One can expect to learn about war and conflict in a college US History classes. It is, however, quite unusual to take a history course in 2012 with a World War II and Korean War veteran as the instructor.
Dr. Ray Broussard, retired University of Georgia professor of history, has been teaching online history courses for the University System of Georgia’s eCore program for about 10 years. Born in 1926, and clearly a member of the “Greatest Generation,” Broussard grew up long before television, frozen food, and electric stoves - let alone the internet.
Today, at 86 years old, he logs in every day except Sunday, to interact with his online students. “He far, far exceeds the expectations of an online instructor, posting up to 150 times a week. He is a precious and rare jewel, and his courses fill up rapidly,” says Dr. Melanie N. Clay, Dean of USG eCore and Executive Director of Extended Learning at the University of West Georgia.
In one of his recent responses to a student, he wisely explained the nature of history, “There are two types of information we deal with in History. One is factual information and that cannot change because it is truth. The other is interpretative information and that changes constantly. That is why History is so fascinating, for we have to rewrite it every generation as our values change.”
Raised in Lafayette, Louisiana, Broussard attempted to join the Navy at the age of 15, but was denied because of his eyesight. After another attempt with another doctor at the age of 17, he was in. He was assigned to fleet postal work in the South Pacific near New Guinea. After the war ended, he completed college and started graduate school at the University of Texas, where he joined the Naval Reserve. He admits that one of his main motivations for participating in the Naval Reserves was to earn “dating money.” He had recently met his future wife, and used his earning to take her to the movies “every now and then,” he says.
When the Korean War broke out, he was among the first called, he remembers. After driving from Houston to San Diego, he failed another eye test. However, he recalls that the doctor had him move closer and closer to the chart until he could see the numbers clearly. He remembers that the doctor wrote “20/20” on his chart.
He was assigned as mailman on the “old USS Blue 80744,” which experienced combat in Korea, and earned a battle star. President Truman extended Broussard’s service for an extra year, and he was discharged in 1952. Interestingly, on the ship, he experienced a form of distance learning in that he worked on a graduate assignment – translating a book from Spanish to English. In 1952, he got married, earned his master’s degree, and got his first teaching job at Southwest Texas Junior College on an old airbase. His starting salary was $2700 a year.
By 1959, he had completed his Ph.D. and got a job with the State Department of the United States as a director of a Bi-National Cultural Center in Cartagena, Columbia. After a two-year stint there, he left to take a job as an assistant professor at Mississippi State University. He recalls teaching very large classes in Latin American, US and English History and established the Latin American Institute. He remembers with pride convincing Mexico’s former President Miguel Aleman to attend the conference. Though he had a young family including two sons, and a low income, he recalls these years as among the happiest of his life.
In 1966, he started teaching for the University of Georgia. He taught lecture courses, and relished standing in front of a classroom. After retirement, he was asked to teach an online eCore course in 2002. He responded, “that’s impossible; you can’t teach history on a computer. You’ve got to talk to the students. You’ve got to mix it up with them, and you can’t do that on that computer.” Early eCore administrators worked with him, and he said that, “dang nab bit by Golly,” – it could be done.
Today, he longs to be able to see his students, but feels that he knows them better than his traditional students in many ways. He says he has discussed this phenomena with students, and many have told him that they feel less “apprehensive about speaking their minds” in the online environment. He particularly enjoys the chance to work with adult learners, who are so dedicated to learning and succeeding, while balancing work and young children. Being in his 80s is an advantage for him because “the older you are, the more life experience you have.”When asked about the future of America, Broussard’s response was simple. “Never ask a historian about the future. They do a terrible job of predicting the future, but they can tell you a lot about the past.”