- Summing Up McDermott—A Modest Attempt
Anyone who has read or studied with McDermott knows he used the word "pedagogy" all the time. For a long while, I did not quite understand why. To me it seemed that pedagogy simply described various specific strategies and techniques employed in the formal classroom. But after all these years with McDermott, I now think I understand better. For him, the whole of his life—his writing, teaching, cajoling, loving, advising—all of it was simply varieties of pedagogy, variations on what for him was the inexhaustible theme of teaching in the broadest sense. Experiments in pedagogy were one of his great projects—largely his motivation for getting up in the morning and heading off to the classroom. He found endless joy in being a faithful teacher, in using philosophy as a way of forging connections with others and changing lives. Now that I am older and retired from full-time teaching, I think I have an even keener appreciation for all that McDermott was and is, regarding pedagogy and beyond. His impact on every dimension of my life [End Page 99] and the lives of countless others—impacts both personal and professional—are quite simply immeasurable, something I suspect he may never have fully realized. For him, he was just doing his job.
In the end, there are, of course, a number of ways of taking the measure of McDermott's life and work. His writing, editing, and speaking engagements collectively represent an unparalleled achievement. On this, we are all in his debt. His founding efforts in the creation of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy and the pluralist movement within the American Philosophical Association is a legacy that will endure forever, affecting the lives and careers of newer generations of American philosophers who never knew him. His encouragement, friendship, and mentoring helped shape the lives and careers of so many of us who did know him. Without McDermott in his roles as scholar, teacher, and person, the world would have been seriously diminished, had he never resided and labored amongst us. But it's the bonds he forged with his students through teaching that, to my mind, will stand the test of time, alongside his many volumes of works about William James, John Dewey, and Josiah Royce, among others. Those bonds and collected works transcend any particular classroom, course, or university.
I have often spoken of a couple of guys I met back in the early 1970s who had been McDermott's students at Queens College. They are Mike Frenkel and Howie Kaplan. Kaplan went on to earn a PhD in psychology and a career in the helping professions. Frenkel taught English in New York City public high schools for some forty years. In 2013, Frenkel attended a lecture McDermott gave at Queens and afterward posted the following message to his former students:
Just attended a lecture given by a now 80 year old philosophy professor whose Aesthetics course I took over 40 years ago, and realized as he spoke today that so much of what was important to me as a teacher (creativity, learning as process, the uniqueness/importance of each student) originated in his classroom. So, if I was your teacher, so was John McDermott.
On the wall of my study at home is a small poster from the March 2009 celebration at Texas A&M of the life and work of John J. McDermott. Mc-Dermott's head is bowed and his eyes concealed by the broad brim of his hat. But I know he is looking straight at me—every day, every moment—beseeching me to never forget the title of his celebration: "The nectar is in the journey." This is the McDermott line I take with me forever. He lived the journey and tasted the nectar in all its exquisiteness and variety. For those [End Page 100] of us who crossed his path in this life, we are the lucky ones who got to accompany him on the journey.
In closing I offer some familiar lines of verse that I believe capture at least some of who McDermott was and what he...