Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Teaching Professional Practice: Science Fiction, Therapy and Research

Entry for 22 April 2008:

I have been reading the magazine Fantasy & Science Fiction since I was a teenager. Soon after my dad stopped subscribing to it in the early 1970’s, I took out my own subscription, later filling in the missing year or two from various sources. I now have an almost complete set (missing 2 issues if I remember correctly), going back to 1949, the year before I was born. (They are stored in plastic containers in my basement in Toledo.) F&SF is thus practically contemporaneous with my life, and it is my firm intention to continue getting it and reading it until one of us goes defunct.

In the January 2008 issue, there is a book review by one of their regular reviewers, James Sallis, of a biography of the famous SF illustrator-writer couple Ed and Carol Emshwiller. (His iconic paperback cover illustrations populated our house when I was growing up in the 1950’s; her recent fiction regularly appears in F&SF, and often examines gender and related issues in an allegorical manner unlike any other writer I know of working in the field today.)

Sallis concludes his review with the following quotation: “Interviewers frequently ask why, after forty-some years of writing, I remain drawn to teaching it. The answer, I tell them, is contained in the question. All too easily and soon one becomes professionalized, focusing on the mechanics, the production, the practicalities. Teaching makes me remember why this is so important to me, why I have worked so long and so hard at it, why I started doing it in the first place. So does this book.” (p. 39)

When I read this, it really rang true for me. I did not set out to be a teacher: First, I wanted to be a therapist, then a researcher. But helping opening the door to therapy and research for my students grew on me, gradually, over many years, at first feeling like an imposition; then moving to acceptance; then developing a real interest in the craft and discipline of teaching these subjects; and finally, in the past decade, growing into a passion. It feels fitting that I have come to work in a Faculty of Education, because that is where I am now in my work and life. In my ongoing inventory of what is important to me, teaching is key. I still very much like to write and do research, but teaching still feels like a growing edge for me, even more than writing and research. Because, as James Sallis writes, teaching takes me back to my starting place, to what drives me as a therapist and a researcher.

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