Ralph and Cherice

A grandfather and granddaughter team up to give GFU students a new perspective

By Kimberly Felton

Five-year-old Cherice scooted forward on Grandpa’s big chair, her legs dangling and dark hair falling forward as she leaned over the broad expanse of his wooden desk. She liked these afternoons in his cluttered office, busily “writing” on papers he put in front of her. Grandpa Ralph had to read for her the sign on his desk – “Eschew obfuscation” – and he laughed when she asked what it meant.

For Ralph Beebe, teaching has been a family affair for decades. Long before bringing his granddaughter on campus, he taught her mother in high school. After transferring his career to George Fox University in 1974, two more children and five grandchildren (including Cherice) filled classroom seats and submitted papers to him. “Makes it kind of an interesting family arrangement,” he says.

But this is the first time he has co-taught with a family member. The little girl who pretended to write at Grandpa’s desk went on to major in psychology at George Fox and earn her master of divinity at Princeton Theological Seminary in 2009. Now Beebe and Cherice (Eichenberger) Bock are team-teaching the class “War and Conscience in American History.” Beebe has taught this class since 1990, presenting the three historical Christian positions toward war: pacifism, just war and obedience to country.

With a family history in the military, Beebe became a pacifist in college. In 1980 he published the book Waging Peace. “I knew what he thought, and I did my own research and came to my own conclusions,” Bock says. Her thesis at Princeton focused on the tensions of war and conscience found in Romans 12 and 13.

One warm afternoon in a park last summer, Beebe and Bock discussed his upcoming class. “A week or two later, it hit me that we should team teach because she could help the students come to grips with the morality piece,” Beebe says.

While Beebe focuses on historical views of war and conscience, Bock ties in from her Princeton studies the theology and morality of war from St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, George Fox and Menno Simons. Bock’s time spent in Israel and Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams further equips her to lead class discussions about the moral intricacies of the Middle East’s current wars.

“I suspect it may be the first time in a long time that a grandfather and granddaughter team taught a college class,” says Beebe.

“Hearing his perspective helps fill out my view,” Bock says. “We’ve had conversations about pieces we interpret differently. There have been things both of us have said over the years that have informed what the person has believed after that. I appreciate that he’s willing to listen to my perspective as someone younger.”

Their discussions outside the classroom range beyond peace. Beebe bought a hybrid car after hearing why Bock thought it was important.

“I think some people feel like when they’re older, they’ve learned more than other people have,” says Bock. “It’s nice that it doesn’t go just one direction.”

Beebe laughs. “We’re willing to express our opinions,” he says. “She’s influenced me. In teaching the class, it’s not that I’m right and she’s not right. In spite of our joy in working together, it has to be a good class. We have to present things so the students learn, rather than trying to satisfy each other. Our method of teaching is, I think, helpful to that.”

As a new adjunct professor for both seminary and undergraduate classes, Bock is happy to get more experience – especially working with a seasoned teacher. Besides noting his syllabus and grading methods, Bock learns from childhood memories of her professor grandpa. “They often had groups of students over [to their home], having discussions. I remember seeing how he structured his life . . . building into relationships. And giving lots of [project] options – that’s something he did before it became popular, helping different learning styles; he’s been doing that for more than 40 years.”

At 79, Beebe considers mentoring his granddaughter a close second priority to providing a productive learning experience for their students.

“Cherice is a very good teacher,” Beebe says. “She has practically 50 years to put into action the things I might help her with. The more I can help her become a good teacher, the more value it will be to her and to students in the future.”

And the benefits go both ways. “I bring experience, and she brings ideas, youth,” Beebe says. “I speak both languages,” Bock says. “I understand what he’s saying, and I understand what they’re saying – especially about technology questions.”

“I do e-mail,” Beebe clarifies, “but growing up, we didn’t even have a telephone until I was 15.” Sighing, he adds, “Things change, and she understands technology far better than I do.”

Together they’re attempting to eschew obfuscation around biblical responses to war and peace – and technology – helping the next generation of students determine what they believe,
and why.