Inside the Classroom with Dr. Robert Spinney

Posted by Susanna Hoffman on 4/5/19 10:29 AM

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US History I and II are hallmarks of PHC’s core curriculum. Dr. Robert Spinney, who has served PHC as Professor of History since 2004, challenges students both academically and ideologically. Spinney is revered for his discussion-based teaching method, his penetrating questions that force students to think deeply, and his demand for excellence with both papers and exams.

For sophomore Justine Van Ness, US History with Dr. Spinney has been one of her favorite classes at PHC.

“Dr. Spinney doesn’t simply teach the events and dates of American history,” Van Ness said. “Rather, he focuses the course around the primary texts and forces his students to contemplate important questions that arose throughout the centuries of American history.”

In class, Spinney may give you a handout with a series of statements about a historical event or issue. You must rank between 1-10 if the statement is a bad idea or a good one. After you rank each statement, you add you score. If the total is in the 20s, you agree with a strict constructionist view. If your total is in the 40s, you answered like a loose constructionist. Now you ask yourself, is that the answer I thought I believed in? Why was my classmate’s answer different than mine? Should I think something different?

“[Dr. Spinney’s] method of asking difficult questions forced us to consider the different perspectives of issues we might have easily overlooked,” freshman Chiara Baldacci said. “Because of that I learned a ton from his class times.”

As US History is a freshman course, incoming students are quickly confronted with PHC’s high academic standards. For Spinney’s exams, students’ knowledge is tested in two ways. For the multiple choice portion, students are tested from assigned readings in Spinney’s textbook,The History of the United States: A Christian Perspective, as well as primary source documents. For the blue book essay portion, students are expected to give detailed answers in essay format. To prepare, students must learn good study habits.

“Dr. Spinney not only made history come alive for me, but his exams taught me how to study efficiently and effectively,” Van Ness said.

Spinney’s papers are often the first papers PHC students write, which quickly instructs them on how to write at a collegiate level, learning to present their ideas concisely, comprehensively, and eloquently. It is with these writing skills that students are prepared for high-profile internships and jobs.

Spinney’s reputation expands beyond the academics, however. He is also revered for his quiet and steadfast spirit, and his personal relationships with students.

“Dr Spinney’s countenance from the beginning made me trust him,” Baldacci said. “Early on last semester I was facing some personal struggles that I felt incapable of walking through alone. I’d heard he was especially gentle and wise and so I went and spoke with him one evening. I’ve never once felt ashamed when I speak with him. Since the first time I walked into his office, he’s listened and offered honest counsel. He has a wealth of wisdom and he knows how to gently share it. He seems genuinely interested in who I am and how I’m doing.”

Spinney also prays with Baldacci, and often stops her in the hallway to say hello or talk about her hometown.

“He is a deeply genuine teacher and friend, and for that I am grateful,” Baldacci said.

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