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…?
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. Boas’ observation and insistence that the study of the human includes the Physical, Cultural, and Linguistic – (and his friendship with John Dewey, G.H. Mead’s buddy) – all floats in my being and work. Boas’ work on the nature of the shape of the human head/body as cultural, has yet to be fully heard. This tradition, which insists that all humans are equally part of the human condition – and that it takes continuous observation and wonderment of how we are…including oneself…to begin to understand the human condition. Many of the ideas of Human Rights developed within and from their work.
I met Ray Birdwhistell at SUNYBuffalo, where he joined linguists George Trager and Henry L. Smith, Jr. – who had previously led the Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. State Dept. They had recently been dismissed (all the anthropologists-linguists) – from the FSI – and began the study of Anthropology and Linguistics, where I was one of their first two students. With Smith and Trager, I got deeply into questions of language and expression: how language “works,” as grammar, but also as sound – in the various contexts of culture and society.
Trager’s wide-works were more embedded in the works of some other former colleagues (e.g., “The Silent Language” – written by Edward T. Hall) which became part of my thinking on intercultural communication, “proxemics” – the spaciality of interactions, always expanding to questions about “how the world works.”)
We spent a summer with Trager in Taos, N.M. examining “paralanguage” in the Taos Indian language: i.e., how language sounds and “pitch” are bound together in speech and interaction. Some of my work (“Language and Human Nature” – resetting many issues surrounding “artificial intelligence”) flow from this thinking.
From Smith, more the involvement with one’s native language, and how to see and examine oneself speaking, observing; he was well known, as well, as an expert on American English dialects. My concern with language, expression, context sprang deeply from these connections and teachings which continue to frame much of my thinking as I approach the world of people: talk, interaction, the body, context…culture, institutions, history.
The work and thinking of my teachers at Buffalo is more expressed by others (e.g., E.T. Hall), and by Birdwhistell’s student (also sent to Chicago), Erving Goffman, whose work and thinking (“Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,” etc.) elaborates much of Ray’s conceptual and intellectual orientation toward the study of the human.
Again, the two years of fieldwork in Chiapas under McQuown, taught me to observe and think (with several other co-students) about other languages/cultures. The opportunity there also provided me with two years of “hanging” around home, where I could observe daughter Amy learning language (actually two languages), and where being outside in the tropics afforded me the ongoing opportunity to see everyone and their families, etc., in the context of a fairly small community of Venustiano Carranza where both Indian and Ladino cultures and languages were spoken. Living in other cultures, speaking other languages, has been powerful in my being and thinking.
Beyond this were various teachers I had throughout my schooling: some very good and fairly memorable; a couple with whom my interactions were, frankly pretty terrible (in a year’s study in Medical School – which experience still resonates powerfully in my thinking – dissecting a cadaver remains in my thoughts.) The couple of “bad” experiences with teachers has strongly influenced how I think about and actually teach students: my book and practice, “Teaching as Dialogue.” (See the movie, “Paper Chase” to get the taste and flavor of those experiences – I try to pursue kindness and critical thought, social critique, more than directed study or lecturing!)
Resonating in my being, still, are also a couple of violin teachers from age 8 until my college days. Paramount in my thinking is Bernard Mandelkern who helped me to become a kind of “self-teacher” on the violin, whose study I continue to pursue most days in the vague hopes of being able someday (soon?) to play (perform?) J.S. Bach’s unaccompanied Sonatas and Partitas.
I’ve also had “teachers” as I have been engaged in studying the world, people, institutions, ideas…two years as a mathematician-programmer at Cornell Aeronautical Lab in Buffalo, and four years in Western Psychiatric Institute in Pittsburgh doing research on the dynamics of Psychiatric Therapy.
As a critic-commentator of the (idea of) the University, Stanley Williams directed and joined with me on how to study and understand how such institutions work (from his experience as Manager of a Research group in Surgery); Phil Regal, on how to think about biology and most everything else; Mischa Penn who urged me to broaden my thinking and framing of all of knowledge; and various of my students, some of whom remain close co-thinkers, especially Jerry Timian and Glenn Radde; and members of the “Body Group” with whom I studied the body with observers, curers, athletes, musicians, etc. (especially R. Hruby).
And there are teachers of Alexander technique, tai chi, and ongoing yoga study with Nancy Boler – which I practice most days. Dan Latorre is my teacher-guide to the internet: I have much to learn.
Above all, hovers the wisdom and critique of partner Janis Sarles: my major teacher for over 50 years.
Tags: anthropology, Chicago School of Symbolic Interaction, Dan Latorre, education, Erving Goffman, Franz Boas, G.H. Mead, George Trager, Glenn Radde, Gregory Bateson, Henry Lee Smith Jr, interaction, Janis Sarles, Jerry Timian, John Dewey, kinesics, linguistics, Margaret Mead, Mischa Penn, Nancy Boler, Norman McQuown, paralanguage, Phil Regal, Pragmatism, proxemics, R. Hruby, Ray Birdwhistell, Stanley Williams, teacher education