illus: Abbot Otto by Howard Pyle, 1889
Short Lecture In the Form of A Course Description
My idea for a class is, you just sit in a classroom and read aloud until everyone is smiling. And then, you look around. And if someone is not smiling, you ask them why? And then you keep reading. It may take many different books, until they start smiling, too.
~ Mary Ruefle (b.1952), poet and professor of literature and creative writing
My principal profession these days is public university teaching. For me, being an educator & “public intellectual” is more than just a day job or straight gig, it’s a vocation — literally, a “calling.”
Indeed, I view public academic teaching (along with research and curricula design) as a “sacred calling.” — It is the most vital means of providing each rising generation of our human family with a nurturing opportunity and community, a supportive setting and process, for realizing their potential to become planetary citizens who are humanely learnéd, humanely creative, and humanely productive in growing their own lives and the lives of their communities. And of course I believe this public educational nurturing process should be available to all, throughout life, for free!
Public university teaching is crucial for preserving and passing forward the accumulated information, knowledge, learning, insight, wisdom, and accomplishment of thousands of years of human experience, culture and civilization, the world’s collected store of intellectual knowledge, our shared cultural heritage, the planetary wisdom of the ages.
Of course, there also are some other ways and means, and other venues and arenas, of preserving and handing-on important aspects of our precious, irreplaceable human heritage. But public academic higher liberal education is the broadest, most extensive and most readily accessible method for saving and transmitting the greatest amount of humankind’s mental heritage for the largest number of persons around the world.
I appreciate that there are many other activities and occupations perhaps as important as that of public university teaching, but I have a hard time thinking of any that are categorically more important. Immediately I think: well, there’s being a public health care provider, a doctor, a nurse! But of course, without education, and without educators, there would be no doctors, no nurses, no modern medicine or public health care system. And the same is true for so many, many important areas of human endeavor, engagement, enjoyment, and contribution. Making public university education available to all is of utmost importance in preserving and sharing the intellectual heritage of our Earthly human family.
Therefore, I hold my function and responsibility as a public intellectual and educator, an academic scholar, researcher, curricula designer, and university teacher, to be a sacred vocation and a most noble profession. For me it is at once a form of practicing humane spiritual self-discipline, of practicing life-supporting creative expression, and peaceful, progressive eco-social activism.
Nevertheless, along with my vocation as a professor, I also still continue my life-long engagement in other nonviolent forms of direct activism for various causes supporting eco-social peace and justice. I continue, as well, my life-long engagement in creative expression as a cultural worker producing visual art and writing. And of course I also continue my life-long daily engagement in silent meditation and related ancient traditional methods of contemplative self-discipline including occasionally providing spiritual teaching & retreats, personal guidance & counseling. But for the past decade and more, my primary public professional outward engagement has been my university teaching activities.
Through academic teaching, I feel I am educating myself along with my students, and indeed (to some extent) the public at large. I feel I am helping contribute to the future of peace, justice, and well-being in the world. I feel I am contributing directly and significantly to the immediate and lasting preservation of wisdom, to the cherishing and sharing of knowledge, truth, beauty, goodness, happiness and compassion.
The thirty-plus university courses I have designed and repeatedly taught in recent years are in the area of interdisciplinary humanities. They deal with various overlapping topics in world literature, world history and culture, and comparative world religions treated as cultural, literary, and historical expressions of personal and community experiences and values. Most of these courses were originally co-designed & frequently co-taught with my now-late sweetheart/life-partner/spouse & fellow interdisciplinary humanities professor.
There are so many areas of scholarship I find fascinating, some of which include: literature of mystical experience, especially autobiographical accounts of life lived in stabilized natural higher states of holistic consciousness; comparative East/West traditions of the contemplative artist-poet; history of Asian spiritual/religious traditions in America; history of the relationship of radical politics, contemplative spirituality & liberal religion, and poetry & art in bohemian countercultures. And so many more related areas and topics.
If I had several concurrent lifetimes to pursue, one would be relishing cloistered existence in a forest-hidden ivory tower academic library-scriptorium, burning midnight oil in armchair adventures of a scholarly sort, digging the mental landscapes of my historical & contemporary compeers and intellectual/spiritual/poetic heroes. Emerging weekly to deliver lectures & attend seminars with my fellow scholars. Something like that. One such concurrent life. With a fellow-scholar wife, naturally, who had moonlighted maybe as a dancer, or something sparky! …What a wonderful dream life! — Wait a minute! That is the life I’ve been living! For years now! Well, at least one of my concurrent lives. Though, tragically, now, alas! without the beloved brilliant & very sparky wife. And also sadly, without the actual forest.
Life spent delving & intellectually feasting in the Groves of Academe still presents many delights, despite all its problems—and those problems are legion. The campus (though alarmingly less safe every day, obviously!) is still a refuge for those who can’t bear the soul-less open cutthroat warfare of the vulture capitalist business world with its fascistic corporatist dictatorship of arms merchants and related robber barons and bought-&-sold political hacks and henchmen and henchwomen. We academics prefer to take our chances instead in the more humanely value-centered, congenial, publish-or-perish quietly backstabbing world of ladder-scrambling cannibalistic collegiality. Just kidding. Sort of.
I love teaching, but I do try to avoid in-house campus politickings & ridiculous institutional organizational head-games. One aspect of Academe is that of a tiny shallow pond full of rather small fish vying with each other to be the biggest baddest piggiest fish in the pond. But the real fight these days of course is against those enemies in & out of The State Gummit who would angrily undercut and avidly, gleefully destroy public education altogether. They are legion, they are armed (literally &/or fiscally), and they are dangerous. We’re doing what we can to mount the barricades against their intransigent ignorance. It may be a war we appear to be losing (for now), but offering our passionate resistance to the forces of unreason and mental darkness is the only honorable thing to do, and therefore often tons of fun. And besides, for those of us drunk with the wine of book-larnin’ & teachin’, it’s the only game in town.
What is the role of schools and education in our society?
HENRY GIROUX: Schools should be democratic public spheres. They should be places that educate people to be informed, to learn how to govern rather than be governed, to take justice seriously, to spur the radical imagination, to give them the tools that they need to be able to both relate to themselves and others in the wider world, in a way in which they can imagine that world as a better place….At the heart of any education that matters, is a central question: How can you imagine a future much different than the present, and a future that basically grounds itself in questions of economic, political and social justice?
…The Obama administration is a disgrace on education. The Obama administration basically is an administration that has bought the neoliberal line. It drinks the orange juice. It doesn’t see schools as a public good. It doesn’t see schools as places where basically we can educate students in a way to take democracy seriously and to be able to fight for it. It sees them as basically kids who should be part of the global workforce. But it does more, because not understanding schools as democratic public spheres means that the only place you can really go is either to acknowledge and not do anything about the fact that many of them are now modeled after prisons, or, secondly, they become places that kill the radical imagination. Teaching for the test is a way to kill the radical imagination. It’s a way to make kids boring. It’s a way to make them ignorant. It’s a way to shut them off from the world in a way in which they can recognize that their agency matters. It matters. You can’t be in an environment and take education seriously, when your education is under—when your agency is under assault. Can’t do it.
…Three things about the Left disturb me. One is, they never really have taken education seriously. They think education is about schooling. What they don’t realize is that forms of domination are not just simply structural. They’re also about changing consciousness. They’re also about getting people to invest in a language in which they can recognize that the problems that we’re talking about have something to do with their lives. It means making something meaningful, to make it critical, to make it transformative.
Secondly, the Left is too involved in isolated issues. We’ve got to bring these issues together to create a mass social movement that in some way really challenges the kind of power that we’re now confronting.
from His Holiness Maharishi Mahesh Yogi addresses the Harvard Law Forum, 1968 (title says 1970, but it was 1968):
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s address on secular ethics in education, Emory University, June 25, 2016:
“Last Day of the Semester: – Into the World of Work” Robert Reich addresses his UC Berkeley students – excellent, fun talk!
“Last Lecture” by Robert Reich to UC Berkeley Class of 2014
HH Dalai Lama: Education Matters, addresses University of Sydney 2013