Yale Campus Green

From the Archive

A Talk with A. Bartlett Giamatti

In an extensive interview published in the Spring 1982 issue of the College Board Review, the Yale president (and future MLB commissioner) speaks out on students, coercion, great teachers, and his love of reading memos

One of the strengths of the College Board Review was its profiles—of educators, leaders, and changemakers. This could take the form of a long feature, but often they appeared as extensive Q&As. There are numerous examples in the Review archive, but as far as we can tell only one person merited this treatment twice: A. Bartlett Giamatti. In the Summer 1989 issue, Review editor Paul Barry caught up with Giamatti as he began his (far too short) tenure as commissioner of Major League Baseball. Seven years earlier, though, Barry spoke with him when he was president of Yale and still firmly ensconced in academia.

To borrow from his beloved baseball, Giamatti was a flamethrower—not in the shallow, contemporary social media sense, but rather the way you'd describe Nolan Ryan. Giamatti brought the heat, he threw it down the middle, and he dared you to hit it back. (He could also throw a punch if it came to that.) This is apparent in the second interview, but in this first one, where Giamatti is primarily focused on the socio-academic state of America in the early '80s, he's locked in. The Q&A opens with a defense of his blistering critique of the Moral Majority, and proceeds from there. And in many instances, his concerns nearly 40 years ago mirror our own: better teacher pay ("In this country everybody has always assumed that teachers were taking a secular vow of poverty."), student loan debt ("[O]ne main change I've seen ... is that the financial difficulties experienced by any family in this country sending a child to college ... are significant burdens."), and campus politics ("Most of the time the campus is an early warning mirror for the rest of society.").

But if the interview is full of fastballs, Giamatti throws one slider that brushes us back a little. "The problem in this country is making a distinction between the sacred individual and the larger common good," he said. "You can translate the latter into the federal government, if you wish, and the former into the states or the individuals. One of the great problems is that there is no sense of where it all tends." He could have easily been talking about our fractured pandemic experience and response as about the nation's fractured education policy in 1982.

Giamatti was an erudite, no-nonsense personality who could speak with authority on baseball, American leisure culture, and classical poetry as easily as changes on campus, social policy, and bad-faith critiques of higher education.(He’s also the dad of Oscar-nominated actor Paul Giamatti.) The man contained multitudes, and taken together his two appearances in the Review offer a vivid portrait of a singular academic, critic, and scholar. And reading this first interview today feels as enervating and relevant as it was nearly 40 years ago.

Black and white photo of a grinning A. Bartlett Giamatti with the words "A Talk With A. Bartlett Giamatti" at the top left

Whether he is excoriating the Moral Majority in a speech or writing to a young student about the special virtues of a "dead" language, A. Bartlett Giamatti does so with a candor and flair that have stamped the office he holds and have caught the attention of the national press.

A. Bartlett Giamatti became Yale University's nineteenth president in 1978, the second youngest person ever to fill that post. A member of the Yale faculty since 1966, he is a scholar in the field of Renaissance literature. He held the John Hay Whitney Professorship in English and Comparative Literature at the time of his appointment as president.

Mr. Giamatti was born on April 4, 1938, in Boston, Massachusetts. He attended South Hadley High School in Massachusetts, the International School of Rome, and Phillips Academy at Andover, Massachusetts. He took his BA in English (magna cum laude) in 1960, and his PhD in Comparative Literature in 1964, both at Yale.

His special interests as a scholar are Spenser and Renaissance epic poetry, as well as Dante and Provençal poetry from the Middle Ages. He is the author of two scholarly books: The Earthly Paradise and the Renaissance Epic (1966) and Play of Double Senses: Spenser's Faerie Queene (1975). The University and the Public Interest, a collection of essays, was also recently published. Mr. Giamatti was the recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship in 1969-70.

He is married, with three children. His wife, Toni, teaches English in New Haven.

On the day in December when I visited Mr. Giamatti, he was running late, but when we sat down in his office he was instantly composed and at the ready. His office is surprisingly small and unpretentious for the chief executive of such a distinguished institution: no imposing oak desk here, just a small writing table off in a corner with a window's light and a view of the campus.

One is struck first by the man's self-assurance. He is rarely at a loss for words, the right words, and he delivers them with force, wit, and clarity. It is immediately clear that Mr. Giamatti must have been a good teacher. And like a good teacher, or a good actor, it is also evident that he has done the homework necessary for his role.

In his fourth year as president, Mr. Giamatti seems at home in a complex job, but after some time this writer sensed a hint of friction between the man and the role thrust upon him. Further, it was clear that this was a healthy rub, a response necessary to preserve the zest, energy, and originality that brings out the best in him and what is best for the job.

Whatever creative tensions reside in Mr. Giamatti, the spark that jumps the gap is a verbal one. In the pursuit of two of his consuming passions, the life of education and the life of sport, he has brought to bear his remarkable gift for straight talk and graceful prose.

In 1977, the professor of English wrote two articles for Harper's Magazine, "Tom Seaver's Farewell" and "Hyperbole's Child," about Muhammad Ali. On the great pitcher Tom Seaver, Mr. Giamatti had this to say: "Where Parks, Namath, and Erving are only superb at playing their sports, Seaver seems to embody his." The same could easily be said about Mr. Giamatti and the liberal education he so cherishes and whose cause he tirelessly advances. The trustees of Yale must have known when they called on him that A. Bartlett Giamatti was much more than an eloquent proponent of liberal education. They saw, I am sure, the living image of the thing itself.

Cover of the spring 1982 issue of the college board review magazine

Back in the fall of 1981 you gave a controversial address to the freshman class at Yale attacking the Moral Majority and other "peddlers of coercion."

You should have seen the first draft.

Why the Moral Majority on that occasion, and why freshmen?

Because there are two ceremonial occasions at Yale when I can talk about education—when the freshmen come in and the seniors go out—and that was essentially a talk about education. It seemed wholly appropriate to deliver this address to the freshmen because I wanted to talk to them about the nature of a liberal education, about its instinct for freedom—in terms of its root meaning—and that if there were those who believed that there was to be no debate, no discussion about certain ideas and values, that strikes me as being contrary to the principle of the liberal education. Who are these people? Well, you don't necessarily have to belong to the Moral Majority to incorporate these new forms of coercion.

People have said to me, "Oh, gosh! Why would you want to say this to freshmen?" As if freshmen's pink and shell-white ears were somehow to be unblasted by reality. These students are adults as far as I'm concerned. I always talk to freshmen about serious issues. It's an occasion to try to get them to think about the opportunity before them—to be on the one hand analytic, and on the other hand tolerant. And that's a difficult but exhilarating experience.

Students and Liberal Education

You taught many years here at Yale before you became president. Have students changed much since the time you first stepped into the classroom?

I don't think they've changed that much, honestly, since when I began to teach in 1964 at Princeton, or in 1966 at Yale, and now. I think that the kind of student both Princeton and Yale was looking for then is essentially what we're looking for now: a person with real energy and zest who wants to use the resources of a place like this to the fullest. They're competitive; they're bright; they are willing to work very hard. I was teaching right through the so-called "Sixties," the late Sixties, and I had some students in those days who struck me as massively self-indulgent on all kinds of grounds, but I'm not sure that's terribly interesting. One can find students today equally self-indulgent on other grounds. That's in the nature of human beings.

Are there any differences?

I think the one main change I've seen, if I had to hazard a generalization, is that the financial difficulties experienced by any family in this country sending a child to college—public or private, large or small—are significant burdens. And the students understand that. One feels that in their careerism and vocationalism there is a genuine sense of responsibility to a younger brother or sister, to a family. I respect that sense of responsibility. I do think that this feeling of obligation on the part of students induces another sense of having to stay in a furrow, or in a track that will lead to a profession. It's foolish to make people think that this desire indicates some moral blemish. On the other hand, it's precisely for this reason that I constantly talk about the value of a liberal education. It has to be practical, self-fashioning, but not necessarily for a job.

But can these economic changes affect the student's outlook in an adverse way?

Yes, I think it's possible, but I don't believe it about this group of students. I simply don't believe that these financial stringencies induce in them an apathy with regard to social issues, or a sense that they are only meant to be pleasuring or training themselves with no regard for other people.   Nor do I believe that the late Sixties was the apotheosis of civic regard among students for the rest of humankind, as some people like to allege. My observation is that young people still brim with the kind of pragmatic idealism they've always had.

Certainly the campuses seem quieter today.

I don't happen to think that the campuses are all quiet. I think the campuses are full of issues, some of them, in fact, political. I think that the apathy demonstrated by students in the last presidential election did not differ remarkably from the apathy of the American people at large.

So in that sense the campus is the mirror of society?

Most of the time the campus is an early warning mirror for the rest of society. There are many political issues that students care about intensely. But there is much less a sense of wishing to solve the global problems, and a much greater sense of the local, specific issues of a given region or municipality. I think that's to the good. I think that's something that came out of the Sixties.

But students have a certain wariness of issues as defined by other people, which is another result of the Sixties, but it's a kind of cheerful wariness.

Is there still much questioning about curriculum, about courses, about the way teachers teach?

Plenty! That's the more visible form—at least around here—that the debate often takes. What role do we the students have with regard to the administration making certain decisions? What role do we have in the curriculum development, or to what extent should there be requirements for this or that program? In terms of the faculty, who will it be that will pass on quality, energy, and moral exempla to me and to those students who come after me?

When you talk to prospective students and their parents, what do you tell them is the essential value of a liberal education?

I say that there is a broad set of values, of assumptions—a cultural heritage—that we all share. That fact is the common ground on which we all stand. A liberal education is meant to introduce you to what is known to all of us collectively in order to help you meet what will never be known to anybody but you. That's precisely the point of this process. I always try to tell parents and students that you don't get an education the way you get bread in a plastic bag. You educate yourself. And one of the great functions of a place like Yale is to provide the context in which that process of self-education goes on. But the context is very carefully created by people who believe that there's something to impart.

I also tell students that there are two questions they want to ask themselves when they think about going to college: The first is, How will how I live have to do with how I'm going to learn? Because my point is, honestly, that the great part of learning in college goes on outside of the classroom. What one learns is a function of how one lives, and there are lessons or points of view that an institution imparts through how one lives. And every institution has its own answer to this. Yale's is a residential college system, which is meant to engage people on grounds that are not simply the classroom.

And the other question a student should ask is, To what extent will I have access to the faculty? The fundamental presupposition here being that if you have no access to the faculty you not only have no access to the information—which you can get out of a book—but you have no access to the person who has spent his or her life embodying this knowledge and making it come alive. The educational experience is an ethical one, it's not just a transfer of information.

Three black and white photos of A. Bartlett Giamatti in a row showing him in various stages of conversation

You mention self-education. How does Yale strike the balance between the autonomy of the student and, say, collegewide requirements?

There are collegewide requirements at Yale. There were more of them before 1967, at which point the requirements in a large measure became translated into guidelines. Not entirely, but largely. And in 1977 the college faculty voted to reinstitute four areas of distribution requirements. I think Yale believes that the process of choosing what to study is an important part of the educational process. So we don't prescribe this course and that course. What we do say to all freshmen and sophomores is that by the end of your sophomore year you must have taken at least two terms worth of courses in each of four areas: English or a foreign language, the other humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences. We don't say you must take chemistry, politics, philosophy, and French.

Is there a foreign language requirement?

No, there is a requirement to take either English or a foreign language. A debate that is about to begin is the faculty's reception of a report from a faculty committee appointed by the dean which proposes a language requirement.

How do you feel about it?

I'm all for a language requirement. We may well end up in a year having a graduation requirement in foreign languages, as well as these other distributional requirements. [As of April 1, 1982, the Yale faculty instituted a foreign language requirement for graduation. - Ed.] So we do prescribe contexts, but not content. And then the burden falls upon the system of advising.

The Professor as President

At what point in the career of a young scholar and teacher does he decide that he wants to become president of Yale?

I don't think a young scholar or teacher should ever decide that before it's thrust upon him as a living possibility. That is to say, the academic world is one of the corporate worlds into which you go not wishing to be president. If you work for Procter & Gamble or the U.S. Army it's conceivable you would want to be the president or the chief of staff. If you are in the academic world you should wish to be a professor—a full professor with all the glories and burdens that that entails—and anybody who enters the academic life wanting to be an administrator is an ill-advised person.

But when does it happen?

It happens if, in some combination of bad timing and bad luck, the trustees are confronted, as they were at Yale, with the imminent Christmas vacation, believing themselves to be in a terrible corner, and they turn to a member of the faculty.

The calling didn't come for me at any point previous to that, because I frankly think that, while it's a noble calling, it is different from the calling which brings you here in the first place. The true calling into this parish is to be a professor.

Were you in administration before?

No. I had some chores but I had never been a full-time administrator.

What surprised you the most when you took the job?

I think what surprised me the most was the absence of a sense of completion. If you teach or if you write a piece of scholarship, there's a rhythm to it. It may vary, but the purpose—whether it's in a classroom, a semester, an article, or a book—is to find its contour, its shape, to give it substance. This kind of job has none of that in it. It doesn't admit of contour. It's a little like going from being a research scholar to being a journalist. Everyday a journalist has to take on the world and sift it; make it manageable, coherent, and intelligible for people who are very busy but interested. You may follow up your question in a news conference, or you may follow up your story, but there isn't a lot of this. You never really get a chance to get down deeper into the subject.

What do you think is the role of the college president today?

The job of college or university president has changed enormously since the Second World War, particularly in the last fifteen years or so. The job is much more managerial, less defined by its pulpit. People stay in the job for a shorter time than they used to. We are much more caught up now in issues having to do with finance, budget, and labor. We're caught up in fiscal and energy issues, and governmental issues. We have to operate more in the managerial mode and less in the mode of the exhorter to a higher life, or as the shaper of an academic program per se. So I think it's the times, whether you define it as a result of demographic declines, economic circumstances, the increase in complexity of an institution that is in some ways supposed to be a simulacrum of the culture, college presidents have to be much more managerial. They're inescapably that way in some part of themselves.

What in your background do you think particularly suited you for this job?

I don't think there's much in my background that suited me for this job. The major factor, in my opinion, was the fact that I had been immersed in a single institution long enough so that I had some sense for it. Although, one of the great shocks when I took this job was the extent to which—since the time I was a freshman—I had never had a perspective of the whole university. To have been in a classroom and in a library, to have been immersed in that central part of the place is useful, but it doesn't have anything obvious to do with the kind of managerial skills that I see are called upon all the time.

Presidents define their jobs differently. Some define it as representation to the outside world. I spend a lot of time inside, here at Yale. Many people spend more time in Washington, bless their hearts. Others spend more time fundraising, or in non-fundraising but alumni capacities. I try to do all of these things, but I define myself as being first of all here. I think you finally perform this job from whatever set of strengths you can identify in the nick of time. And then play from those strengths.

Something that trustees of colleges and universities will have to get accustomed to in this country, an issue they have not yet fully engaged, is the turnover both in these particular positions, and also among the people who work with the president. Until the early Sixties the history of this country's higher education was that people took these positions for life. Or at least for 15 or 20 years. Never again.

Is that a sign of unease or turmoil?

I think it's a sign of the complexity and the pace. If you truly throw yourself into this job—and there's absolutely no way of doing it except to throw yourself into it—you cannot assume that you will be here over the same length of time that your very distinguished, hardworking predecessors were. I don't think the job's gotten harder, but I think it's gotten different.

Black and white photo of A. Bartlett Giamatti pointing at himself while speaking in his office

What's the most challenging aspect of your job?

The constant effort to keep this place knit together. This takes a hundred different forms in the course of a given day, literally. That's not an exaggeration. But this sense of coherence and collegiality, in a time when resources—material resources—are scarce, is probably the most precious commodity an institution has, because that's the only way you can ensure quality.

It's a political job. There's no doubt about it. If you take politics in the good sense of the word, as defining a person who is engaged with others in making a polis, making a community.

Do you have ambitions to go back to scholarship when you have completed your tenure as president?

The longer you stay out of scholarship, the harder it is to return. Some people say, "Well, your data doesn't change. We in the physical sciences live in a fast moving world, but you live in a world that is totally static. The Faerie Queene, The Tempest, The Divine Comedy are not changing." Well that's not quite true. You simply lose touch fairly rapidly with scholarship and with what's happening professionally. I don't think you can kid yourself that you can't ever return, but you should never kid yourself that you're going to walk back in. They don't even have the books in the same place today. Right now there are about four years’ worth of journals I haven't read, people I haven't talked to, students I haven't seen, conversations I haven't participated in, gossip in the profession—in the best sense of the word—I haven't heard, new approaches to literature. I haven't read history for four years. When you 're studying literature, you're doing three of four other things as well. I haven't done any of that. I read memos. I love reading memos, but memos aren't the same thing.

So my answer is yes, I would hope to return to scholarship because I don't know how to do anything else. Whatever skills one hones as the university or college president, believe me, are not particularly transferable, unless to another institution of education. But they aren't necessarily translatable into other professions. There's nothing wrong with that; it's just a fact. One of the things that keeps a lot of college and university presidents in place is the absence of any sense of what they're going to do next, which is not the best reason for staying.

The American High School

Do you believe that American high schools are in as poor a shape as people say they are?

No, I don't think they're in as poor a shape as people say they are, but I think that so many people think they're in bad shape, that they may well become that bad. I don't think that the general level of disaster is quite at the level on which it's pitched. I do think that there have been great, substantial changes in methodology from elementary school up through college in the last 15 years, both in how you approach the teaching and learning of reading or writing or math. No one ought to pretend that those changes didn't take place because there was certainly a lot of hoopla at the time. And nobody should pretend that having made certain choices they don't have consequences. Some of the consequences have been wholly good. Some of them have been disastrous. There's no point in kidding oneself that an awful lot of kids at the ages of 18 to 22 do not come to college prepared to organize a page of prose as well as they used to.

You saw that happening in the classroom?

Of course I did. It was a direct result of a whole set of notions about preparedness, reading readiness, and creativity or affective education. I mean, do you remember the dear dead days of 1967-68? But this is not a polemic against that. On the one hand I don't lament the attempt to introduce more freedom of spirit in the way young people learn, because I do think that there was an extraordinary amount of rote and repetitive textbook learning that was pointless. But to think that you can truly teach somebody to reckon by teaching them how to estimate, or to teach somebody how to write by teaching them to get their material down on a tape recorder—which is not an unknown phenomenon—or taking photography as a substitute for taking senior English is crazy.

But the high schools in this country are always at the mercy of the colleges. The colleges change their requirements, their admissions criteria, and the high schools, by which I mean public and private and parochial schools, are constantly trying to catch up with what the colleges are thinking. When the colleges don't seem to know what they think over a period of time, it's no wonder that this oscillation takes place all the way through "the system."

Are there any solutions?

There is a great tradition of local control of education which is a very important tradition in this country, and which I happen to believe in profoundly. The trade-off of this tradition is that you have a disjunctive system, or a patchwork of systems. The high school in Detroit, the high school in Portland, Maine, and the high school or private school in Phoenix may all be dealing with young people 14 to 18 years old, but that doesn't mean that there's necessarily a coherence in what they do. I'm not arguing, therefore, that they all should be centrally controlled. I can't stand that idea.

But the fact remains that there is a body of skill and information that everybody in high school should acquire, regardless of how you choose to accomplish it in your own area. There's this so-called great social jump from high school to college, which is only a summer long after all. These kids are essentially the same people who in May all went roaring off to their prom, who then come creeping into college.

There's got to be a consensus, without having it set by any central or federal agency, about what we hope young people will acquire in terms of levels of skill. I don't think of skill as a bad code word for anything except to mean what it says—a capacity to express oneself, to engage the world either through symbols that are verbal or mathematical. As a member of the Secretary of Education's commission on excellence in education, I feel that there has to be an acknowledgment on the part of everybody in this country that education is the main medium for the country's sense of what it takes to be an American.

Well before Jefferson it was thought that a free and open system of education was essential to a free democracy. And that placed education as the most central issue outside of the Bill of Rights. Education is not mentioned in the Bill of Rights, but it certainly is presumed by it or it doesn't have any meaning. The problem in this country is making a distinction between the sacred individual and the larger common good. You can translate the latter into the federal government, if you wish, and the former into the states or the individuals. One of the great problems is that there is no sense of where it all tends.

Black and white photo of A. Bartlett Giamatti looking to the left while in conversation

Certainly one of the places where you can begin is to get college teachers and high school teachers to sit down and talk to each other, which is part of what the College Board is doing in its Project EQuality.

I believe that profoundly. We do it here. When the National Commission on the Humanities made its report a year and a half ago, it noted only two areas in the country, Ann Arbor and New Haven, where major educational institutions and the local secondary school teachers worked on curriculum. And that's very important. If I were the Secretary of Education what I would want to accomplish through persuasion and grant is the bringing together of school and college teachers at the local level, without intrusion. The students that live in a city or town are going to go conceivably from first grade through senior year in college without ever leaving it. And even if they do, it doesn't matter. The fact remains that the curriculum through which they pass ought to have built into it a set of attitudes that are coherent, that is designed by all the teachers along the way. So the bringing together of teachers at the local level ought to be one of the mandates from the government. The government shouldn't be setting norms or forcing regulations, but on the other hand it shouldn't sit back and assume that somehow it's all going to happen because everybody's self-interest will define the public interest. I think Adam Smith had a terrific idea, but I'm not sure it doesn't take a little shaping from the potter's hand.

It's unfashionable to suggest that the government should take an active role in getting together high schools and colleges.

I'm not now and never was a great believer in the Department of Education because the Department of Education never struck me as having anything to do with education. It was a political promise made to the NEA (National Education Association) and that's all. But I don't know why, for example, a modest grant and other inducements from the federal government to bring together people in the summer between Yale and the New Haven high school system can't work. After all, teachers at any level in this country are not paid so much that they can all take the summer off to do this good work. I think you have to lift the immediate need of high school and college teachers to go out and do something else to make a living in the summer, and if you do that they'd be more than willing to sit down together to work on what is, after all, a common curriculum. That's going to be responsive to local traditions.

The United States government, since the time it was founded, has always had a proactive role in education in this country. Even before there was a United States, the various colonial governments offered tax abatements, gave back ferry tolls, and so forth to sustain academies and colleges. None of the 13 colleges that existed before the revolution would have existed without the active participation of the various colonies. After the U.S. government was formed, through the nineteenth century—whether you talk about the land grant acts or whatever—and into the twentieth, roaring past the Veterans Resettlement Act of the G.I. Bill, down to the National Defense Education Act, education has always been seen properly as one of the concerns of the government, because it was always a matter of public policy that education was important to a free democracy. To assume that the federal government never had and shouldn't have a role in education flies in the face of more than 200 years of the history of America. That does not mean, however, that the federal government should or even could set the standards at the local level. That's bizarre.

The American Teacher

Are we in danger of losing the best of our teachers as burn-out cases?

I must say I just don't know. I'm sure that teachers get burned out. Why it has become so much a matter of journalistic comment to talk about burned-out teachers and not burned-out doctors, lawyers, ministers, architects, priests, or governmental officials, I don't know. People are always holding teachers on a higher step.

The situation for teachers today seems to be quite a bit different than in the other professions you've mentioned.

In this country everybody has always assumed that teachers were taking a secular vow of poverty. Even though education has always had a central place in our democracy, the teacher has always been viewed as some kind of marginal figure that you don't have to pay very much. When teachers began to strike or complain, everybody threw up their hands and said, "My heavens, this little group of monastic creatures is suddenly breaking out." Well, that's good.

What do you think of the increased professionalism among teachers?

Teachers ought to be professional all the time. I don't define professionalism as only something having to do with accreditation committees, or labor unions, or state boards. Professionalism is an absolute dedication to the teaching of your subject with enthusiasm, to students whom you want to motivate to love it as much as you do, and be as good at it as you, or even better than you are.

But do you think that faculty unions have a role to play in that?

I don't think anybody ought to be telling a faculty member when to teach or what to teach. If an institution believes a teacher is competent and responsible and meets his or her obligations, I think that after that there is an American principle that says, "My classroom is my castle." I don't think the country fully appreciates the extent to which they have loaded onto the high schools many of the responsibilities that used to adhere in families, churches, government, and in strong local traditions. The school wasn't meant to bear all those burdens. Somehow everything is supposed to take place in schools from the feeding and caring of young people to the socialization of the races. Many of these things should take place in the schools, but to think that the family, the church, and the community shouldn't bear a lot of these burdens is just nonsense.

What makes a great teacher?

Somebody who brings not just learning but enthusiasm—passion—to the enterprise. Now, you can be passionate and ignorant, or you can be terribly learned and boring. I don't think that either of these options is going to work. Great teachers, from my point of view, are not people who impose on their students their point of view. They are people who bring some shaped point of view from the student himself. That's a wonderful trick, but I've seen it done. And that capacity to inspire people without breathing swamp gas on them, to breathe the spirit into them so that what they breathe out is theirs, and not just the rote repetition of what a great person said, that's a great teacher.

And you think it's just a matter of calling?

No, I think there are things to learn in terms of becoming a very good teacher. I'm not sure that they're necessarily things you can learn in school. I don't know if teachers’ colleges are any more to the point for teachers than schools of journalism are for journalists. I've never met a professional journalist who had a good word to say about a journalism school. But there are skills and there are professional requirements. I don't know that much about teaching. I used to walk into the classroom and do it, but as I think back on it, I can see the enormous amount of preparation that goes into it. Most of the work of teaching doesn't go on in class. That is to say, a great class is not the product of 40 or 50 minutes. It's the product of an enormous amount of work ahead of time and afterwards. Teachers have got to be accessible. They've got to be open and vulnerable, and then they have to pick and choose. I think that in the course of a given class a teacher makes more decisions than most other people do in the course of their hour. The number of decisions you make standing in front of the classroom, about where to go next, to whom to go, how to shape this, how to get that point across, how to move around, where the ultimate point is—it's a constant shaping, a sculpting process. The ancients had wonderful images of figures making pots and statues for the art of teaching. I think there's a lot to that.