Long list. Long.
1. A natural love of research (just curiosity, enacted, really), stretching back to childhood. “Dad, will you drive me to the library?” Eventually, the librarians began to know me, my father would leave me there, setting a time (closing time usually) to pick me up. The community library was the internet of my youth.
2. Public libraries.
3. A small handful of teachers who sparked my interest in their topics, even if not necessarily mine. Or those who took an interest in what I was doing. Engaged, passionate, not teaching-to-the-test, pre No Child Left Behind days.
4. Walking in the city streets, along the river in my Rust Belt town, into wooded ravines and along streamsides and through cornfields with friends along with hiking and camping in the northwest Ohio region. How to learn ecology without effort and without a classroom.
5. My bicycle. City busses. These eventually could take me wherever I wanted to go.
6. The limestone quarries that broke through the water table and filled with fresh water, creating deep lakes for fishing in and dreaming by. Friends who loved to regularly visit those old quarries with me — always exploring. Kids and teens are capable of deep exploration.
7. A friend’s father who used to send me home with books about geology and many other topics that he and I loved. When I’d bring the books back to him, he’d make sure we discussed the topics and parts of the topics that interested each of us. I can still see him in his big chair, pipe going, meaningful conversations. Never underestimate the influence you might have on young kids in your neighborhood. You may be one of their first mentors in something that is significant to them, you may help them hang on to a life that’s hard, and give them just that little extra push to keep going. Thanks, Mr. McAuley.
8. The cultural milieu that those Great Lakes cities maintained and made accessible to youngsters and adolescents: a thriving art museum, a city symphony orchestra, ethnic restaurants. One that even briefly hired a high school student in need of a job and sparked a strong interest in Greek culture and language. With a good public transportation system that is safe (that is the problem these days, sadly) all of these good things may be made available to working class kids like I was.
9. A downtown independent bookstore owner who remembered me from my almost-weekly visits and saved books and French language magazines for me that he thought I might like. Thanks, Mr. Hirsch.
10. Realizing I really like college/university campuses, those little semi-self-contained villages with the rest of the village all about you in town. Everything was walkable, people pursuing some kind of dream were all around me.
11. Taking a long break to move from Ohio to California to do some real work that expanded my world in very unexpected ways. I have to thank my first intense and rather faithless lover for that.
12. California community colleges. And a vast group of dedicated teachers in that system who taught out of their own deep knowledge and passion and ongoing work. Thanks to all of you. Too many to name. If you know me still and find your way here, consider yourself named. If you don’t know me, I’m thanking you, too, on behalf of your students.
13. Prescott College and their program for working adults to complete everything from bachelor’s to Ph.D. Their deep respect for their students. Their desire to maintain rigorous scholarship while still giving room for passionate, and even quirky but creative, interests in their students. Their hard work to maintain accreditation in a very unique program. Teachers and mentors, again, too many to name. Thanks to you all.
14. My own research. I love it wherever it goes.
15. My kids who encouraged me in every way imaginable. My inspiration, my motivation, my encouragement, and my richest blessings.
16. My students. My motivators, my bringers-of-new-ideas. My hands-on trainers in the art of education.
There’s more. I need to stop. Sixteen is enough for a day.