In the early 1990s, my academic program and my job at Iowa State University were about to be eliminated. I was in my mid-thirties, recently divorced, and five years out of graduate school. The signs that it was time for a new adventure could not have been more obvious. Still I had student loans to repay and neither the money nor the courage to just grab my backpack and wander. Instead I applied for a Fulbright Fellowship and a teaching position at National Taiwan University. I would have been happy going anywhere that was a change, but thought Taiwan would be as different from the American Midwest as was I was going to find. I spoke no Mandarin, could read only three Chinese characters (一 二 三, which mean one, two, three), but hoped that I would somehow absorb the Tao through my pores just by immersing myself in Chinese/Taiwanese culture.
Not only did I receive the Fulbright, but I was able to renew it and spend a total of two years at NTU. During that time, I fell in love and married Hsieh Manyu. As far as becoming one with Tao, time in Taiwan increased my curiosity more than it answered any questions. As one of my colleagues once told me, “Oh, no. We do not practice the Tao here. Taiwan is in a constant state of Confucian.”
Upon Manyu’s and my move to the United States, I accepted a job at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. I taught recreation leadership, which really is a subset of the field of experiential education. My scholarship shifted from recreation resource management to educational philosophy – and I quickly realized that experiential education theory had much in common with Tao philosophy. In a nut shell, experiential education is to traditional education as Tao is to Confucianism. This comparison resulted in my first book, The Leader Who is Hardly Known.
Another of my books, Rediscovering Dewey, is also linked to Asia. When Manyu and I, this time with our daughter Clare, returned to Taiwan in 2008 and 2009, I read the book, Dewey in China. I hadn’t realized that John Dewey had spent two years in China at just the time when the Communists were beginning to assert themselves. From the book, I learned that he had been a celebrity in China, the first Western philosopher to spend an extended period of time there. His speaking tours had an entourage, and the press referred to him interchangeably as Mr. Democracy, Mr. Science, and the Common Person’s Educator. Prior to moving back to Taiwan, I’d compiled a mountain of notes in preparation for an interpretation of Dewey’s educational philosophy, and the Chinese press corps’ three names for Dewey gave an order to my research that I had not been able to figure out on my own. Ironically an Asian perspective provided direction on the most American of philosophers.
I have one quick comment about Dewey – or more accurately, about commentaries on Dewey. Those who criticize Dewey feel that the United States is a mess because American education adheres to Dewey. Those who most admire Dewey feel that the United States is a mess because American education ignores Dewey.
During the summer of 2017, I retired. Now I write every morning, something I was not able to do while I was employed. My current writing project is a series of nature essays, many of the stories about my naturalist work prior to my career as an academic. Whether nostalgia or insightful reflection, my life is coming full circle.
Abbreviated Career Summary
Professor. University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. 1993-2017. Duties included University Graduate Director, Department Chair, Director of Environmental Studies.
Professor. Graduate Institute of Environmental Education. National Taiwan Normal University. Taipei, Taiwan. 2008-2009.
Editor. Journal of Experiential Education. Boulder, CO. 1998-2000.
Fulbright Scholar (Visiting Associate Professor). Department of Geography. National Taiwan University. Taipei, Taiwan. 1991-1993.
Assistant Professor. Department of Health, Physical Education, and Leisure Studies, Iowa State University. Ames, IA. 1986-1991.
Teaching Assistant. Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Studies Program, University of Minnesota. Minneapolis MN. 1979-1980, 1983-1986.
Director. San Mateo Outdoor Education, San Mateo County Board of Education, La Honda, CA. 1981-1983.
Circulation Desk Supervisor. Harvard Law School Library, Cambridge, MA. 1978-1979.
Naturalist. Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, Green Bay, WI. 1977.