Teacher appreciation week

My “Art and Despair” seminar came up on our last unit, on resignation and acceptance, last week with Brahms’ Requiem, and we got into a discussion of immortality as a comfort in the face of death.  I provoked them a little with Minsky’s question “Does the soul learn?” from The Society of Mind, and the vacuity of speculating on an eternity from which no-one has ever come back to report.  But whatever one wants to think about individual immortality in the conventional sense,  we agreed that we had been “meeting” and engaging with Brahms and lots of other dead artists all semester; something a lot like their souls were around and about, diffused through their disciples and audiences, and would be indefinitely. Even the guy who painted the bison on the walls at Lascaux is still with us, and not trivially.

Not just artists; teachers live forever through their students.  We get a lot of naches just doing the job, but I love hearing from former students after years (or decades) about what they are up to, and though it took me too long to realize I should be doing the same, I finally sent some thank you’s to former teachers and I’m glad I did.  So should you.  Do it now (your K-12 teachers are aging fast); at this time of year they will be happy to have an excuse to stop grading papers.  Whatever you’re doing, you couldn’t have done it without them. Let them know.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

10 thoughts on “Teacher appreciation week”

  1. I’m with Woody Allen: I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality by not dying.

    Still, I’ll take what I can get, and Mike is right that the Lescaux painter is still active in the world, long after he or she stopped breathing.

  2. “Even the guy who painted the bison on the walls at Lascaux is still with us …”
    Or, it may be, gal. The paintings are religious, so the artists were presumably some sort of shaman, a profession that has at many places and times been open to women. We can’t guess about the Cro-Magnons.

    I am very privileged that my parents took me as a boy in the 1950s to see both Lascaux and Altamira in the flesh. Since then, both have been closed to all except scholars with a couple of PhDs and a lot of pull with the Ministries of Culture. Human breath damages the fragile art. What ordinary people get to see now are reproductions in concrete copies of the caves. Even so, I’m told they work.

    1. “Since then, both have been closed to all except scholars…”

      The Font-de-Gaume cave is still open to visitors and although much smaller than Lascaux and Altamira it is worth the trip to experience.

      And Herzog’s 3D documentary of the Chauvet cave is perhaps the next best thing to being there.

    2. I was at the reproduction Lascaux last September and it is very impressive. I think the artist lives on in the reproduction in a way that most don’t in picture books.

      As for appreciation – I suspect that most people figure that their teachers won’t remember then a decade or more later, so do not bother getting in touch.

      1. Those people figure wrong. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that he or she created value through your life and work and would appreciate knowing it. I get letters from students that start out “I’m sure you don’t remember me, but I took your course in 1985 and I still use what I learned in it”, and even when I can’t attach a face to the name (though quite often I can), it makes my heart leap.

  3. Do you ever hear from good students who did poorly in real life? You know, the 1985 summa cum laude graduate who is now a low level cube dweller?

  4. Mike, thanks for assuming my K-12 teachers are still on the job, although it must be tough on octogenarians, nonagenarians and whatever you call the next class up. I bet they’ll be glad for a break from the paper grading!

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