"It's a very ancient saying,
but a true and honest thought,
that if you become a teacher,
by your pupils you'll be taught."
"Getting to Know You" from the musical The King and I
I never wanted to be a teacher. My first ambition was to be an actor, and when that looked to be not too promising, it was to play clarinet and alto sax in Stan Kenton's jazz orchestra. All through high school I honed my skills by playing my woodwinds in groups and even leading my own combo which won a battle of the bands contest (the group coming in second included Bobby Hutcherson on vibes, a prodigy at 17). When a car accident after high school laid me up for six months and nipped my career in the bud, I sold all my musical paraphernalia and turned to books. I had decided to become a writer.
Only moderately successful, I penned some unpublished poetry and wrote mostly journalistic fluff for magazines and newspapers for many years. When I gave up the working world for academia, I wrote scholarly papers about philosophy, religion and history (you can even read some at Academia.edu). I only produced one book, the text for a volume about the history of California's first redwood park, The Sempervirens Story. You know what they say about those who fail to realize their ambitions: Those that can, do; those that can't, teach. I didn't stay a student at UC Santa Cruz for 18 years because I wanted to be a teacher. I loved study, writing and research, for its own sake and the pleasure it gave me to pursue my curiosity. Since I was already past my prime I didn't expect job offers after the Ph.d. But my then wife was disturbed by this non-utilitarian attitude (thinking of the huge salaries that professors might make) and so I tried a few semesters of teaching at the California campus.
|From "Goodbye Mr. Chips"|
Teaching the core course, a reading, discussion and writing class for 1st year students, at Stevenson and College VIII, was a delightful experience with mixed results. I got to pontificate about the great books, and even lectured on the Bhagavad Gita. At College VIII the theme was ecology which tied in with my study of the redwood preservation movement. The students were smart but lazy. Their curiosity had been diminished (I decided) by leading a privileged life style provided by mostly wealthy parents. They were more interested in partying, the opposite sex and smoking dope, and few students put much effort into reading and writing about Plato, the Iliad, Machiavelli, Rousseau, Freud, Marx, various ecology exposes and manifestos, and Malcolm X (among others). I also taught courses on writing, environmental history and ethics, and the history of California. But my experience was the same. Either I failed to inspire them, or their lack of interest in "higher" education made them immune to the curiosity bug. After four years of post-graduate teaching, I gave up on my lackadaisical students and took up long-distance travel (Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina and Chile, Europe and India).
|Loafing in Pattaya|
|Students at my 1st talk, 2008|