My last lecture

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Five minutes before I lecture, I place a candle on the desk and light it.  The lectern stands apart from from the desk.  Some students have already arrived, others come in; some are puzzled at the candle, others not.  At 11:10 a.m., May 5, 2015, I stand and deliver my last lecture in history before college students.  I begin…

Good morning.  I have lite a candle, as you can see, and hopefully none of you are allergic to the scent.  This is my last lecture of my career in teaching and I want you to share this time with me.  I light the candle because I want some physical remembrance of this class, of this time, of my career, of you.  I turned in my letter of resignation to retire yesterday.

This is my last lecture.

We have material to cover, but at the end of the lecture, I will make a few personal remarks.  But, first, let’s begin with the First Persian Gulf War under Bush the First’s administration.  Of course, we didn’t know that there would be a Second Persian Gulf War, so it was merely called, the Persian Gulf War…

[I proceed to lecture for about an hour, finishing with the presidential election of 2012, the Obama victory coming from the gradual, but not complete, recovery from the Great Recession, the ongoing withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and Mitt Romney’s ill-chosen remarks about the 49% of the American people being “takers.”  The economy nearly always has affect upon the party in power.  I ask for questions. I close my notes, pause, and then proceed...]

Since 1960, I have either sat in desks like you are today or I have taught college and university courses in history, government, anthropology.  I have taught a total of forty-seven years, twenty-four at Amarillo College, seventeen here at Cisco, and several years at Texas Christian, the University of Texas at Arlington, and Texas Wesleyan in Fort Worth.

I am seventy-two years old and I want to do some other things while I am in good health such as hiking, mountaineering in northern New Mexico, travel to Europe again, write.  I may teach again, perhaps.  Texas Wesleyan students want me to teach a course in Native American history and I would like to teach a course in the philosophy of history.  But, we’ll see about all that.

In my teaching I have striven to be unbiased, giving as many sides to interpreting an event as I can.  If I have taken one side strongly or the other, I have done it with disclosure to you, playing and arguing a position: liberal, conservative, socialist, communist, fascist.  I have not played that role or presented that method to you.  I’ve done that technique in the past, but not recently in our class. Nonetheless, the constants in my lectures have been science, naturalism, reasoning, rationality, evidence, corroboration.  Those are methods that must remain constant.  They must.

I have given you the definition, early on, that history is philosophy with examples.  I have not explicitly spelled out the philosophies of history, but you may find the philosophies if you parse my lectures and review the constants of science, naturalism, and the reasoned approach to life.  I wish I had done more to explain examples, the historical events, with contrasting philosophies, but I have not. I want to tell you some quotes or axioms that have guided me and my teaching over the years.  Some of these I have already given to you, but here they are again.

Say what you mean.  Deliver what you promise.  Fight for the right [1].

Now, fighting for the right doesn’t necessarily mean take up arms or drop bombs, but it might.  Here it means to take a stand, argue reasonably, talk to power.

History is not dead; it isn’t even past [2].

That is a Faulkner quote, and I believe it fervently.  I add my own dimension to his words:  You may not want to live in the past, but the past lives in you.  What that means is nothing spooky, but your genotype, phenotype, the narratives you carry within from your mother and father, me, your friends, the books you read, even the way you walk, are related to the past that you carry now, within you.

If you are not for yourself, then who is for you?  But, if you are for yourself alone, what are you?  If not now, when?  [3]

I am neither religious nor Jewish, but this quote from the Talmud expresses much, both taking care of yourself and entering into a civil life with others, unselfishly–now. Then, finally, you have heard this quote from me in class, but it is quite significant.  It comes from Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, 2,400 years ago.

Happiness depends upon freedom and freedom depends upon courage. And, courage is the knowledge of what is sweet and what is terrible, and yet notwithstanding, going out into the day to meet it [4].

There has not been a a class I have taught that I have not had anxiety until I am fifteen or so minutes into the class.  Lecturing, presenting before you is both sweet and terrible.  All of my career, it always has been both.  Thank you for being with me today.

I paused and looked over the class through the years.  I then walked over to the lighted candle on the desk and blew the flame out

—–

[1]  Codes of fealty, Middle Ages, Europe, various sources.  This was the mission statement of American Airlines after World War II.

[2]  William Faulkner, various sources, perhaps the Nobel Prize speech he gave in literature.

[3]  Tractate Avoth, Chapter 1, Mishna 14 (New York: Judaica Press, 1965).

[4]  Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War (New York: Penguin Classics, 1972).  This comes from Pericles’ funeral oration.

Department of Philosophy–University of Texas at Austin

UT College of Liberal Arts Department of Philosophy.

Click the link above.  Please read the three questions poised under the category of “Welcome.”  Do you have personal, developing answers to the three questions?  Any class you take in college and university should be providing you a platform or answers (partial or complete) to those three questions; that includes college courses in history, literature, biology, math, or the arts.

If you are not examining answers to these questions daily, then you need to be.  You have a choice to resolve doubt as much as you can  Just do it.

I quote from the Department of Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin, webpage.

Philosophers have generally taken several questions as central:

  • What is there? (And, what, in particular, am I?)
  • How do I know?
  • What should I do?

The Philosophy Department of the University of Texas at Austin carries on that tradition.

Frederick H. Ginascol: My Professor at University of Texas at Austin, 1961

I sat along with seventy-five other people in the aisle at Bates Auditorium (I think it was) to hear, learn and study philosophy with Frederick H. Ginascol of the University of Texas at Austin.  The lecture hall was overflowing, every desk taken.  Those of us that sat in the aisle used clipboards or hardbound composition books to take notes.  I was one of those sitting in the second tier, left side of the auditorium from the lectern’s point-of-view.  There were perhaps 250 students in the class, seventy-five of us in the aisle.

Like the quote about Tony Judt in the footer of this blog, Dr. Ginascol gave us –three times a week — everything he had.  He lectured and induced discussion on the lower tier for the first half of class, then moved to the middle tier to finish the class so that the peanut gallery could see him.  I sat in the upper tier and was delighted he had the sensitivity to come away from the lectern.  He was anxious about the class and would put Tums in his mouth to settle his stomach, the corners of his mouth having a bit of white foam in the course of his teaching.  He told us what he was doing in taking the Tums and that disclosure endeared me to him.

I made a “C” in his class, but my first essay was an “A.”  I still have my notes from the class, not good notes, but notes as a freshman from a small town makes:  sometimes in pencil, little organization, gaps.  I value those notes.

Dr. Ginascol’s birth and death years are 1907 — 1999.  In 1990, when I returned to graduate school, I called down to UT-Austin to check on my records and I inquired about Ginascol, thinking him deceased.  Oh, no, the secretary said.  He’s very much alive.  Would you like his phone number?  I think I took it down, and I warmed with the knowledge that he was still alive and active.  I wish that I had called him to tell him what an influence he had on me.  Really, it’s because of him that I turned to college teaching even though I wanted to become a Foreign Service Officer with the Department of State.

I say to my students that there are three things going on in class: you, me and the material (book, event, topic, content).  The textual component should inflame the teacher and, hopefully, by the enthusiasm, stimulate the student to consider the substantive import of the material.  Ginascol assigned four books: a reference text, Mysticism and Logic, The Dynamics of Faith and The Will to Believe (Bertrand Russell, Paul Tillich and William James).  Ginascol inspired.  He even brought out discussion in a class of 250+ students!  So great, so talented and so loved by us.

Ginascol illuminated deep and critical ideas that govern our world.  He was a walking and discursive Light that showed us a way out of our darkness, fumbling and stumbling to a higher level of confusion.  Even so, when we walked out of his class, we were no longer illiterate.  He helped make us strong.  I was never the same again after his class.

______________________________

Notes:

DOCUMENTS OF THE GENERAL FACULTY
IN MEMORIAM FREDERICK H. GINASCOL

Frederick H. Ginascol, professor emeritus of philosophy, died on August 10, 1999. He was 92.

Professor Ginascol was born on June 30, 1907, in Lynn, Massachusetts. Following service in World War II, he received a bachelor’s degree from Trinity University in 1947. He earned master’s and PhD degrees from The University of Texas at Austin in 1949 and 1952, respectively.

Professor Ginascol taught at St. Paul’s College and at St. Paul’s Major Seminary. He joined the faculty of the University in 1952. His research interests included pre-Socratic Greeks, philosophy of religion, and philosophy of history.

In 1957 Professor Ginascol was awarded the Lemuel Scarbrough Foundation Faculty Award for excellence in teaching. In 1969 he won the Minnie Stevens Piper Foundation Award in recognition of his teaching and scholarship.

[From a Memorial Resolution of the Faculty of The University of Texas at Austin.]