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firm minded teachers

updated wed 30 sep 98


mel jacobson on mon 28 sep 98

i just love reading the list when we get all puffed up and full of
questions and answers. argue about physics and chemistry.

it always makes me smile and tends to remind me that there are a great
many ways to be a potter.

we used to say there was four kinds of potters.......clay potters, glazers,
fire people, and generalists. and now we add the fifth......`technowienies`.

god, i have not heard anyone say for months `where did you get
your degree in physics?` or, `my ph.d. in mathematics helped me
learn glaze calculation`..........we who have had most of our formal education
in art, sorta sit back and smile.

for most of you out there, don't take it too seriously. when vince is
riding his tall horse, and argues the fine points, or is pissed that
people are not reading the books.......remember, many of us have spent
our lives as rather `firm` teachers. we really care that our students learn
to stand alone. vince, and others like him, cannot stand to think of
students being lazy, taking the quick way out, not doing the `dance`.
i really admire that stance, and it is never contentious or petty from the
good teachers.

when we attack, it is never aimed at the is aimed at the
idea, or the mistake, or the silliness, and sometimes it is aimed at our
`own` silliness or biass'.

as `zorba the greek` said, `all of my scars are on my chest. i have no
scars on my back. i do not turn and run`....

the greatest gift in the world is a firm teacher, one with opinions,
challenges, ideas
and experience. the weak teacher will let their students slide by, be nice,
be happy and sweet.

one of the greatest compliments i ever received, came by the back door.
a special education director was in my clay room at school and he noticed
that i had 5 of his `group`.........(or case load, as they call it)
he said,`are they pretending to be reading, and having a
(there was a gang of boys in the back of the room with a pile of `ceramics
sorta waving them and talking`) `no`, i said, `not pretending, they love
those magazines and read them all the time, sometimes i have to
help them with words, but they know the good pots.` he said` you sure
are firm with them.` i said, `they are my students, they have the right
to learn, and they can learn to make pots`. and they did. it was
truly the only happy place for them in that school.
and for a great many other students as well.

i only had one `rule` in the pottery........`treat everyone, everyone..with
respect, or you will not have a place in this program`......i was firm
about that.


Lee Love on tue 29 sep 98

-----Original Message-----
From: mel jacobson :

>the greatest gift in the world is a firm teacher, one with
>opinions, challenges, ideas and experience. the weak
>teacher will let their students slide by, be nice, be happy
>and sweet.

My late Zen teacher's latest book has been just released. It is titled
_You Have To Say Something._, Dainin Katagiri, ed.Steve Hagan, Shambala.
It is available at

Not to disagree with Mel, but I've found that I've learned most
from my best teachers by their life examples rather than by way they say.
When you are learning something that goes beyond the intellectual, example
and working beside the teacher is very important.

Sometimes these good teachers were tough nuts and other times they
were cream puffs. Katagiri would usually tell a student something just
once or maybe twice, but would not argue after that.
When the writer Natalie Goldberg asked him why he told her at a
lecture I was present at, it went like this: "Hojo-san, why did you tell
me 'you should make writing your practice'?", Katagiri replied: "Because
sometimes, no matter what you tell a student, they just do what they want
to anyways. So you tell them to do what they want to do."

Mel's mention of Zorba reminded me of thinking about Zorba at
the Regis Masters Series Roundtable discussion at the Minnesota Institute
of art on Saturday. Bill Daley, Karen Karnes, Ken Ferguson, Jim
Melchert and Warren MacKenzie participated. What a wonderful bunch of

Melchert mentioned being inspired by John Cage. Karen
Karnes said Cage was a friend of hers and that he went around as though
the world was just perfect as it is. Daley said that he was just the
opposite: he saw everything as being a disaster.

This made me think of Zorba and the old, old man who was
planting Almond trees. Zorba asked him why he was planting trees that he
would never see bare fruit. The old man said he lived his life as though
he would live forever. Zorba said, he himself was different: he lived as
though he were going to die tomorrow. Zorba said it is best to live
one of these two ways.

/(o\' Lee In Saint Paul, Minnesota USA
^Some images from my spring trip to Japan^