When I started high school I was looking for the lowest possible common denominator. In my later adolescence I had briefly been involved in some volunteer work with some great people in nature conservation and caring for wild animals. That fell apart for me however as I drifted into an uncertain puberty. I started high school with an ambition to be an auto mechanic, and hide away from society as much as I could.
This all changed in a dramatic way one day, completely by chance, when my U.S. History teacher called in sick. John Curtin, head of the Social Sciences Department, and the only teacher ofPhilosophy at San Rafael High School school, came to fill in. Mr. Curtin, not knowing where our regular teacher was in the curriculum, decided to talk philosophy. I had had only a brief idea of what philosophy was at that point. My Asperger's, and social ineptitude had placed me up to that point, in a lot of remedial English and math classes, so this was a breath of fresh air.
Mr. Curtin talked about Descartes and I was hooked. Not just on Cartesian Doubt, but on Mr. Curtin,philosophy itself. This wonderful, heady feeling that here I would find something, here where people actually loved to think. I mean, that's what philosophy means; to love to think! This captivation of mind and heart was the beginning of a love affair that continues to this day. After the class I made an appointment with my counselor to see if I could get into Mr. Curtin's Philosophy class for next year, as you had to be a junior or senior to get in.
My counselor was not encouraging, as my English grades were low and you needed the teacher's recommendation to take the Philosophy class. The U.S History teacher whose class Mr. Curtin had taken, was surprisingly on my side. He had astonished me one day when I returned from one of my frequent absences from school. I had written what I considered a pretty average essay on "Social Darwinism", and apparently, Mr. Barahal, liking it more than I, had read it to the class in my absence. He was all for my taking philosophy, showed John Curtin my work and I was in.
John Curtin is responsible for my earliest belief that love and wisdom must accompany each other. My first assignment in the philosophy class was to write an essay on why Socrates was considered acorruptor of youth. I have to admit that after nearly 50 years, I am at a loss as to what I wrote regarding Socrates, but I remember what John Curtin wrote on my paper. "This is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read! " This from a man who I idolized. A man who I knew had read many beautiful things. This might have been too much if I had not read on; "... and some of the worst English I have ever seen ".
John Curtin took his lunch hour every day to help me improve my writing ability. He had me rewrite that essay every day until it was perfect. His love of teaching and love of learning was contagious. I remember being introduced to Bob Dylan, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks' 5000 year Old Man and Gregorian Chant in his classroom.
I remember one summer day the class had moved to a small circular seating area outside and the class was all sitting around Mr. Curtin. I was transported in my mind to ancient Greece, and the love of learning and the beauty of that moment has stayed with me. I vowed at that moment that I would be a teacher. I meant then that I wanted to be a secondary school teacher, something that never materialized, but an understanding occurred than that I have always believed; that a teacher needs to transmit love.
A teacher, no matter what is taught, must be a conduit of love in some form. A teacher must convey a love for the subject taught. By love I mean a passion that is visible and felt through the skin. In spirituality this is perhaps doubly important because Love is the very subject, the very heart of the teaching. People say they "resonate " with this or that teacher. This means that they feel thatconnection that is love. When something in you touches something in me, that is the "something " that connects us; Love. The words of a teacher are important. His "pointing" is important. But his life, his sharing of his love, is what makes for "resonance ". A teacher who loves, inspires love in you. It is this love that gives the courage to surrender.