To really get the feel for this profile, you may want to queue up Simple Minds’ Don’t Forget About Me. It’s got a cool vibe, just like Patrick. And it’s one of his favorite tunes, too.
The History and English teacher at the Waterview Parkway campus likes much of the mellow, synth-pop music of the 1980s and ‘90s, but the generally quiet and unassuming Patrick also has a hard rock side, opting on occasion to “do a little thrashing” when heavy metal bands tour through Dallas. One recent weekend, he dropped in on Orbit Culture when they swung by with Avatar and Tour of Maya. “That was pretty much a headbanger show,” he says.
Growing up not far from the DIS Waterview campus in Garland, Mr. Dennis - we should call him Dr. Dennis, as he holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Dallas - grew up as most normal teens did in the 1980s, attending school, playing video games, going to concerts and enjoying suburban life. He played sports, too, including ice hockey - and this was before the Minnesota North Stars moved to Big D, became the Dallas Stars, and made the city into a diehard hockey town. He likes the game, he says, “because it’s a fast game that really flows and I find it fascinating that they’re doing all of that on ice skates.” So is he a Dallas Stars fan?
“Nope. for me it’s the Detroit Red Wings,” says Patrick, pointing to the Motor City team that, in the heyday of the 1990s dominated the NHL and served - with superstars like Federov, Konstantinov, Larionov, Koslov and Fetisov - as basically a second national team for the hockey powerhouse Russian Federation. “Those were the days when fans would throw a live octopus out on the ice to celebrate the goalie’s flailing limbs after a good save,” he adds.
But if sizzling guitar riffs and fast-paced sports fed his wild side, academics and a constant desire to learn shaped his quieter, more curious self, leading him to excel in IB and advanced placement courses during high school. “I was always one of the quiet guys and in some ways I still am,” he says. “I used to really hate having to give presentations in class, but then I had a professor later on in college who helped me work my way through it and now it’s never a problem. I also think I woke up to how many great classes I was missing out on because I didn’t want to present my work.”
Patrick’s quiet demeanor undoubtedly reveals a deep intellect, leaning heavily toward the liberal arts - subjects like Philosophy, History, English and Science. The history of science, in particular, has always held his interest. “I’ve always been curious about where the big ideas for discovery have come from - or not come from - particularly during Medieval times and as we moved from what Francis Bacon called a ‘very sterile time’ on into the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. We had Copernicus working out the nature of the universe the Inquisition was still going at the same time.”
With a doctorate in the “History of Ideas,” Patrick likes to keep his DIS students thinking. “Subject matter hasn’t changed much over the years,” he says. “But the students have - with the internet and social media and so much information available at their fingertips, they are always engaged and so much more aware of what’s going on in the world. I like to dive into projects with them that help to develop their perspectives on the difference between theory and practice.”
For added challenge, he tosses in some deep discussion about ethics, a philosophical subject of study that falls, for him, directly from some of the works Patrick finds so interesting. Like Don Quixote, from Miguel de Cervantes (how dangerous can imagination and boundless optimism be?), or Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, a Medieval murder-mystery based on nothing more than the author’s simple desire to murder a monk.
But his favorite book is Ready Player One, Ernest Cline’s novel of a future dystopia where gamers hunt through virtual reality for an “Easter Egg” that would bequeath them the game developer’s fortune. “That book really sums up my childhood,” says Patrick. “It’s the gamer world I grew up in during the 1980s and there is still so much relevance to the world we live in today.”
The big ideas behind works like these are what opened up Patrick’s mind to the power of ideas, which led directly to a fascination with knowledge, learning and understanding. “To be honest, I spent more time in college and graduate school than I did all the way up through high school - teaching at UTD and Collin College along the way. But the more I learn, the more I want to know.”
Still waters do, indeed, run deep, they say. Which is why Patrick challenges his students with everything from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to George Lucas’ Star Wars to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. “I want to make students dig deeply into both the scientific and gothic perspectives - and then sprinkle ethics and philosophy in to keep it interesting.”
And what does the future hold for Patrick? He wants to write and publish something of his own. “I’m not sure what, but something.” And then more learning, more teaching, more thinking and definitely more music. “I’ve played guitar for a few years, but I’m really bad,” he shares. “I’m tone-deaf, which makes me terrible, but maybe that can be a good thing for heavy metal - I’m really into Def Leppard now.”
Then he gets into the Simple Minds groove, Don't Forget About Me being an anthem of his age, he says.
Won’t you come see about me?
I’ll be alone, dancing, you know it, baby
Tell me your troubles and doubts
Giving everything inside and out.
For Patrick Dennis, one thing is assured. The students he teaches - even long after they’ve graduated - won’t forget about him anytime soon.