One testament to the lasting effect Mr. Pemantle's class had on my intellectual development is that I can remember the books we studied, nearly 50 years later, and can remember many of the points Oscar drew from the syllabus. The Myth of Sisyphus, where Camus taught us that the search for meaning in life was ultimately futile (but make the most of that realization); Notes From the Underground, where Fyodor hilariously brought home the idea that the "man of action," the ambitious actor we are all encouraged to be, is fundamentally confused and "limited" in his understanding of what life is really about (I think that perhaps Oscar was right after all - it's about love, not accomplishments, which are the "soothing walls" we rush to crash against). And Freud's Interpretation of Dreams, where the Viennese master told us that we don't really think what we think we think, so we better think it through again.
Speech 1, Fall 1966, Berkeley, California, Oscar Pemantle presiding. One of the many class rooms that ringed the auditorium in the massive, old and gray Wheeler Hall. A good place to learn in those days long ago when Berkeley was in ferment and agitation. It's what education should really aspire to be.
It does not surprise me that Professor Pemantle devoted his life to pedagogical excellence, as his kind letter demonstrates. As with all of us who were up, about and doing in 1966, and still here to talk about it, the years have taken their toll on his health, as his letter suggests and which I will not elaborate upon, because it his vital force in pursuing his passions which is most interesting and most gratifying to hear about. It's also clear that this kind and gracious man was at all times himself actuated by love, for teaching and for those he taught.
On leaving the University and the Department of Speech, I turned to education and its relation to the alienated political culture so well described by Dostoyevsky, Max Weber, Lukacs, and others. Reform on the level of the University was closed. So I decided to begin from the other end with reform from the ground up. I formed a nonprofit corporation called Black Pine Circle and began with a modest program called "The Arts and Sciences Workshops" offering Socratic teaching to young kids from the ages of five or six on up to eight or ten. The unexpected success of this program which I conducted for two years prompted me to found a school called BPC Day School which I organized and directed for the next twenty years. Sometime around 1994, I was hit by a car breaking my leg in four or five places and requiring some major surgery. I was forced to leave the school and took a couple of years to recuperate and get on my feet again. So, when I was fully recovered I formed another nonprofit corporation, The Institute for Active Learning, and began a program of professional education and teacher training for our public schools in the Sonoma-San Francisco region. And, sometime later I developed an outreach program across the border in Mexico, with plans for an event in Cuba perhaps in April of next year.
The work we have done in California can be seen by visiting our website, www.