Joe Wyatt
Published September 5, 2019

Although his career pathway has been a bit circuitous, Larry Adams ultimately found his niche as a professor of history and political science quite possibly, as some evidence suggests, because it is in his DNA.


Adams is a direct descendant of father-son U.S. Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. It is no wonder that he developed an interest in his lineage – and the historical and political significance of his ancestors – at an early age.


“Being a direct descendant of those two presidents drew my interest strongly into the political realm and American history,” said Adams, who is now in his 20th year as a member of the faculty at Amarillo College. “I’ve certainly studied those two figures extensively.”


Before becoming an educator, however, Adams studied law enforcement, and then the law. A product of Palo Duro High School, Adams finished first in his police-academy class and served as a peace officer for almost five years.


While enforcing the law, he simultaneously pursued additional education. Adams attended AC for a couple of years before completing a bachelor’s degree in political science at West Texas A&M University.


Buoyed by that success, he applied to various law schools and was accepted to the University of Texas School of Law, from which he graduated in the top quarter of his class.


Adams returned to Amarillo and spent seven years working at a large law firm. During that span, opportunities to teach part time drew him back to AC, and when a full-time teaching position opened up in 1999, he went all in.


“I always liked to teach,” Adams said. “I taught Sunday school when I was a police officer, and as a third-year law student I was a teaching assistant.


“I love working with students,” he said. “My favorite part of teaching is seeing the students when they first get something, when they actually hear complex ideas and you can see their eyes light up.


“When they’ve understood the concepts that are being taught, it’s real rewarding to see that happen.”


Adams commonly employs the Socratic method in his teaching, a tactic he culled from law school which fosters critical thinking by asking questions that lead students to question their own assumptions.


He also immerses students in a role-playing game called Reacting to the Past, in which they are assigned to play roles of persons relevant to the same pivotal moment in history. They debate the issues of the day, seeking to sway the opposition much as their real-life characters must have done.


“They have to do research and think about what their characters would do in certain circumstances,” Adams said. “In history and in government it’s important to learn to empathize with the side you don’t know much about, to think about why they feel the way they do.


“Probably my biggest strength is getting students to think. I ask hard questions and always tell them that the most important question to ask is ‘why?’.”


Adams says he is honored to teach at AC, where students are getting a superb and affordable education.


“I took advantage of AC,” he said. “It was such a great place to learn and the people were so amazing, and I think that’s still true today.”


When not happily embroiled in classroom debates, Adams might be watching his favorite sport, tennis, or putting in effort on behalf of a particularly heartfelt passion – the Texas Panhandle Centers Behavioral and Developmental Health. Adams serves not only on the board of trustees locally, but at the state level, too.


“I believe government should help those who can’t help themselves,” he said. “That’s one of my underlying principles, personally. Working with the Panhandle Centers is definitely a manifestation of that belief.


“I think it’s a very important service – they (clients) have issues that need to be addressed. It helps keep people out of jail, out of the emergency room, and helps people lead better lives.”