A Good Professor

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Booksie Classic
You get (if you're lucky) only a few good teachers as you proceed through the levels of the educational system. What follows is my description of one of those great teachers.

Submitted: July 18, 2009

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Submitted: July 18, 2009



Dr. Gill Was An Emotionally Moving Educational Experience-Not Just A Teacher


Life Is Sweet, Goodbyes Are Tough

Oct. 25, 1979



After a breakfast of campfire eggs and bacon, Carin and I headed back to Michigan. By late afternoon we pulled into the campground at the foot of the BigHornMountains. It was located at the entrance to TensleepCanyon, the same canyon where, while careening down the mountain grade on a previous bicycle trip, I had an “out of body experience.”


After the following day’s drive, we pulled into Lead, South Dakota. While there, I renewed my acquaintance with—the Barrios Family. Sitting in Javier’s living room brought back memories, maybe a few too many. However, drinking beer with Vicky and Javier, listening to Leon Russell sing Hank William’s Good Night Irene on the stereo, made it all worthwhile. I knew I was about to say goodbye to Carin (maybe forever), but I also knew that I had said goodbye to Carole Sue from on top of these same hills--many times over. Life had a way of repeating itself, whether you wanted it to or not. All that was required to get you through was strength--and sitting with old friends, listening to great music helped in that department. Drinking my beer, I knew full well that when Leon was through singing, it would be the Grateful Dead’s turn. Javier would see to that!


Alone In My Empty Apartment


A long time ago, I attended a lecture in Warner Auditorium. The keynote speaker was an authority on value theory. I had hoped to learn something from him, but I didn’t. After the talk, as was my custom, I went up to where the speaker took post lecture questions from the audience. My Professor, who himself had some original ideas on value theory, was in the crowd. When he noticed me, he immediately came over and started apologizing to me. He was apologizing for something he felt uncomfortable about, something that he said to me the last time we were together.


  At that time, I was taking his class, and, as was his style, he had just posed a question to the class. I was not satisfied with the discussion of the question that followed, so I went up to him after class and asked, “What is the arête of man?” I was simply repeating back to him the question he had asked the class to respond to. He wouldn’t (or couldn’t) answer my question. (Arête is a Greek word relating to purpose: the arête of a bow is to shoot straight.) I didn’t know it at the time, but that semester was over for me. Do to circumstances beyond my control, I quite CMU and moved to Arizona. Because of my absence, he had jumped to the conclusion that his teaching method—his silence, had caused me to drop out of his class.


 But now, in his apology, Dr. Gill wanted me to know that that was not true. He wanted me to know that his silence was not a surrender to “man’s lack of arête.” His silence was simply a way to make a point. “The only person who can answer that question, your question,” he said, “is you.” A person’s arête was always peculiar to one’s unique situation at the time of posing the question. He was apologizing to me because he did not answer my question; that is, until that very moment, and at that moment, he completely won me over. I knew myself to be standing in the presence of a man of impeccable character and generosity.


Just before Carin and I went on our vacation, I was sitting in on yet another class taught by Professor Gill. In the past I had sat in on full semester classes taught by Dr. Gill in-- The Philosophy Of Literature, Myth, and Spinoza. I had also spent truncated time in the classes he taught concerning Value Theory, Plato, Zen and Symbolic Logic, and Freedom. In all but the last couple classes, I challenged him at every opportunity. I needed to know what he knew. What I finally concluded was that John Gill was not an instrument conveying knowledge, but rather, as a teacher exuding great sensitivity; he was a deeply emotional, educational, experience. After I got back from my vacation with Carin, I found another Professor teaching his Freedom class. John Gill died of cancer October 23, 1979. He was 69 years old.







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