Before I settled into more studious behavior at Boston University, I led a sort of half-life. Half in my old folkie dissipated style of living, half in the mode of trotting off to classes, writing papers, and taking exams. This was at another university in Boston known for its coop and night schools. After deciding that pre-med was not for me, I drifted into Political Science. Soon I was going out after classes with my fellow students and the instructor. We had some great times. He was an off-and-on grad student known for dressing in a rumpled tweed jacket. He was wending his way towards his doctorate. He had very mixed feelings about the Phud and didn’t seem sure that it was worthwhile. One night he told us this tale:

It’s the 21st century. Harry is sitting around on Sunday with his wife Edna, drinking coffee and reading the Sunday Times. Edna is looking at an ad for a new business called the Brain Shop. The Brain Shop’s specialty is add on’s promising to increase your mental abilities. Edna turns to Harry and suggests that he might want To look into seeing what they have. Harry never went further than high school and always wanted a better education, but a lack of time off from work prevented it.
Monday afternoon, Harry walked into the Brain Shop.
“Good afternoon sir, what can I do for you?”
Harry – ” Well, I’d like to see what you have. I don’t have time for school, but I’d like to be able to do more.”
Salesman – ” Let me show you around, and then I’ll be glad to answer all your questions.” The salesman led Harry over to the first case and explained, ” here we have the Associate’s degree brain. Many people find that it’s all they need to give them the little extra zip they want. It costs seven thousand dollars; it’s our stealthie deal of the day! Next to it is the Bachelor’s degree brain at twenty-one thousand. It’s probably our favorite product – an additional five thousand gets you the Bachelor of Science upgrade. In the next case are our Masters’s degree brains. Those start at fifty thousand. The Masters of Science tops out at sixty grand, but various specialist upgrades are available.”

Harry mulled over which was best for his needs and budget but then asked – ” But what is your absolute top of the line?” The salesman, paused sucked in his breath, and then led Harry over to a glass-enclosed room which he ceremoniously opened. Ushering Harry in, he paused dramatically behind a large case covered in a dark velvet drape. Dramatically sweeping the drape aside, he proclaimed: ” here, sir is the Ph.D. brain; our top of the line!” Harry looked at it, decided that it looked no better than the others he’d seen, and asked – ” what does it go for?” The salesman smiled and replied- two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.”
Harry was stunned; he croaked out, “what! You gotta be kidding me.” The salesman looked offended, straightened up, and then said – “Sir. Do you have any idea how many Ph.D. heads we have to look into before we find a Brain?!”
Over the semester, I heard this story told with relish a few times. Soon I moved on to Boston University and did not see the instructor for several years.
We met again at an American Anthropology Association meeting. In the intervening years, he had completed his dissertation and could now be referred to as a Doctor. Over dinner and, drinks I mentioned the story. He smiled at me and denied ever having told such an idiotic tale. He took it as a sort of slight that I’d even suggest it!
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi!

State of the Art

It may have seemed as though I flit about Boston University’s world my first two years there. But there was a method to it.
I enrolled in an expanding series of English courses that explored the development of the “city” through world literature. I needed some science, so I began taking geography courses. Eventually, I gravitated towards political science, history, and then Anthropology. The nice thing about my hunt and peck style of coursework turned out how the information gleaned in one applied to the other. As my fund of general knowledge grew, I did specialize; in anthropology. Years later, when I left anthropology for other professional pursuits, I was grateful for the broad and deep fund of education Boston University had given me. I had multiple capabilities and knowledge.

In recent years, the type of education I received has fallen out of favor as more specialized education tracks have developed. The success of strict specialization depends on the “state of the art” in the industry in which you studied. You can quickly become redundant in an age where the educational system has become a factory conveyor belt for business. Being perceived as too old, too stale, or unable to continue learning can be fatal. The phrase “lifelong learning” seems to come along in the nick of time, conveniently. It allows professionals to hop on the academic conveyor belt to another degree or specialization.

I’m not sure that this attacks the underlying problem.

These are some of my observations. After starting my business as a woodcarver, I found myself not only producing but also teaching. For my week-long classes, I set up a library of art, carving, design, and books on other topics. I also brought with me the widest variety of carved samples that I could. I always encouraged students to take a break and use the library.
Over the years, I witnessed many talented lawyers, engineers, and others dig into topics that they had never gotten exposed to in school. More than a few of my students were in my class because they had sensed that they needed new directions. They were canny enough to begin the exploration process on their own.
Among the things I learned early in my education was that there could be a synergy among seemingly unrelated items. To an extent, this has become a keystone concept for interdisciplinary studies. There can be some exciting results of specialties running together. My first brother-in-law was an engineer and mathemetician for NASA. He became an enthusiastic amateur Archeologist. After dinner one night, he showed me some studies he had done on a Virginia midden ( ancient trash heap) that explained how the material had gotten deposited by the colonial settlers. I believed he used it as the basis for his thesis in archeology.
These sort of synergies only occur when people get exposed to multiple streams of knowledge. To end with a very bad mangling of a trope from Ghostbusters, you need to cross the streams.


For the first time, I walked to the front of the classroom. Carefully set up my pocket watch where I could track the time, sipped my tea, and addressed my class. I was teaching anthropology.

In 1963 I had been expelled from high school in New York. I spent more time in the coffeehouses of Greenwich Village than in class. Present any of my colleagues from the 1960s with a photo of me in front of a class teaching; they’d have told you it was absurd, laughed, and walked away. But, there I was in a tweed jacket, khaki pants, blue oxford button-down shirt, and regimental striped tie.

A friend had accepted another position, and she recommended me to replace her at the local college as an adjunct professor. The nursing students had a social science prerequisite for their degree, and anthropology was one of the available courses. My friend maintained that I had the edge over other candidates because I had worked in an operating room, and was familiar with the needs of professionals working in a health care setting. It was true. After grad school, I had been unable to find work as an anthropologist. My answer to new found poverty was a retreat to the operating room for almost two years. Scrubbing, as an OR tech was something I had felt was safely behind me. I had never seen it as a gateway to Academia. I was a maritime anthropologist on his way back to coastal Maine.

But soon I was to be standing in front of a class. Then it struck me. I could do anthropological fieldwork. I knew the material and approaches in all four quadrants of my discipline. I did not know how to teach.

My training had included extensive training in ethnography, analysis of data, sociolinguistics, archaeology, physical anthropology, and lots more. Truthfully many of my professors at grad school had no idea how to teach. One professor’s lectures were bound in leather with gold leaf on the binding edges. His delivery was as restricted as his notes. Never varying.

As sometimes happens to me, I found the answer in a dream. I was back at 232 Bay State Road. Boston University’s Department of Anthropology on the first floor. Buried in the back, my advisor’s office was barely more than a large walk-in closet. We frequently would spend an afternoon discussing everything from how to brew a good cup of coffee to anthropology. At the time, I did not understand my good fortune in having access to such a generous person as an advisor. Usually, it was here are the office hours, make an appointment with the departmental secretary. In my dream, we were sitting back having a leisurely smoke of some very illegal Cuban cigars I had procured from a Canadian friend. I asked him bluntly: how do you teach? ” Wes, It’s all presentation, orchestration, and knowledge. The knowledge you have. Just work on the presentation and orchestration. You’ll do fine. I taught you.”

When I woke up, I realized he was right. That weekend I made notes on everything I remembered about his presentation and how he orchestrated his lectures. Then I studied my notes, practiced gestures and mannerisms, and pulled together a suitably Ivy League wardrobe. 

On Monday, I patterned my appearance on his; the walk to the desk, setting up the pocket watch, and the style of greeting the students. After a while, it flowed naturally. 

I’ve taught anthropology, woodcarving, media, and television production to adults, high school students, and even middle school students. I eventually grew into my style. But, it began in that cramped office, where I learned the basics of teaching: presentation, orchestration, and knowledge.

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