Thursday, April 17, 2014

Last Hurrah

Years ago, on a family trip to Washington, D.C., I told the boys that this trip was going to be the last hurrah of our practice of buying beanie babies on every vacation (and for every Christmas, birthday, Easter, and other occasion). We'd buy ONE more beanie baby in the nation's capitol, as our last hurrah of beanie-baby-buying. Every day on the trip the boys would ask me, "Is this the day we get the hurrah?" The day came when the answer was yes. That little bunny beanie baby was known for years as "the hurrah."

I just returned from my last hurrah as a professor of philosophy, attending my last-ever APA (conference of the American Philosophical Association). Actually, this year I had two last hurrahs, for I attended the Central Division APA in Chicago in February (where I also did a book signing at the Magic Tree Bookstores in Oak Park, reconnected with extended family, and took part in a hilarious trivia contest at the Oak Park Public Library as part of a team of Betsy-Tacy Society friends). This week is the Pacific Division meeting in San Diego. I flew out on an 8:00 am flight yesterday and flew back on an 8 am flight today. So the hurrah lasted just twenty-four hours. But they were a sweet twenty-four hours indeed.

I learned a long time ago that I have little tolerance for listening to papers with titles like "Why the Debate over Composition Is Factually Empty (Or Why There’s No Fact of the Matter Whether Anything Exists)" (an actual title from this year's program). I've always had only half my heart in philosophy, anyway. So as soon as I arrived in San Diego and checked into the lovely Westin Hotel in the Gas Lamp District, I wandered across the street to a French bakery/bistro and treated myself to an hour of writing on my Nora ant farm book revisions over croissants and chocolat. I do so love writing somewhere new.

I spent the afternoon in our APA session where three philosophers, including me, gave commentary on Jana Mohr Lone's wonderful book, The Philosophical Child, her argument for why we should encourage children's philosophical wondering. I loved the book, so I had little direct criticism to offer. My comments focused chiefly on Jana's thought that some of the approach she and other pioneers in the Philosophy-for-Children movement use with children could be illuminating to consider for undergraduate education as well: a focus on actually doing philosophy, living in the space of the questions for their own sake, rather than dutifully imparting knowledge of canonical texts. I shared her regret that so often we discourage our students from the joys of philosophical wondering - but also confessed my discomfort when a student tells me that rather than write his ethical theory paper on Mill or Kant or Aristotle, he wants to come up with his "own" theory.  No, no, no! The discussion that followed all three sets of comments was wonderful: wide-ranging, honest, real.

Of course afterward I had the last hurrah of drinks in the hotel bar with a bunch of people from our session: the San Diego Sea Breeze was my cocktail of choice. Then I wandered through the Gas Lamp District with beloved former grad student Sara (organizer of the afternoon's session) and her family (including her delightful children aged nine and five) for a last hurrah APA dinner.

Now, candor compels me to confess that we did buy other beanie babies after that trip to Washington, DC. The beanie baby bunny hurrah was joined by other hurrahs down the road and across the years. I may go to an APA again sometime. Or not. It's expensive to attend, with registration fees of $120, airfare, hotel tariff running to $200 for a single night. This time I got some support from the university for my expenses (though I was on my own for the San Diego Sea Breeze!). The APA is never held in Denver. So maybe this was the last hurrah, or maybe there are future hurrahs to come. I know enough "never to say never."

But if it was the last hurrah, well, I say hurrah for the last hurrah.

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