July 2009

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[From Nick Maxwell's current Friends of Wisdom Newsletter No. 5 (PDF)]


By Harvey B. Sarles
University Press of America: 1993
ISBN 0-8191-8897-2
REVIEW by Maarten van Schie

I’ll give you my opinion forward and frank: I think this is a good book. What I have been reading the past month has been a book about teaching. I have read a few books on teaching, and most of them are full of theories and techniques to teach effectively, with standard presentation tricks like “Say what you are going to say, say it, and then say what you have said.” These books are usually written in the manner of a college textbook, authorative and impersonal.

The book that I have read and am reviewing now writes about teaching in a very different manner. It is, first and foremost, a very personal book. Harvey B. Sarles has written about his vision on what teaching is and what a teacher does and instead of writing about teaching as a job he writes about the teacher as a human being. From this perspective he explores the role of a Teacher, which is “the person who becomes Teacher to one’s students: entering their spirits in some depth”.

I admit I was at first a little put off by the ambitious metaphors of this kind in the beginning of the book. But Harvey Sarles has in his book distilled from the concept of teaching, which may be muddled up in “The Present Age” (Kierkegaard), the purely human and social aspects. And as he puts it, Teaching is not just about transferring knowledge, it has the potential to shape minds and ideas and to inspire. Read the rest of this entry »

A celebration, a wedding, a joining of the lives of two people, culminates the planning of a year’s concentration. A party: two person’s lives join together into some notion of futurity which is the faith of their ongoingness.

Preparation, the imagination of friends and families somehow getting to the same place at the same time. A kind of public fantasy, the twenty years of youth growing up, growing to be and to become another person, an intellect, a thinker and doer; now, two thinkers, two doers, deciding to be together in the whatever that is a marriage. Still their parents’ children, still children to their parents. Yet a who, a what, a something in its own times and place.

Bread, a feast, wine, dance, the beauty of bridehood fixed upon our memories into tomorrow’s hopes and each new day’s is and was, would and will be.

When will the questions stop, when will I be satisfied with who I am, and why?

Myself? Others? Who am I trying to please? Friends? Mentors from my pasts? Important personages wandering in my thoughts? Who am I trying to please that these questions murmur in my mind’s meanderings, popping out whenever I try to justify myself?

Suppose that I am virtuous, a person who performs what he preaches; a person who preaches a morality of no little substance; neither great paragon nor whatever she is not. Suppose…

Adrift, somehow, somewhere, beyond the history whose knowing shows how I got here; that there are many other ways I might have gone. My self, an accident of some history, some fate; some fate, some destiny with any sense or purpose…or more a mere happening?

What difference, I ask. Seeking perfection, perhaps, but finding it was lost…Trying to be profound in a mundane world, struggling to be honest with my self, leaves virtue having to take care of itself. Perhaps I will discover virtue in the living and doing? Be kind, be good, be strong, treat others as oneself…!


(Further notes after my first “My Teachers” post, and additional perspective from my prior post on the State Department, Foreign Service Institute, and our Current Ignorance of the World.)

My teachers of Anthropology and Linguistics at SUNYBuffalo, had been working for the U.S State Dept, in the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) during and after WWII. Their work consisted centrally of working (“fieldwork”) in the different Languages and Cultures of the world – advising and teaching State Dept personnel in exploring and understanding the other languages and cultures of the world.

Language and Culture were considered important in understanding and dealing with the world. Different peoples and nations had to be studied in their “own terms,” in order to understand and deal with them “realistically, effectively…” To be an effective statesman, one should speak the native language In these senses: other countries were different from us, but should be studied in their own  terms, toward good and effective foreign politics and policies.

As Sec’y of State to President Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles had a quite “different” picture of the United States and other countries. They were not just “different” from the U.S., but they were considered as somewhat “lesser,” in the contexts of a kind of “hierarchy” of nations. (Dulles was a deeply religious person with a deep sense of “America-First” – America was a kind of “City upon a Hill.”) His picture of America and the world has persisted well into the present.

In any case, all the Anthropologists and Linguists in the FSI were “fired,” in 1955. Read the rest of this entry »

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In the June 29 Mpls. Star-Tribune, two extensive editorials debated the notion that many new teachers in our local schools would be sponsored by Teach for America: public schools, charter schools…

The usual routes for teachers trained by Colleges of Education would not be judged by Teach for America, and these new teachers – who primarily have earned very high grades in getting their college or university degrees – would offer much better teaching to our K-12 children. Or they would not – said the other editorial.

his home for 7th grade science, flickr photo by Monkey & Tree

"his home for 7th grade science", flickr photo by Monkey & Tree

What’s going on here? Are our schools failing with the ordinary or usual teachers: how badly or well are they doing – for whom? Who are these new teachers: are they “qualified?” To do what? Will they be better teachers? Or is this so much hype?

Here I’m speaking from the perspective of a Professor at the University of Minnesota, where I have been selected as “Teacher of the Year” in 2001, in the College of Liberal Arts. I also teach a course in Teaching as Dialogue: a book I also wrote. Just this Spring, I’ve been involved in the recently formed “Great Teachers” program.

And during the “money bubble” times we’re currently passing-out-of, there has been a virtual redefinition of students. Like Medicine (capitalized), students and patients have all been “converted” to “Consumers.” There are really no persons in this description which has sold so well during the money-bubble. And so there aren’t really any persons doing the teaching: increasingly removed from teaching…it used to be lectures from “yellowed” ancient lecture notes. Read the rest of this entry »

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Right now I feel that my feet are like the Rock of Gibraltar, solid grounded. At the same time, in the same moment, I am loose and flaky as if the rock were thinly-layered shales, moving in any and all directions with the ease of a soft summer evening.

This condition acts itself out in my world, both doing and watching. I have more nerve than before: nerve to try new things, to take new risks, the nerve to be willing…

It is partly that I want to learn, to study what is happening in these times of the revival of religion – especially in the rising concepts of death over life.

It is as if the thinking and fears and hopes of the aged and infirm have gained ownership over life, as it has increasingly, in their own lives. It is as if women – who are the future – have lost the vitality to inspire the future.

I want to know, to understand the ideas of forever, and what then happens to each day. Where and when are the future, when impending death looms so large? Why do the ideas, prophets, and texts of the past overtake the present? Is it a search for certitude, protection from fears, a dispute over reality?

This takes my being in new places, pushing upon the powers that appear to be, to see where they yield, when they are soft or very hard, how they exist and oppose, and against what forces – perceived and real.

I want to help to recreate the idea of meaning, and of life: of living a meaningful life. Right now the urges and surges of nerve want to take on these explorations. Will I, how…can I explore such grand images?


(Part 1 on my teachers. Part 2 touches on this line of thought, part of how it stalled, and impact on society. Part 3 is on “languaging”. Part 4 summarizes some lessons learned from my teachers.)

Who am I? A deep and developing question. But I did have several teachers who helped me to formulate my thinking and directions.

Above all, Ray Birdwhistell – the originator of “Kinesics,” the study of the human body-in-interaction. He was an Anthropologist who was the best observer of people I’ve ever met – observer in the sense of seeing people in careful and detailed senses. He was trained as a “classical” dancer, and seemed to see all others as performers in life’s dances. And he didn’t only concentrate on each individual. He also/always noted how they interacted: in groups, in life’s varieties of social contexts from infants to older, the ordinary and the exceptional in every sense; richer and poorer, healthy and injured and “odd” and…; ethnic, linguistic. His ways into the world were always expanding. Life is social, interactive: the individual…?

My Teachers - My Teachers - Ray Birdwhistell, George Trager, Henry L. Smith Jr., Norman McQuown, ...

My Teachers (click image to enlarge)

Ray was a student of the Chicago School of Symbolic Interaction – heirs of the American Pragmatist, George Herbert Mead, and the anthropologists who wandered the entire world. His work wandered from American Indians to the average family dynamics, to the sick – physically and, particularly, mentally. And he directed me to the U. of Chicago, Anthropology, where I continued my studies with linguist Norman McQuown – under whose tutelage I (and family: J, and infant daughter Amy) studied a Mayan Language (Tzotzil) and lived in Chiapas, Mexico for two years deeply immersed in both Indian and Ladino (their term) cultures during this time.

Ray was also a student in the line of thought and active fieldwork (life is fieldwork!) of Franz Boas: Margaret Mead (especially), Gregory Bateson, influenced his thought. Read the rest of this entry »

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