… teaching is teaching. It has, paradoxically, nothing to do with the subject.
My first impression of Black Mountain was that it was very run down. It was winter, between semesters. We stayed in the so-called Gropius building, which by that time was a derelict piece of modernism — nothing looks more run down than an art moderne building ten years later. Nothing was gracious about it. It was meant to be shipshape and if it isn’t it’s a very wrecked old left-over of the ship. By spring, 1955, Black Mountain had lost its lands.
[line break added] It no longer was the Black Mountain one had heard about in the late 1930s, when there as a coordination between the land and its farms and the college. By spring, 1956, when I actually taught there, the large dormitory building was not too bad to live in, but the school was very noticeably derelict. One had only to walk about to find deserted laboratories with broken glass, and splendid kiln equipment which had just gone to ruin.
[ … ]
… pride in self-education and a concomitant fearlessness in the face of facts was Olson’s pedagogical banner for the final years. By the time Creeley arrived in 1954, there was no science class being offered, and although he had little actual knowledge of the sciences, Olson convinced him to teach a course in biology. Olson’s lecture topics were notoriously wide-ranging, and Duncan, according to Gerald van de Wiele, “seemed to know everything about everything.” Creeley supported the view that method was more important than subject:
Teaching is not determined by subject in any real sense at all. At one point we had no science courses, and part of the requirement for our qualification as a legitimate educational institution was that we had to have something offered in the sciences, no matter how little. So Olson said, “Well, Bob, why don’t you teach biology?” I said, “That’s the one thing I never took. I never had it in high school. I never took anything remotely involved with biology in college.”
[line break added] He said, “Terrific, you can learn something.” And I learned later that that was a very practical comment. … Subsequently, I realized that teaching is teaching. It has, paradoxically, nothing to do with the subject. It’s a way of being with someone in an unpresumptive manner, as he or she learns to find ways to get to or to use or to recognize whatever it is that’s being addressed.
I don’t agree with Creeley on that last part, but there’s a kernel of truth in it.
My previous post from this book is here.