November 2016 Articles

News from the Emeriti

Emeriti_SalkeverA Q&A with Stephen Salkever

What was the last book you read?
I’m usually reading more than one book at a time—ones I’ve finished recently are Ronna Burger, Aristotle’s Dialogue with Socrates; Anthony Marra’s The Tsar of Love and Techno; and too many detective/mystery novels, mostly Scandinavian noir.

What’s your personal philosophy on teaching?
My personal philosophy of teaching, in six thoughts:

  1. The heart and soul of liberal education is a good classroom.
  2. A classroom is a space where rigorous and thoughtful discussion occurs. Lectures can help, but they must be ancillary to discussion.
  3. A good classroom is neither teacher-centered nor student-centered but text- (and not only written texts!) and practice-centered.
  4. A good teacher spends serious time thinking about the texts and questions that provoke rigorous and thoughtful discussion. A good teacher always bears in mind what it was (and is) like to be a college student. A good student thinks, sympathetically and critically, about what the teacher is trying to do.
  5. Good teachers avoid retreating into professionalism (try to avoid thinking of yourself as Professor or Doctor So-and-So), or cynicism, or seeing yourself as alienated labor. Good students avoid seeing themselves as consumers, or as already educated enough.
  6. Finally, as someone has said, “Teaching is hard; not teaching is harder.” The same is true of learning.

What might your former students be surprised to know about you?
I’ve been singing in the Bryn Mawr Renaissance Choir for over 30 years now.

What activity takes up most of your time?
I retired in May 2013 and have been well replaced by an excellent teacher of and writer on Greek political thought (and many related matters), Joel Schlosser. But I’ve been fortunate enough to continue teaching at Bryn Mawr for the past three years—see number 6 above (“teaching is hard; not teaching is harder”). So I spend much of my time doing what I did before retirement—reading, writing, and teaching—and I have no immediate plans to give any of that up! The joy of retirement is that I have so much more leisure time to spend on doing these energizing and satisfying things. I feel as though I’ve been able to bid multitasking a fond farewell!

In addition, I can spend more time on a variety of other good things: music of various kinds, cooking/eating, reading whatever on a whim, and best of all, perhaps, traveling with my wife, the soon-to-be-emeritus Professor Jane Hedley of the English Department.

The Death And Life of a Language

In the 1960s, when Nancy Dorian, professor emeritus of German and linguistics, visited the Scottish Highlands fishing villages of Embo, Brora, and Golspie, she surprised Celtic scholars when she discovered more than 200 Gaelic speakers.

Conventional research had focused on older rural male speakers, but Dorian included less fluent and younger speakers—a choice that gave her study a richer view of generational change. It also inspired her to coin the now widely used sociolinguistic term “semi-speaker” to describe those who could speak the language but rarely did so.

In recognition of her groundbreaking work and important work on language obsolescence and revitalization, the University of Glasgow has awarded her an honorary degree.