By John Granrose
Teaching is important business. At least that's how it seems to me. For those of us who take teaching seriously, it can be one of the things that gives life its meaning. Two stories might help explain what I mean.
First story: When I was an undergraduate I once confided to a favorite professor that I was interested in becoming a college teacher. He immediately responded, "And if you lose your passion for it, make a change. Promise?" I promised.
Second story: Many years later, when I was just beginning my teaching career in the UGA Philosophy Department, I was startled by a colleague's challenge: "Would you give your life for philosophy?" We had, as I recall, been discussing Socrates' choice to accept death rather than escape from prison. Still, the question surprised me. My colleague continued: "You know, if you spend your whole life teaching philosophy and then you die without having done anything else, you have given your life for philosophy."
The question has remained with me to this day. "Would you give your life for ...?" Well, what is worth dying for, anyway? As I have reflected on this question over the years, my own conclusion has emerged: "Persons." For me, it could only be persons and their well being that could ultimately justify the giving of a life. Philosophy as such, a collection of theories and ideas, is not sufficiently "real" to justify the giving of one's life.
But wait a minute. Teaching philosophy makes a difference in people's lives. I know that from experience. It made a difference for me when I first encountered it as a student, and I could see that it made a difference in the lives of my students over all those years. Teaching involves connecting. The teacher and students connect with each other. The teacher helps the students connect with the subject matter at hand. And the teacher also helps the students connect with each other. These were the things that motivated me to spend a major part of my life teaching philosophy.
Teachers are different, of course. Not all of them are as energized by the idea of connecting as I was. Some are simply so fascinated by their particular subject matter, and so knowledgeable about it, that their excitement "rubs off" on their students. Others, including some of the most brilliant teachers I know, enjoy "performing" in front of an audience--"showing off" their abilities, as it were. But for me, I found the meaning of my teaching career in the experience of sharing with my students.
When I first joined the UGA faculty I was only a few years older than my students. Despite having earned a Ph.D. in philosophy, I wasn't very far ahead of them in knowledge either--especially when I was assigned courses in areas outside of my academic specialty. I recall, for example, teaching a course in aesthetics for the first time in 1966 and wondering if I would be able to keep ahead of my students and/or whether I would end up making a fool of myself. But somehow the importance of feeling "in this together" kept me going. I recall saying to one of these early classes, "The motto for this course is not ŚLet me show you what I can do' but ŚLet's see what we can do together.'" This became something of a leitmotiv during my UGA years.
I began teaching in the 60s, during a time when students in general, and philosophy students in particular, were often actively involved with the issues of war and peace and racial and sexual equality. The courses in ethics and in social and political philosophy that I taught were filled with debate about the practical implications of philosophy for such topics, a kind of connecting that seemed important to the students and to me as well.
It was also during the 60s that my three children were born and that I learned the value of family life, something I experienced as enriching my teaching career rather than competing with it. I frequently found "teaching stories" and useful examples of ethical dilemmas in my home life during those years. My children knew that and were proud of me when I received the Meigs Award in 1983. During my early years of teaching, I also encountered the tension between the demands of teaching and of research. As a young assistant professor with a family, I was aware of the importance of earning tenure--and the necessity of academic publication to achieve this goal. So I did the relatively narrow research this required and wrote the necessary articles. What I discovered in doing so was that I loved to read, to learn from others, and to communicate to others what I had learned--but that I was more motivated to teach than to publish. The strong desire to learn and to share was there, but it focused on classroom teaching rather than professional publication. Fortunately for me, my department head and my dean recognized the value of this, and I felt recognized and rewarded. I have sometimes described these years as the time when I "came out" as an intellectual rather than a researcher.
This is important, I suppose, because my own struggles to find my identity as a teacher, and to resist the temptation to shortchange my classroom responsibilities in favor of forcing myself to write for publication, served indirectly as something of a model for my students. I was trying to find my own path in life, my personal calling, and not simply conform to social expectations. I was trying to find and then to follow what some have called "the path with heart," the path which gives one energy. For me, this path required classroom teaching and the associated interactions with students. Personally, this is where I was "in my element." And the students, of course, noticed and appreciated this. They could tell that I loved my work--and them. And they returned the favor. One of my favorite comments on a course evaluation form was, "I'm 'more myself' now than before I took this course."
During the 1960s and 70s, I devoted much energy to learning the more or less "standard" material of academic philosophy and sharing it with my classes. In the 1980s, however, I noticed that my interests were shifting somewhat. During this period I became more interested in the kind of philosophy which shaded into psychology, religion, and even mythology. I began reading authors like Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, and I felt "called" somehow. For the most part, especially at first, I kept these new interests separate from my classroom teaching. Eventually, however, I offered an undergraduate seminar on "Philosophy and Mythology" and received a warm response. At the conclusion of the seminar, I confessed to the class that I also wanted to offer a seminar on the philosophical and personal implications of Grimms' fairy tales, a topic I had discovered through my developing interest in Carl Jung, but that I was concerned that my academic colleagues would consider the theme "silly" (or worse). The students in the seminar encouraged me to go ahead. I did so, we "connected" even more than before, and all of us enjoyed and benefited from the experience. It became clear to me that both folk tales and myths, in their own mysterious ways, could contain deep philosophical and psychological insights, insights which our contemporary culture sometimes overlooked.
Then I remembered what my undergraduate professor had made me promise. Somehow my passion had migrated from academic philosophy to these new areas of psychology, mythology, and the like. The passion for teaching, in the sense of "connecting," remained. But the subject which now energized me was new. As a result, and after much reflection, I decided to give up teaching philosophy as such and devote the remainder of my life to working in these new areas. It seemed to me that many persons were suffering from a hunger for more meaning in their lives and that there might be something which could help.
To have the time to devote to my new interests, I retired from the UGA Philosophy Department in 1993 and moved to Zürich, Switzerland, to study at the C.G. Jung Institute for Analytical Psychology. The psychological training offered by the Jung Institute includes attention to comparative religion, mythology, dream and fairy tale interpretation, in addition to standard psychiatric topics. It was a difficult decision to give up my philosophy teaching career and The University of Georgia, both of which I had greatly enjoyed for so many years, but I felt that I had to do so if I was to remain true to myself. So I did it. Somehow, for me, it was connected with my life's meaning--and I remembered the promise I had made.
Now, some years later, having received my diploma from the Zürich Jung Institute and having had a private practice as a psychoanalyst since then, I have returned to teaching and added "academic administration" to my career. I am now Director of Studies at the C.G. Jung Institute Zürich. As such, I am responsible for arranging the courses taught to our over 300 students. These students come from a variety of professional backgrounds and from over 40 different countries. All of them have found themselves "called," as I was, to learn more about that special area where psychology, philosophy, religion, mythology, and the like overlap. And in addition to my administrative duties, I get to teach again--to connect with a new generation of students and with a subject matter that is close to my heart. Interestingly enough, I find many aspects of my new administrative duties exciting. I have contact with Jungian psychoanalysts and other experts worldwide and get to encourage them in their work with our students. So my influence reaches beyond my personal classroom.
On the other hand, as I experienced with my earlier research efforts, I am sometimes frustrated and dissatisfied with the sorts of activities administration requires: the frequent committee meetings are the best example. Still, I am experiencing, and mostly enjoying, this new form of connecting. On the whole, I feel "in my element" once again. And if I should lose my passion for this new life? Well, perhaps you can guess the answer. In my view, openess to new experiences and a willingness to change give life its rich meaning. The details of this meaning are different for each of us, but the core is the same: Find what you love to do--and do it with all your heart. That is my prayer for those of you reading these words.