Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Classical dialogues in La Cañada

Last Friday morning Kaitzer was multi-tasking: folding laundry, making lunches and tutoring the girls for school quizzes. I was busy looking for my car keys. Our kitchen resembled the last frantic moments prior to jumping off a chopper into a hot LZ.

"Joe, make sure you gather all your books and papers, my philosophy group is meeting tonight," she said.

I didn't know Kaitzer had a philosophy group.

Coincidently, that evening some of my buddies were meeting at the Red Lion Pub for some beer and bratwurst. We were excited to delve into such subjects as the Yankees, how Shaq will do in Boston, and covert operations in Pakistan.

How fortuitous, I thought. Kaitzer's meeting sounded like the perfect conduit to a boys' night out.

And then: "Could you take the girls to soccer practice tonight?" Kaitzer inquired.

If there's one thing I learned in the Marines, it's that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

About 10 of Kaitzer's former students from Pasadena City College gather each month and probe the questions of the universe. Their topics include the breadth of thought from the Greek classics to the educational philosophers. Tonight they were dissecting the works of John Dewey, Jean Piaget and Frederik Froebel. (Try saying Frederik Frobel three times. Bet you can't.)

I was resigned to spending a Friday night overseeing the girls, making sure they didn't burn the house down during the group discussions. I existed on the periphery of their intellectual diatribes and watched re-runs of "Glee." Since I can bring a group down to my level in two minutes, I was reluctant to join their discussions.

Typically, Kaitzer's students, education majors, would flood her office after a lecture, bringing their inquiries and thoughts about the great philosophers.

"Students have so many ideas and a limitless need for self expression. However, in the lives of teachers and students, there's never enough time to satiate the wonder of inquiring minds," she said. "My rationale was to provide opportunities to share ideas that are vital to life.

"To comprehend what teaching is about it is essential to have a world view of life, and to understand the applications of educational philosophy and learning theory in the context of teacher/student interchange," she said. "You can't teach something you don't understand."

We perish daily by the bombardment of a vacuous pop culture. Our intellectuality atrophies for want of some other mind to sharpen our senses upon. There are few delights that compare with the exchange of ideas in conversation.

Making frequent commando raids on the assortment of cinnamon buns and chocolate cake, I found myself eavesdropping on their discussions.

Their conversations seemed more than the sum of their words. I watched as the ladies openly expressed their views in a nurturing and accepting environment. Each contributor seemed validated by the group and found their deemed importance by receiving that rare gift: attention.

Throughout Western intellectual development, small groups of scholars and students would gather and discuss philosophy, the arts, religion and science. Sitting around campfires, the ancient stargazers created the mythologies, which continue to fascinate us. In classical Athens, Plato's Academy and Aristotle's Lyceum were forums for ideas. Similarly, the Chautauqua movement began in the late 19th century as an opportunity to promote culture throughout rural America. In the Chautauqua, participants dug deep into classical consciousness, spearheading a resurgence toward a modern enlightenment.

After soccer practice, Sabine and Simone were anxious to return and partake in the conversation. The girls witnessed a diversity of experience, background and education. I hope they learn that we must build our own knowledge, and that the world of ideas opens many paths. The ancients taught us that philosophical inquiry and dialogue are the tonics. They embrace life and continue today in La Cañada.

I, on the other hand, finished the remaining cinnamon buns.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at

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