Teach: Interview & Story

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Miller School of Albemarle's 11th Head of School, Lindsay Barnes, returned to the Hill during the Winter Week of Wisdom and Wonder to teach a course on the mystery surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Mr. Barnes was Head of School from 1999 to 2008 and led the school during a formative period in its 140-year history. Prior to taking the role as Head, Mr. Barnes served on MSA's Board of Trustees and practiced law in Charlottesville. After his successful tenure at MSA, Mr. Barnes served as Head of School at Hawaii Preparatory Academy on the Big Island of Hawaii from 2008 until his retirement in 2015. 

Mr. Barnes' WWOWW course was popular and has created a buzz on campus. One of his students in the course, Rheannon Loth, commented, "Mr. Barnes' seminar on the JFK assassination was one of the most engaging classes I have ever had the opportunity to take. Mr. Barnes' genuine interest in the logistics and technicalities of the death of John F. Kennedy, along with his and the other students' willingness to entertain multiple theories about the number of bullets and conspiracies made for an awesome 3 day experience. I am grateful for even the chance to dive into the murder of the century. I sincerely hope Mr. Barnes will return to MSA for another WWOWW week to teach the assassination of JFK (or another course!)."

While many questions remain about the mystery of JFK's assassination, there is no question that Mr. Barnes' masterful preparation and engaging teaching style left a lasting impression on his students. 

Mr. Barnes took a few minutes to reflect on his course with us:  

You were Head of School from 1999-2008 and did remarkable work for the school. What inspired you to return to teach a WWOWW course? 

Well, first off, while I certainly appreciate your compliment, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that the good work done during my years at Miller was always the product of a team effort.  So many people are due credit for what the Miller School community was able to accomplish during those years.  New Head of School Mike Drude reminds me very much of those who served Miller so well during my time on the Hill.  From the moment I first met Mike, I could feel his “can do” work ethic and his wholehearted commitment to the School;  in fact, it was those attributes of Mike’s that first gave me the idea to offer my services as a possible 2018 WWOWW instructor. 

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When you were Head of School, did you teach or coach? If so, what courses/sports? 

Back during those years, I customarily had my hands full on a daily basis with lots of matters outside the classroom.  So, I didn’t feel that, day-in and day-out, I could be at the top of my game as a regular teacher.  Still, though, I wanted to find ways to be with our students and to get to know them.  This turned out to be coaching (baseball and basketball in the lower grades) and attending as many student events — things like athletic contests, dramas, musicals, and art exhibits featuring the works of Miller students —  as I could.  I also was the adult sponsor of an on-campus Wednesday student service group that, with the assistance of then Director of Buildings and Grounds Dave Fortier, tackled the clean-up and renovation of the central rooms and hallway on the fourth floor of Old Main. That was a lot of fun but a lot of work, too. 

Your WWOWW course was a popular offering, and students are talking about what a great class it was. When did you become interested in the Kennedy assassination? Have you taught on the subject previously? 

The killing of President Kennedy was one of those news events that seemed to freeze time.  It was like 9/11.  I’ll never forget where I was and what I was doing during that weekend in November, 1963 when so much was happening and at such a fast and fearful pace.  Like many in my age group, the assassination left an indelible impression on me, and, over the years, that impression hasn’t lessened.  As a historical event and as a crime, I have always been intrigued by that awful event, how it came to be, and the person or persons who might bear some responsibility for the president’s murder.  

During the 2007-2008 school year at Miller, I taught a WWOWW course focusing on JFK’s death.  However, that course and the one taught this year were quite different.  This time out, I condensed the material in an effort to make it all more interesting and to give the students more of an opportunity to digest what they were seeing, hearing, and reading so that, toward the end of our three days together, their opinions about the who, what, and why of the crime could be as well-informed as possible.  Also for this course, I was able to add an accurate, three-dimensional, digitally re-created, and maneuverable representation of Dealey Plaza in Dallas (where the assassination took place) so the students could view the scene of the crime from all sorts of angles and with all sorts of theories in mind. 

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How did the students in the class respond to the mystery surrounding the assassination? Were many already familiar with the topic or was it totally new territory for them? 

The students were awesome! I was thrilled with the way they plunged head first into the subject matter.  Before the class began, I prepared a paper that I asked the students to read over the winter break;  this paper also included some links to video pieces that I thought they should view ahead of time in order to develop some context relating to President Kennedy and the times in which he lived….and died.  It was clear to me that the students had reviewed this material over their break.  As an instructor, I really appreciated this effort on their part.  For sure, it helped us hit the ground running when we first met each other in person.

 Having you back on the Hill was very special for the school. Can we plan to see you around more frequently for events and future WWOWW courses? 

Thank you, but I can assure you that the feeling was even more special for me.  Part of my heart — a big, big part — will always be reserved for Miller School.  I felt so privileged to be able to spend time again with our students, faculty members, and administrators.  Whether on the Hill or off the Hill and in whatever ways that Mr. Drude and the members of his administration feel I can best support the School and its mission, I gladly will. 

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