Tribute to the late Dr. Dennis R. Rader
In memory of Dr. Dennis R. Rader
Dennis Rader was not your typical professor. If he had been, I probably wouldn’t be writing this. Dennis was the best I’ve ever known at using the Socratic method to get students to think. The assignments he gave were far outside the norm, but in assigning them he got students to think way outside the box. I would like to think that Dennis’s students learned more from him than from other instructors, and that the lessons they learned through him enabled them to live a much more fulfilling life.
This was certainly true for me.
I first met Dennis when he was an adjunct professor for Southern Illinois University’s extension program in San Diego, where he taught educational psychology in my undergraduate program. He asked great open-ended questions and encouraged students to debate and defend their perspectives about the human condition and how we learn.
My life was forever changed the day Dennis gave us an assignment almost as an afterthought as we were getting ready to leave class. “Oh by the way,” he said, “in my book Hogs on Ice you’ll find a chapter titled ‘Teachers as Toad Killers.’ Read that chapter and write a one-page paper entitled ‘Myself as a Toad Killer.’” I’m sure we all looked at him with expressions that communicated “what the hell are you talking about” because he just smiled and said “Read the chapter and you’ll know what I’m talking about."
I had already been running my own company as a management coach for several years, working one-on-one with managers at multiple levels within organizations to identify obstacles that were holding them back and finding ways around them. With that background the concept in “Teachers as Toad Killers” immediately resonated with me. In that chapter, Dennis told a story about Coach Hatfield, a basketball coach who used the metaphor of a toad to represent obstacles that dwell within our minds and keep us from achieving our true potential. I couldn’t believe the power of Dennis’s story. It was an amazingly simple metaphor to help people wrap their minds around the idea of “old tapes” or fears that hold us back. I couldn’t stop telling people “the Toad story."
At our very next class, I waited until an opportune sidebar moment and said “Dr. Rader, you know that toad story? It is extremely powerful. It needs to be more than just a chapter in your book – it needs to be a book all by itself.” Dennis’s next words changed my life. He said “would you like to write it with me?"
We worked on the project sporadically, and when Dennis moved to Mississippi and then Kentucky we lost track of each other because he didn’t believe in email. Thankfully, we reconnected and Dennis eventually warmed up to technology. I finally flew to Kentucky in 2003 where we sequestered ourselves in a hotel for several days and finished writing Living Toad Free.
Dennis was not only a phenomenal teacher, the synergistic ideas that filled the room when the two of us got together were unbelievable. I can’t tell you how many times we’d sit down to talk and then kick ourselves an hour later for not having a tape recorder on.
After Living Toad Free was published Dennis would occasionally accompany me to conduct training for my clients. Whenever possible, we would also visit bookstores and do book signings together.
We kept in touch throughout the years, getting together from time to time and always talking about doing a second edition of Toads. Unfortunately, other projects are always seemed to take the front burner, and now I’ll have to work on that second edition by myself. Dennis passed away last week (on 2/14/2013) from a heart attack.
Dennis once told me that “writing is the highest form of teaching, because your writing impacts people you will never meet, and it also stays around long after you’re gone."
True words. Dennis and I regularly called each other to share how the Toad story impacted people’s lives. There was the 40-year-old woman we heard from who, after reading Living Toad Free, decided to go back to college and finish her degree. That woman is now the CEO of a non-profit organization. Another was a middle-aged man who, after participating in a discussion group about getting rid of Toads, decided not to leave his wife. We heard dozens of such stories. We even heard from a woman in Pennsylvania whose life was so changed by the Toad story that she asked for (and received) permission to conduct Living Toad Free workshops in her company.
Dennis, wherever you are now, I hope you are even more aware that your Coach Hatfield story not only changed my life, but it also changed the lives of thousands of people you never had the opportunity to meet—and that it will continue to do so now that you’re gone.
You will be missed. Rest in peace.
February 19, 2013
PS. I'll catch up with you soon enough.
PPS. Be sure to take Jasper for long walks.
Comments that were made on the website that originally carried this tribute:
I met Dennis years ago here in Frankfort Kentucky teaching a Living Toad Free class we have been very best friends ever since. I am thankful for a wonderful book and the lessons it taught me and the wonderful friend I received at the class. We are all very sad at the loss of this wonderful person.
I met Dennis when he gave a ‘talk’ at the Coffeetree Cafe. My husband stlll has the printout and uses it to start conversations at parties! When he was writing ‘Learning Redefined’ he asked us to take a look at his draft and let him know of any typos or issues we saw. I ended up researching the artwork he used, contacting the artists and getting their permissions for him. I dream of the day when American’s educations system is based on that book! Dennis was the most amazing person! So brilliant! So nice! We’ll miss him! See ya on the other side Brother!
Thank you for introducing me to the Toad story. I can see how powerful it is in people’s lives - perhaps mine will join theirs.
Theresa Williams said:
We at Philosophy Club at Solaris Art Gallery in Versailles will miss Dennis greatly. Dennis was a member of Philosophy Club and his intelligence and great wit will be missed.
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