Ever since I returned from England, and discovered to my consternation, that no real path to a teaching career was open to me without a specifically California teaching credential, I’ve been looking for fulfilment outside of a cubicle inside a cubicle, inside another cubicle…you get the picture.
This in spite of my teaching for some years at the University of Liverpool at a full professor’s salary and the Oxford University Internet Institute at a considerably less salary. As well as guest lecturing at St. Martin’s School of Design, the London School of Printing and the University of Lincolnshire’s graduate program),
As I have not the means to afford to both pay and live for a year’s teaching credential (nor necessarily would agree with the manner and criterion by which that credential is achieved), I have made a point of teaching any and everyone who wants to learn and will bother to listen.
Education should not only be free to those that cannot afford it, but it should flow freely from those that have it to anyone who wants it. Teaching is not a skill, it’s a disposition. It’s an interactive sport. Not all great achievers in the arts or the sciences have that disposition.
Teaching in the Starbucks forum is my revenge on what has become since I departed the US in the early 1980s, the Business of Education. The California educational system has become a money making scam by institutions colluding with banks to profit off of student debt.
A Scholarly education is no longer relevant or desirable; it’s about acquiring credentials which of course must be purchased more readily than earnt. Thinking originally or independently of a hiring institution poses a threat to that very institution. Thinking differently might bring about change and the risk of losing power over others.
Of course, there are many exceptions, I have friends from high school and college who are to this day conscientious, curiosity-driven teachers, researchers and college professors. In that sentence distinguishing between the teacher and professor, I expose my level of submission to status and accreditation. Neither of which has anything to do with the scholarly pursuit of knowledge in order to cultivate wisdom.
The sure sign of a good teacher is not their credential, status or the number of degrees, but if they are focussed enough on continuously learning and re-learning their subject through their students and the actual experience of teaching.
Teachers and professors who are in education for the status become administrators and bureaucrats, ironically adding to the very obstacles teaching teachers must surmount just to do their job and teach their subject.
Teaching is not a job like selling insurance to the elderly who are too confused to know they are signing their life savings away; teaching is a vocation. It takes endless study and self-scrutiny. It takes listening to and learning from students outside of the educational caste system.
So since the institutions won’t accept me without taking the prerequisite bank loan so as to accumulate debt and pay interest to the banks, Starbucks and the streetcorner are my classrooms. The park, the beach, a dive bar, a brewery, an art gallery, the library and yes, even the streets where the public and members of every class are allowed to circulate freely without being hassled by the authorities.
Everywhere I go I strike up conversations with the people around me. (No, not everyone. I’m not a public nuisance.!) Instead, I stay in one place until the carousel of human activity aligns someone into non-threatening social proximity. Even then, I am cautious, seductive. I really don’t want to disturb anyone, just engage them.
The old and the young are the best. The old because most people ignore them as they have nothing to offer the perpetually youthful society. The young because they are not yet quite jaded and curious as to why someone twice or nearly sometimes nearly thrice their age would want to talk to them. I treat most people the same and people younger than me find that attractive. I don’t condescend, rather I enquire. I ask a lot of questions and most people do like to talk about themselves.
The characters I have written and are currently writing all stem from what I am able to capture in the wilds of a Starbucks or a sidewalk street corner. And then I teach. I teach people how to think. Not by telling them how to or what to think but by taking their trains of thought and passing them through my station and asking a lot of questions.
Some folk disembark and stroll around my lack of conformity. They breathe the rare air of freedom as there is nothing that I prohibit them from doing or saying; unless of course, it causes harm. My lack of inhibition is contagious and people tell me things, particularly the elderly that they would never tell a stranger, although I am one. Those that linger become my friends over time.
Others just can back on board their train and depart my station.
We don’t always agree but we do respect each other which grants another kind of freedom. The freedom to be yourself a reprieve from having to perform your self for the estimated sake of others.
A psychiatrist once asked me if I considered myself a nonconformist. I assured her that I wasn’t, that I was normal it seemed to be everyone else that was a little off centre. Besides, I continued, I am always trying to conform. Not to convention or others but to myself.
I struggle to conform to the person I strive to be.