Tuesday, December 14, 2004

I may have taught my last

As many here know, I have been teaching Humanities down here in Florida for the last couple years while nursing Mom back to health. It's been a great experience. Hey, back when I first taught nearly 20 years ago, the students at community colleges were not near so good. A couple things I'll miss. First, I end the course in the early 20th century, and I've been doing it with a strong reference to the horror of war, juxtiposing Picasso's Guernica to Wilfred Owen's moving poem about WMD, Dulce et Decorum Est. One of the joys of the course is reading the poem aloud:

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

On the flip side, and not particularly political, I've been following the Barnes Foundation story with my students. For those of you who don't know, the Barnes Foundation may be the most concentrated collection of Impressionist paintings in the world, and it is housed in a private museum in the Philadelphia suburbs. Dr. Barnes was a quirky collector who left his collection in the hands of a group of Trustees back in the 50's, a group that were art outsiders. They were, in fact, the Trustees of the oldest traditionally black college in the country, the Trustees of Lincoln University.

Over the years the Trustees have had problems raising money to keep the Foundation afloat. The petitioned judges in Orphans Court in the late 80's to allow the collection to travel the world, in an exhibit that rivalled King Tut's exhibit. This week a judge ruled that they would be able to move their facility to downtown Philly, along the avenue with the other museums, a move that will move Philadelphia next to Madrid and Paris as an art destination.

I mention this because it is such an event that it got mentioned in today's NYTIMES Editorials! I knew it was important, but I was surprised at the Times taking space to recognize it.