In Memory of Chandler Steiner

Memorial for Chandler Steiner on Sunday, 10 October 2004 at Cambridge College, Cambridge, Mass.

John Bremer

We are all here to honor our friend Chandler Steiner, and my own affectionate tribute falls into three parts – remembering, regretting, and rejoicing.

First, for remembering.

In 1971, I was the Academic Dean of Newton College of the Sacred Heart and I was determined to create a new vision of the professional education of teachers. I wrote a constitution for what came to be called the Institute of Open Education when it opened the following summer. As its creator and first director, I naturally had the responsibility for selecting faculty and recruiting students, and it was most fortunate that among the very first appointments I made were Joan Goldsmith, who is still a loyal and supportive member of our Board, and Eileen Brown, our newly appointed Chancellor, whose leadership, ten years later, was mainly responsible for the transition of the Institute into Cambridge College.

Students were needed, of course, and among the very first were John Grassi, now Vice-President for the Alumni College, and Chandler Steiner, who later became a faculty member and a beloved teacher here at the College. Technically, I suppose, Chandler was my student, but in reality he was a natural learner and needed no teacher to motivate or instruct him. Indeed, many years later, I learned that during that first summer he had gathered a small group of fellow students together to read Plato’s dialogue Meno and to discuss its serious and profound implications for human learning and human life. Even then, Chandler knew that if learning did not affect our lives, it was not worth our time and effort. Being a natural student, he was, of course, also a natural teacher.

Over the ensuing years, Chandler never forgot his—and our—original mission, and when discussions and proposed schemes got bemused or bogged down in technicalities, in political and financial demands, in what was called “reality,” it was always Chandler who could be relied upon to remind us of our mission, the true reality which justified all that we did. If, as Plato said, Socrates was the gadfly that the god had attached to Athens to sting it into considering what was good and into acting upon it, so Chandler was attached to Cambridge College to sting it and us in the same way. A true gift from the god.

So much for remembering. Regretting will be shorter. Of course, we are all sorry that Chandler is no longer with us—we miss his companionship, his honesty, his teaching, and his reminding us of what we are really doing. And we regret the loss felt so keenly by his devoted wife Keisa, and our deep and affectionate sympathy is with her whose loss is so much greater than our own.

Chandler had three given names—he was William Henry Chandler Steiner, and I never asked him why he chose to be known by the third of them. But I thought it symbolic of who he was that he chose to be called Chandler, for it is an ancient word derived from the Latin word candela, a candle, and means an expert on candles.

John Locke wrote:

It will be no excuse to an idle and untoward servant, who would not attend his business by candle light, to plead that he had not broad sunshine. The Candle that is set up in us shines brightly enough for all our purposes.

Chandler’s candle shone brightly, and in so many of us, his friends and colleagues, and in so many of his students, Chandler lit candles that still burn brightly, and which, in their turn, have lit the candles in the souls of yet others. With him, we sing the homely and moving spiritual: Let my little light shine.

Chandler knew that while our knowledge is always limited, yet, as Locke said, it shines brightly enough for all our purposes and we must attend to it. His candle burned brightly, and we regret, deeply regret, that it is no longer with us. But his candlelight cannot be extinguished, and so we can overcome our sorrow and enter into rejoicing for the light he has bequeathed to us. His flame endures, and, in Plato’s metaphor, he has passed on the torch

We should rejoice that we have enjoyed the companionship in learning that Chandler offered us and the knowledge that this can never be taken away: we knew him and will always know him. This is one aspect of our immortality which Chandler saw as leaving the world better than we found it; thus for him, his life—and as he reminded us, our lives too—are a moral concern, summed up in the Platonic search for how a man should live.

It was a great wish of Chandler’s that Cambridge College should have both a graduate and an undergraduate program in the Humanities. In the hope that this will come into being, thus fulfilling Chandler’s long-felt desire for the College, it is appropriate to say briefly what I conceive the study of the Humanities to be, what, as it were, it studies.

I do not believe that the Humanities consist of a collection of conventional subject matters such as Literature, Philosophy, History, and maybe Music or Painting and so on. These may be studied humanistically, of course, but so can mathematics and biology and economics and sociology. Indeed, all the subjects that we think of as academic are capable of a humanistic analysis and appraisal, and for a very simple reason: they all contain expressions of human freedom—they contain other things as well, but they are all the outcomes of our freedom.

This is the true subject-matter of the Humanities: human freedom.

The form of freedom that comes most readily to mind is political freedom and its denial of the unmitigable evil of slavery and servitude. But there are many other forms of freedom, not least the freedom of inquiry and the freedom of learning. Indeed, if learning is not free, it can scarcely be called learning. Human choice, our freedom, is present in all that we do and is susceptible of humanistic analysis. Of course, as we study and analyze human freedom our awareness of it increases our own freedom, and we begin to see its actual extent and its possible furtherance—that is, its limits expand and we become more free. This was the original meaning of the liberal arts—the arts that liberate us.

Chandler understood this, and he and I shared the belief that learning is liberating, and that what and how we learn makes us who we are. And, furthermore, who we are defines what and how we can learn. They interact with one another, and as they do, we grow. We can be free, freer than we are. And with that freedom goes responsibility. Ultimately, all education is moral. It was because Plato understood this so well—as Socrates said “Virtue is Knowledge”—that Chandler and I were and are devoted to the Platonic Dialogues as explorations of human freedom. As I said at the beginning, when he first entered as a student, Chandler read Plato informally with his fellow students, and the last conversation I had with him was about the Dialogues.

The term “Dialogues” is only a more formal term for conversations, for the language that connects us one with another. Language is the prime means of social control and Plato recognized that it must, therefore, be the prime means of personal liberation. And so the study of language, of words and their use and meaning, must be a central concern of the Humanities. Socrates knew this, Plato knew this, Chandler knew it, and I know it.

I rejoice, and I encourage all of us here to rejoice at having known Chandler. He would have approved of my repeating the prayer of Socrates at the end of the Phaidros, Plato’s dialogue about love and persuasion:

\W fi;le Pavn te kai; a[lloi o{soi th/`de qeoiv,

doivhtev moi kalw/` genevsqai ta[ndoqen: e[xwqen

de; o{sa e[cw, toi`~ ejnto;~ e\inai moi fivlia.

Plouvsion de; nomivzoimi to;n sofovn: to; de; crusou`

plh`qo~ ei[h moi o{son mhvte fevrein mhvte a[gein

duvnaito a[llo~ h] oJ swvfrwn.

O beloved Pan, and as many other gods as are here present, grant that I may become inwardly beautiful, and that outwardly such things as I have may be friendly with what is within me. May I consider the wise man rich, and as for gold, may I possess so much of it as only a self-controlled man might bear and carry with him.

Then, in the dialogue, Socrates turns to Phaidros, as I now turn to Chandler, and together we say, “Is there anything more we can ask for? This prayer is enough for me.”

And Chandler replies, “Make it a prayer for me too, since friends have all things in common.” Koina; ta; tw`n fivlwn.