Getting to know...Dr. Byron R. McCane
From the same town that brought you Procter and Gamble and one of baseball’s best ever teams comes Dr. Byron R. McCane, proud Cincinnatian who loves his new home in Spartanburg, S.C.
“I grew up on the Big Red Machine,” says the Wofford religion professor. “As a boy, I worshipped God, Jesus and Pete Rose. That was my holy trinity.”
McCane attended college at the University of Illinois, where he says he felt like one of 35 million students, then got his master’s and Ph.D degrees at Duke University. He didn’t discover the true small college atmosphere until he taught at Washington & Lee in Lexington, Va.
“I fell in love with the setting,” he says, “especially the kinds of conversations you have. At a major research university, you pretty much only talk to people in your area of specialization. But at a small college, you’re constantly talking across disciplinary boundaries, often many boundaries at once. When the opportunity to work at Wofford came up, it was just the perfect place for me. I’ve felt like a pig in mud ever since I got here.”
McCane teaches a very serious subject, so when he gets home he loves to unwind doing something different. A crossword puzzle nut, he tries to do the New York Times’ puzzle every day.
“They get harder through the week,” says McCane. “Monday’s pretty easy, and Saturday is just monstrously difficult. When I succeed in completing a Saturday puzzle I cut it out and put it on the refrigerator at home.”
He also relaxes with something else…music.
“Late in the evenings, just before I turn in for the night, I really enjoy spending that last half hour or so playing country music on my guitar,” McCane says. “I like the old traditional style country, like George Jones. I love Alan Jackson, too. I think he’s the greatest thing going these days. I’ll track down a song, learn the chords, and play it. I sing along, too. I find it deeply relaxing. It puts a nice easy end on the day.”
McCane also plays gospel hymns, but says he can enjoy some modern country music, too.
“Brad Paisley is just hilariously funny,” says McCane. “His song ‘I’m Still a Guy’…I laughed so hard I practically cried the first time I heard that one. He also had a song about fishing where the guy had to choose between his wife and fishing, and the chorus says ‘I’ll miss her.’ Good stuff.”
McCane also likes to jog and lift weights several times a week. He says sometimes he just feels the need to push heavy things around for a while. But some of his heaviest lifting involves the lifting of centuries of dirt off of something on an archaeological dig, such as the one he did this past summer in Israel.
“This was the third time I got to take Wofford students with me to Israel for a dig,” he says. “The students get to do the actual digging work. We get out there in the field. Most of the time, field archaelogy feels like gardening, only instead of putting things in the soil, you’re taking things out. There’s nothing like getting out in the field with students and teaching them how disciplined digging is done. They start moving dirt and things come out of the ground that haven’t seen the light of day in more than 2,000 years. It’s pretty cool.
“While we’re there, students get to tour the country. They get to see the Israeli/Palestinian conflict up close. They meet people on both sides and begin to see that there isn’t a simple good guy/bad guy story over there. It’s a deeply complicated human problem, and I want my students to see it for what it really is as opposed to the terribly oversimplified versions that come through the media.”
McCane enjoys teaching religion, period.
“The exciting thing about teaching religion to college students is that they are at that point in their lives where, for the first time, they can think about it for themselves,” he says. “Our classrooms here in the religion department are often the first place they have ever looked at the Bible and Christianity and thought about God, or looked at other religions without some presumption about what the right answer is.
“Of course, we do think that there are right answers, but we understand that young people at that college age are capable of thinking for themselves. So the real fun of it is to roll out a good question and see them go after it. And if they begin to head in a direction that’s unproductive, to steer them back to more useful ways of thinking about things.”
He says watching young minds grow is what makes teaching all worth it.
“I think what I really enjoy about Wofford students is that they’re high performers, yes, but they’re high performers with heart,” says McCane. “They want to get an education so that they can use it to do something good in the world.
“Somebody has done a good job of raising these people, because they bring good values here. It’s a pleasure to teach them. I like what I get to do every day. When I walk through the doorway of the classroom, I’m looking forward to spending time with the young people I’m going to find in there.”