I hadn’t heard from Allan Casebier in quite a while when, earlier this month, unexpectedly, serendipitously, he told me he’d paved the way for me to visit the University of Miami, after speaking to the dean of university libraries about my work and wowing him about my Philosophy of Childing.
Allan, 82, was a professor of philosophy — his specialty is phenomenology and philosophy of film — at University of Southern California for a a quarter century. From there, he spent nearly two decades with the philosophy department at University of Miami.
He retired and lived for several years in Newburyport, Massachusetts, where he attended a weekly Socrates Cafe gathering that is still ongoing. Allan was enthralled by it, by the wonderfully diverse mix of folks who contributed quite a bracing plurality of perspectives.
He became hooked, loved the fact that the world of philosophical inquiry had been opened up to such a diverse group. It is always a wonderful thing when an academic philosopher sees such value in Socrates Cafe. It’ll come as no surprise that some academic philosophy professors look down their noses at it. Not Allan. He felt it was a key part of the philosophical enterprise.
When, years back, I went to the South Portland, Maine, public library to facilitate a Socrates Cafe (they’ve been in existence at the library for years), Allan drove from Newburyport to take part. What is readily apparent is the light in his eyes, reflecting a childlike enthusiasm and exuberance — not to mention a humility he has. For someone so accomplished academically, he is extraordinarily unpretentious.
Allan was thrilled by what he experienced at that gathering; we hit it off famously, and for the most part we kept in pretty close touch from then on.
Allan got weary of retirement. He was restless to teach again, to learn and exchange insights and stores of knowledge in both scholarly environs and in the community at large, to inquiry with scholars, with lay people, with people from many disciplines and walks of life; and he also longed for warm weather. He returned to the University of Miami, where the philosophy department welcomed him back with open arms.
Allan was so involved in his work again, so immersed in teaching and scholarship, that we lost touch of each other for a while. When I saw that his Facebook page had been removed, I became worried and wrote to him. He wrote right back, informed me he was doing great, and so happy to be back at the university.
Somehow, at the most opportune time imaginable in my life (long story), Allan wrote to me out of the blue to say that all was set for me to visit the university and talk about Childing. I write about my visit here.
The dean of university libraries who attended, while giving me a tour, told me that the impressive library plans to begin holding monthly dialogues open to the community at large starting next fall. He’s interested in having me come back to give a facilitator training workshop.
I can’t wait. Most of all, I look for any excuse and opportunity to cross paths with Allan. As I tell him early and often, if I’d only had the privilege to have him as my philosophy professor and mentor early on, I’d surely have had him as my doctoral dissertation supervisor (instead, I earned my PhD in communications, since none of the philosophy departments to which I applied were keen on my writing an involved dissertation on the Socratic Method — Allan, on the other hand, thought it was an ideal topic).
Allan still gets a kick out of a story I first told him long ago — that I was invited, twice, after the publication of Socrates Cafe: A Fresh Taste of Philosophy to be keynote lecturer for the president’s lecture series at Stonybrook University, when Dr. Shirley Strum Kenny (now an advisory board member on our nonprofit) was president. After my first visit, in which I spoke about my work before hundreds and then facilitated a most well-received Socrates Cafe, I told Dr. Kenny that my application to be a graduate student in their philosophy program had been rejected. She was, to put it mildly, nonplussed.
Allan, too, was bemused by this, and remains so to this day. He believes that what I practice is at the heart of philosophical inquiry, and highly deserving of being part and parcel of any meaningful scholarly and practical philosophical inquiry worth its sold.
Here’s to Allan Casebier, childult par excellence. If you find yourself in Miami, be sure to look him up. You’ll be forever changed, in the best sense.