PES in San Francisco, 2005

Audrey Thompson

Nihon Machi San Francisco

At a motel I once stayed at in Moab, the management provided every guest with a letter specifying what not to steal. It was a pretty comprehensive list. As I recall, the letter itself was the only thing not on the list. The place I stayed in San Francisco was not that kind of hotel. It was the kind of place where the tourists might wear their bathrobes and jammies down to the lobby for their morning coffee. I say “might,” but you never know whether people might or might not unless they actually do. Some of the guests did, although the furniture didn’t necessarily seem to invite bathrobes.

Cris Mayo in one of the lobby chairs, in daywear
Cris Mayo in one of the lobby chairs, in daywear

I got to San Francisco the day before the Philosophy of Education conference started, on what happened to be St. Patrick’s Day. People in San Francisco took the holiday pretty seriously, though considerably less seriously than they do in Chicago, where it is illegal to buy draft beer that isn’t green and they dye the river green too.

St. Patrick’s Day in San Francisco St. Patrick’s Day in San Francisco
St. Patrick’s Day in San Francisco St. Patrick’s Day in San Francisco

Since the PES conference hadn’t started yet, I had time to look around San Francisco a little.

Industrial Men
Industrial Men
Agrarian Women
Agrarian Women
Yeong Wo Building Octavia Street
Golden Century Realty Transamerica Pyramid and 1908
1700 Building Hobart Building
Church alley Xanadu Gallery in San Francisco designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
Yeong Wo Building Church

I noticed a few things. For example, in Salt Lake City, there are gigantic cars and modest motorbikes. In San Francisco, people have small cars but largish motorcycles.

Motorbikes in Salt Lake City
Motorbikes in Salt Lake City
Motorcycles in San Francisco
Motorcycles in San Francisco

You can’t help noticing that what they have a lot of in San Francisco is stuff. The shops are full of it. If you have the money, you can buy any amount of stuff you want. As it happens, Ivan and I have a bunch of stuff of our own, so I am rarely in a shopping frame of mind. I did, though, buy postcards of sights I hadn’t seen to send to people who might need more stuff. I bought several to send to my brother and sister-in-law. They are pretty low on stuff, measured by U.S. standards. They have eleven books, seven CDs, two chairs, three plates, two Barbie heads, and one neon clock. They do have a lot of sock monkeys, but these, we are told, count as family, not “stuff.” Years ago, Chuck and Kaarin showed me their art gallery, as they referred to it. I hadn’t noticed it at first because it consisted of one picture on a vast expanse of wall. The reason for the minimalist look was not that they lack the opportunity to own pictures, I want to clarify. In those days, my brother finished a canvas every other day. Now he sketches ten or twelve items a day, because it is quicker than painting. Everyone in the family stands to inherit thousands of drawings. None of the art is on the wall, though, because Chuck and Kaarin favor a spare look. They say that it reminds them of the beach. What they mean by this is that it reminds them of when they lived in La Jolla and had no money to buy furniture. Getting rid of things, they say, will make them feel more beachlike. This weekend, they are going to have a big garage sale to get rid of all their extra stuff. Ivan and I figure that they will have to acquire new stuff before they will have anything to sell at their garage sale. San Francisco could be an ideal place to get stuff that you might want to get rid of right away.

Antique sidewalk sale Antique sidewalk sale

I didn’t want to buy any stuff myself but I did want to take some pictures of it. That is a lot of stuff they’ve got there, and I was impressed. I had no intention of selling my pictures as hot information.

While walking back to my hotel from the conference one afternoon, I stopped in at a place on Sutter and asked the storekeeper if I could take some photos of the inside of his shop. He looked at me doubtfully. “It depends,” he said carefully. “Are you an industrial spy?”

“No,” I told him with a sort of disarming confidingness. “I am a philosopher of education.”

“Oh, well, in that case,” he agreed warmly. He became quite friendly. “A philosopher of education, you say? Yes, that’s very nice.” He was British; they probably have philosophers of education on a pedestal over there. It was interesting that he took me at my word about being a philosopher of education. Not only does claiming to be a philosopher of education seem like a move a canny industrial spy might make to avoid suspicion, but in my case it is a claim people tend to argue with. Harvey Siegel, for example. It is true, though, that Harvey likes to argue.

Harvey about to argue
Harvey about to argue

I have always maintained that I am not an industrial spy. Of course, I realize that it is hard for a person to know herself in the same way that others know her. Someone may think of herself as the life of the party, only to find out that she is on several partygoers’ private hit lists, or she may fondly imagine that her philosophical insights are eagerly anticipated by upper administration, when, to put it bluntly, they are not. Naturally, I have had my doubts about the industrial spy question. You just can’t be sure how others see you.

What with so much of our own lives being hidden from us, I actually don’t know for sure that I am not an industrial spy, but it has always seemed to me that I am not. I do know that no one has ever asked me for or paid me for any information whatsoever. It is not widely accepted that I even have any information. At a committee meeting once, years ago, when I offered a careful, probably profound philosophical question as a way to help reframe the issues, another member of the committee remarked, “It’s surprising how sheer ignorance can sometimes actually provide a degree of helpful insight.”

Perhaps in token of this ignorance, a perpetual question at the Philosophy of Education Society is “Who are we and why do we do what we do?” It is either very humble of us or a little self-preoccupied. Maybe we are just forgetful or maybe we really do think that others will know more about this than we do and all we can do is keep on asking.

Years ago, Jim Giarelli had a very helpful answer to the first part of this question. He read us the list of PES members. Since then, the list has been lost. My own version of an answer to the question, “Who are we?” is below. It is not complete, of course. I am not in the list myself, for example. Then again, I suppose it is still an open question as to whether I am really a philosopher of education or an industrial spy. We may never know for sure, unless someone pays me for those photos I took of store merchandise. Perhaps it is just worth mentioning that they are very detailed photos indeed.

PES Society: Who we are PES Society:Who we are
PES Society:Who we are PES Society:Who we are
PES Society:Who we are PES Society:Who we are
PES Society:Who we are PES Society:Who we are
PES Society:Who we are PES Society:Who we are
PES Society:Who we are PES Society:Who we are
PES Society:Who we are PES Society:Who we are
PES Society:Who we are PES Society:Who we are
PES Society:Who we are PES Society:Who we are
PES Society:Who we are PES Society:Who we are
PES Society:Who we are PES Society:Who we are
PES Society:Who we are PES Society:Who we are
PES Society:Who we are PES Society:Who we are
PES Society:Who we are PES Society:Who we are
PES Society:Who we are PES Society:Who we are

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