The English word magnanimous blossomed from the Latin root “magna anima”, which means “great souled”. The magna anima series on jcusports.com seeks to highlight great souls of John Carroll Athletics both past and present. Chapter 2 will focus on former John Carroll student athletes who have dedicated their lives to teaching and education.
Sometimes a small moment in our lives can have a big impact, even if the impact is not realized until later on. These moments can form our lives in ways unimaginable and lead us down paths we’ve never known.
Chad Miller knows what that is like.
Born in Medina, Ohio, Chad was raised in a family who loved sports. His parents both attended Ohio State, his dad was a football coach, and his dad also played softball until he was around 50. This instilled in him his love for basketball and football, both of which he played while traversing through the Medina Public School system.
As a senior at Medina High School, he was first team all-conference and second team all-county. He was certainly looking to continue playing football at the next level.
At a time when many other schools he was looking at were recruiting him for offense, John Carroll recruited him for defense, which is what he wanted to play. After visiting the school, Miller talked to a family friend that played in the 70s. This person spoke at great length about he comradery he still had with his old teammates, and the thought of those relationships is what caused him — in the middle of a conversation with Coach Tony DeCarlo — to take a leap of faith. He elected to join the John Carroll Blue Streaks … with the added impetus of an ultimatum from his father. Chad would not be allowed to go on spring break if he had not yet chosen a college.
Miller lettered all four years he played football at John Carroll. He was one of only five freshmen who lettered on an Ohio Athletic Conference runner-up team in 1996 that finished 9-1. He played the first four games before a season-ending injury curtailed his 1997 season — a year in which JCU advanced to the Division III national quarterfinals. As a junior, he played in all ten games and made 12 tackles.
His most productive season was his senior year. The team went 7-3, and he played one of his best games in what was called “one of the greatest college football games played at any level” by longtime Cleveland Plain Dealer Sportswriter Bill Nichols, a 57-51 triple overtime loss to Mount Union. He concluded the year with 47 tackles, including 3.5 sacks for 25 yards.
Going to John Carroll was strictly a football decision at first. He wanted to continue playing and wanted his parents to be able to continue watching him play.
Soon enough, though, that changed.
“The decisions I made and relationships I established changed Carroll for me,” Chad said, “I was actually learning. I found out what learning was like, what learning felt like. John Carroll does that.”
Chad was in first year seminar when Dr. James Swindal (the professor and soon after his advisor) assigned a reading to the class that would forever alter his course. Jonathon Kozol’s Savage Inequalities, which talks about the inequalities in school systems.
Miller took copious notes and did all the things that made him a successful student in high school, but when asked “What did you think about the reading?”, his notes were lacking. Dr. Swindal was asking Miller what he really thought of it, not a by-the-numbers review.
“This took be aback,” recalled Chad. “This was a different type of thinking … this is what learning is. I was intrigued by the idea, and after taking my three philosophies I needed for John Carroll, I declared a philosophy major my junior year.”
The change in major was not initially well received.
“My dad said ‘Chad, what are you going to do with that degree?’ … so I got a Communications major as well,” said Chad. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. What I did know, however, was that I did not want to be an academic philosopher. Philosophy was hard and was challenging and made me think. I was not good at it at first, and that’s what pushed me. So when I asked Dr. Swindal about it, he told me about a guy doing philosophy with kids in Hawai’i. I liked that idea because I always realized that as a public school student, I was not steered towards opportunities to think in a philosophical way. I thought why should thinking be reserved for the privileged?”
Miller went on to meet that mysterious man, Dr. Thomas Jackson, and moved to Hawai’i to get his master’s degree in Education and Teaching, and got his teaching certificate along the way.
He worked in a high school for 10 year and taught English to the students, all while getting his PhD. In his classrooms, he used a pedagogy known as Philosophy for Children. This is basically the idea that content is taught to students using philosophy.
After finishing his PhD in 2013, Miller got hired at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa’ working at The Uehiro Academy for Philosophy and Ethics in Education which helps support teachers for bring Philosophy for Children into the classroom. His students there took note of his methods of teaching, having the same “aha” feeling Miller did in freshmen seminar of what learning really is. These are students who generally did not care about their work, coming from different backgrounds in a surprisingly violent school, learning from each other, pushing them outside their comfort zones. They read challenging books, listened to ideas different than their own, and found comfort in confusion.
This new way of thinking was what led influences like the Dalai Llama to come and have a philosophical inquiry with Miller’s students.
(To see the video of this, click here)
“This is, by far, the best memory of my professional career …It will be hard to top this,” said Chad. “As far as we know, this is the only time the Dalai Lama has gone to a public school in the US to have an inquiry with students, rather than just speaking to them.”
This is also what led Miller to win the Hawai’i Teacher of the Year, an award that allowed him to fly to Washington, D.C., where he was able to meet with President Barack Obama, and talk to him about philosophy’s place in education.
His personal career is not all that is a blessing to him in Hawai’i, though. Miller’s younger brother lives out there and his parents moved to Honolulu last year. This is also where Miller met his wife, and will soon be expecting their first child.
While his life is now in Hawai’i, Miller credits much of his success to John Carroll.
“At any given moment of any given day what I’m doing as a professional is tied to my experience of a football player at John Carroll,” said Chad. “When I got to John Carroll I thought I knew what hard work and dedication were, but I learned it from the moment I stepped on campus. Some of my greatest memories, too, were with my team traveling to games. My favorite memory of all, though, was my wedding, where I was given an opportunity with my friends from Medina, John Carroll, and Hawai’i to celebrate something great.”
Miller says he has no regrets about anything he has done, as it has all added up to where he is personally and professionally.
“I don’t see anything I would have done differently,” said Chad. “I think I learned a lot about myself and I don’t think a lot of my friends I’ve met out here have had the same experiences to understand who they are as a person at such an early age, which I especially gained with the education I got at Carroll.”
Between influential coaches, supportive teammates, inspirational teachers and loving members of his family, Miller realizes he has been blessed with both opportunity and perspective. His vision of the world around him has been colored by those experiences.
“I was fortunate enough to tackle people pretty well to get into a school I probably shouldn’t have gotten into,” said Chad. “I am forever grateful I did. Our world needs people who can listen and think differently and are not put off by opinions that are not their own, which is something Jesuit education focuses on.”
A good philosophy indeed.