In the last two posts I summarized my reasons for becoming a substitute teacher and my experience of the first day in that role. Today I offer my observations and philosophical deductions from that fascinating day in an unfamiliar arena.

First my observations:

  1. The school was extremely clean.
  2. All of the staff were nice and expressed appreciation that I was helping out.
  3. We wore masks the whole day, something I as a physician think is obsolete. (Covid is simply too endemic now).
  4. There was generally order between classes.
  5. Most of the school clocks were off; this has apparently been the case for some time – “Does anyone really know what time it is?”
  6. The students are behind due to the Covid pandemic
  7. Kids are mostly good even lovable, despite challenging us adults.
  8. When asked, about half the students said they thought they learned something from my instruction.
  9. Some kids came up to me to express their appreciation for my efforts or their regrets for bad behavior or just to introduce themselves. Others helped me when they saw me floundering.
  10. There are too many students in the classes to offer more than a modicum of individual support. I worry this leaves less versatile students struggling.
  11. The materials used today including technology are entirely different than what my generation experienced, but the subject matter is very similar to what we learned as children.

Philosophical points:

  1. Teaching young people is a powerfully purposeful activity. Of course it is hard to know the lasting impact one has, but it is likely substantial for some of them.
  2. We need to be sure to give every student a chance to learn by accommodating their particular differences.
  3. Teaching is a reciprocal activity; one both imparts and receives new knowledge as an instructor.
  4. Kids learn virtue though school – especially the importance of responsibility and care for others.
  5. Getting out of your comfort zone is exhilarating.
  6. Teaching middle schoolers is an excellent way to practice self-control and internal tranquility.
  7. We should wish to live in a country to which everyone wishes to pledge allegiance.
  8. Rewards not punishment is the means to elicit desirable behavior (I am reminded of Laozi).
  9. If kids think you care, they will cooperate and benefit from your influence.
  10. And last, it is both a form of supererogatory duty and a pleasure to contribute my pay for the day to the education of the very students who attended my classes .

To conclude, caring, virtue, self-control, finding new unpracticed purpose, and supererogatory duty are the philosophical lessons of my first day of substitute teaching. I also have to add that my respect for teachers is magnified by the experience.

Next time we return to contentment as described by the great Roman poet, Horace. Join me then.


Last time I began telling the tale of my first day as a public school substitute teacher ending on the low expectations asked of the substitute. I arrived at the school by 6:00 AM, but had to wait in the front office until 6:55 AM when the administrative staff arrived to give me a key (classes began at 7:25 AM). I won’t deny I was anxious, so I came early hoping to get into the classroom to figure out logistics and to review the substitute package – I thought I needed to be well prepared to take on 30 students at a time. I was extremely thankful that the regular teacher had left me clear instructions and photos of each student by class. The students began arriving about 7:20 AM and knew they had a substitute that day, even that I was a practicing physician, although I suggested they just call me “Mr. C.”

The first ‘class’ was Advisory or what in my day was called Home Room. I took attendance which was difficult given the unusual names in vogue these days, then we listened to a few announcements and a corny riddle which elicited groans from the class, after which most of us stood up for the Pledge of Allegiance. Next we had some fun – one of 10 snacks at the front of the class could be picked by students whose names were drawn from a container. They universally declined switching to my alternative of awarding the prizes based on answering a question correctly, but were happy to have a chance at a second pick with a question (For example: “What is the largest prime number less than 100?”). Missed questions were then open to the rest of the class for a snack grab.

Next were two math classes, Math Block I and II, consisting of mixes of my first group and some from my Language Arts/Social Studies partner teacher’s home room. The students then had lunch and Related Arts (anything from music to P.E.) after which were the two science classes, Science Block I and II, again with various mixes of these same 54 students (of 62 total; 8 were absent). I would rate my performance a C+ since I struggled with the first math group, but finished the lesson plan with the second, and I finished the lesson plan with the first science class, but limped through the second. While the first math class degenerated into virtual mayhem, the rest were largely controlled, despite frequent requests to go to the bathroom or the library, and distractions ranging from constant chatter and leisure-book reading to forbidden cell phone use, and computer games.

(finished next post)


“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” – Henry Adams

I thought I would take a break in our extended discussion of contentment to record some reflections on my first day as a substitute teacher. In my philosophical journey, I have gradually come to believe that educating and mentoring young people might contribute to my subjective assessment of life as meaningful. I offer the following three reasons: (1) It offers a unique opportunity to fulfill supererogatory duty (as a counter to past and present vices) especially if I donate the salary paid to me to the very classes I teach, (2) It adds a novel professional purpose to life, and (3) It holds out the promise of a limited ‘metaphorical immortality’ in the form of lasting (if uncertain) influence on some who will outlive me.

Originally I thought I would like to be a direct mentor to one young person at a time through Big Brothers, but was stymied by some logistic issues. With the Covid-19 pandemic and other factors causing a teacher shortage in my community, it seemed fate prodded me to help out in the public schools. Näive as it sounds, I thought I might just call the local Board of Education and try substitute teaching on the fly at my former elementary and high schools only to learn that this would not be possible. Instead I  had to complete a full application for employment by the local public school system. After a surprisingly complex, application process I was officially hired as an Emergency Substitute starting August 10, 2022. Interestingly orientation was limited to two brief training videos and a 47 page substitute teaching manual.

“Ready to go,” I first inadvertently signed up for a 1st grade class (I was hoping for 3rd or 4th grade), but the teacher and school wisely found a more experienced substitute. Still in that same week, I next selected a 7th grade math and science class at a magnet school (Noe Middle School1), and asked the regular teacher to contact me to help familiarize me with details and expectations. This was the beginning of a fascinating experience. The teacher, a smart, confident amiable woman in her 40s called and reassured me a physician would make an excellent substitute for her classes, especially since the current science module was built around tissue healing on a child with a broken foot. She had prepared everything I would need and assured me that expectations for substitute coverage are limited, mainly she hoped I could keep the class from degenerating into utter mayhem. Any progress on the curriculum would be an added bonus.

(continued next post)


1Sam V. Noe was a former superintendent of the Jefferson County Public School system.

CURRENT READING – Fallen Leaves by Will Durant (third continuation)

In the last three posts I presented some key metaphysical and ethical thoughts expressed by Will Durant in his final book, Fallen Leaves. In this and the next post I would like to add some of his less formal insights that round out his thinking in the last years of his life. This is offered to the reader not mainly for his or her erudition but as enticement to read the book.  I have classified them based on subject though they do not always appear in chapters one might expect.


After having read his many books on philosophy and philosophers, I found one of his most interesting revelations is that Spinoza is his favorite philosopher though he does not say why. Scattered through the book are vintage Durant pearls like the ones below:

“The only real progress is moral development.”19

“Perhaps all vices were once virtues, indispensable in the struggle for existence; they became vicious only in the degree to which social order and increasing security rendered them unnecessary for survival.”20

“The gift of children should be our payment to the race for the heritage of civilization.”21



Intellect is the capacity for acquiring and accumulating ideas; intelligence is the ability to use experience – even the experience of others – for the clarification and attainment of one’s ends.”22

“Every life, every society, every species is an experiment and must give way.”23


Durant states he was a communist or socialist in youth, but ended up a liberal leaning Democrat in middle age. He has a very high regard for FDR and supports welfare programs as necessary for decency and to prevent class conflict. He notes that unequal ability to generate wealth in a capitalist system leads to decreased purchasing power of the less advantaged promoting further increases in differences of wealth that stymie the economy. He tells us “You cannot make men equal by passing laws,”24 but also “though there are many sluggards among the poor and discouraging abuses in the administration of relief, we must recognize that the majority of the poor are victims of racial discrimination and environmental handicaps.”25 For him education is the great equalizer.

Regarding capitalism and communism he believes the two systems have been moving closer to each other and nothing pushes them closer than war. I was fascinated by this insight: “In both systems, the men who can manage men manage the men who can manage only things.”26 Speaking in the late 1970s, he is remarkably prescient about the rise of China (Chapter 16).

He offers a few other political pearls of note, some humorous:

“Men fear solitude, and naturally seek the protection of numbers”27

“Governments find it easier to begin a war than win an election.”28

“Our armies have proved themselves to be a necessary evil in a world that has never accepted the Buddhism of Buddha or the Christianity of Christ.”29

“Persons under thirty should never trust the economic, political, or moral ideas of any person under thirty.”30

(final continuation next post)


19Ibid., page 53.

20Ibid., page 92.

21Ibid., page 141.

22Ibid., page 143.

23Ibid., page 173.

24Ibid., page 169.

25Ibid., page 171.

26Ibid., page 123.

27Ibid., page 93.

28Ibid., page 101 (in discussing the war in Vietnam).

29Ibid., page 172.

30Ibid., page 176.


We ended last time recognizing the ethical calculus on receiving the Covid-19 vaccine  applies at three levels of reality – individual, proximate, and societal. The simplest of these is the first or reality at the level of the individual where the decision is both simple and less urgent. If your fear of contracting Covid-19 infection, of suffering temporary symptoms (such as loss of smell and taste), of the small risk of hospitalization, and of the even smaller danger of death (say 1 in 200) is less than your concern of unknown but unlikely dangers of the vaccine (not yet seen after hundreds of millions of doses), you might come to the subjectively sound if objectively dubious decision to hold on vaccination. At this level, the best case against vaccination could be made for children and young people who are at least natural risk.

At the level of proximate reality (those around you and with whom you have contact), your ethical responsibility is not to serve as a conduit for direct spread of the virus to other, possibly more vulnerable, persons particularly family and friends. This too is a risk/benefit decision – i.e. the risk of unintended harm to others including their possible death versus your anxiety about an apparently safe vaccine. While to me it seems selfish for you to risk the health of others for unproven fears, a case might be made to delay vaccination if you have limited or no contact with people (other than those already vaccinated) or if you are willing to commit to vigorous protection by double masking, maintaining distance, and limiting interactions to outside. Perhaps phobic persons might justify this approach.

The crux of the ethical issue however is at the level of society. The body of a person infected with Covid-19 produces billions of new copies of the virus. In the copying process errors are made – called mutations – just as would happen if you were to make billions of handwritten copies of a poem or essay. While most of these mutations are harmless, rarely the mutant virus is more infectious or more virulent (likely to kill). In fact a mutant copy of the virus might not be prevented by the vaccines already available and thus could lead to a new epidemic.

Here I would like to point out that most of us have homes, cars, cell phones, food, clothing, medicines, and so forth that we would not have if not for modern civilization. There are tremendous benefits to living in society. In return don’t we have a duty not to be the source of another pandemic? There is no excuse imaginable for declining a generally available, extremely safe vaccine knowing your own body could be the factory for a new, even more deadly virus that could kill millions of your fellow human beings. Therefore, pseudoscience and conspiracy theories must be rejected; all of us have a categorical duty to be vaccinated until the pandemic is over…period. (Sorry!)


What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of the plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves. All the same, when you see the misery it brings, you’d need to be a madman, or a coward, or stone blind, to give in tamely to the plague.” – Albert Camus,  The Plague.

In seven earlier posts1 I addressed some of the philosophical issues attendant to the Covid-19 pandemic just then starting and since dominating 18 months of our lives as a species. Starting in late December of 2020 the first of four vaccines was approved for emergency use by the United States FDA and by similar agencies in most other Western countries (Russia and China have also developed their own vaccines). Without getting into the details of the amazing effectiveness and remarkably limited danger of these vaccines, as a physician who has thoroughly reviewed the clinical trials and FDA panel review and monitored the continuously reported data, I can assure readers that these vaccines are every bit as safe and perhaps more effective than any of the other vaccines they have received during their lifetimes. The mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are, in my opinion, scientific advances that will lead to Nobel Prize awards within ten years.

Our emphasis today however is on the ethics of a decision to receive or to decline vaccination. Before we address that, a little review is in order. Covid-19 is a member of the coronavirus group which includes some minor longstanding cold viruses. In 2002 a dangerous form, SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome appeared in China, infected about 8000 persons and caused 774 deaths. In 2012 MERS or Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome appeared in Saudi Arabia and infected about 2500 patients causing 886 deaths.2 Covid-19 which appeared in China in late 2019 was thus the third of these mutated coronaviruses, but this time was much more infectious striking over 178 million people and killing nearly 4 million worldwide. This translates into about a 2.1% mortality, though it is likely lower due to underreporting of mild and asymptomatic cases. However the mortality rate varies dramatically by age from less than one in ten thousand for children to perhaps 10-15% in octogenarians. Full vaccination reduces the number of identifiable cases by 95-99% and essentially prevents all deaths. Minor side effects from the vaccines are common, but serious harm or death are less than one in one million, and to my knowledge, no vaccine related deaths have been attributed to the mRNA vaccines.

So what is the ethical calculus on receiving the vaccine or having your child vaccinated? We have seen virtue in general applies to four levels of reality – internal, proximate, societal, and cosmic – of which the first three pertain here. We will explore these next time.

(continued next post)


1See Suffering – The COVID-19 Pandemic – Parts I-V on this site 4/8/20, 4/10/20, 4/13/20, 4/15/20, 4/17/20, 4/20/20, and 4/22/20.

2See SARS Basic Fact Sheet and MERS Basic Fact Sheet at


Last time I recounted my experience of traveling with a faith-based group to provide mostly nonfood necessities to homeless people in my home town. Today I would like to consider some philosophical issues which arose from my outing.

First is the impetus for the mission of my hosts – the words of Jesus to his apostles as how to show their love for him – “Feed my sheep.”  In their mission we see the actualization of the great teaching of Jesus and enduring legacy of Christianity, virtually unrecorded prior to his teachings  – the principle of charity – the selfless helping of strangers in need. It does not appear prominently in ancient India, with Buddha or Confucius, in Taoism, in ancient Egypt, Babylon, or Persia, in the Old Testament, nor even in Greek and Roman philosophy. Whatever the future of Christianity, this legacy is enshrined forever in civilization and elevates Jesus to the pinnacle of human thought and achievement.

Second, as much as I respect the concept of charity, my pragmatic side has misgivings regarding the specific service of bringing necessities to people living on the streets. Are we enabling such individuals to subsist in hopelessness and ennui? Shouldn’t our goal be to extricate the unfortunate from their lot and aid them in moving on with meaningful lives? My friend correctly points out we have no right to prod others on a course we approve, arguing the ethical course is to help them survive each day until they awaken to the choice of a different and better future. Still I can’t help feeling badly that I left someone’s beautiful, young daughter living on the streets the day after she was dropped off by an inconsiderate man. If I could go back I would try harder to extricate her from her circumstances, perhaps by connecting her to a drug treatment center if necessary.

Third is the larger question of homelessness itself – why in a wealthy society do some find themselves living in such pitiful circumstances? If the answer is mental illness and drug addition, the question then is whether it is ethical for a civilized people to allow others to sleep outside on the bare ground under tarps in the cold while looking the other way. I think the answer is no, thus societal duty must extend to the provision of food, clothing, safe shelter, and social services to the unfortunate. While I believe one logical tenet underpinning ethics is that no obligation exists where no solution exists, it is unclear the problems of the homeless are insoluble.

The last philosophical theme is whether some homeless persons are in fact modern Cynics. In an earlier blog I discussed the ancient Greek Cynics under the subject of suffering/asceticism. 1 The cynics renounced worldly desires believing in a simple life of just enough food, clothing, and possessions to survive. Since the gods want nothing; men most like the gods will want next to nothing. Virtue for them was self-sufficiency, freedom, detachment, and moral toughness and endurance. Poverty becomes the paradoxical avenue to peace and contentment. Happiness is found by strength of mind to want nothing and to lack nothing. For them philanthropy is serving as models of virtue for others and spiritual hope to the poor and oppressed. When I asked my hosts about our homeless, they guessed that not more than 10-15% choose homelessness as a simplified way of life, and most of these decline offers of help.

I conclude the practical philosopher  should be a person of action in the cause of the homeless in whatever way possible while devoting attention to the ethical dimensions in the quietude of contemplation.


1See Suffering – Asceticism – Part IV – The Cynics on this site – April 24, 2020.


“But now how is it possible for a suffering which is not mine and does not touch me to become just as directly a motive as only my own normally does, and to move me to action?… although it is given to me merely as something external…I nevertheless feel it with him, feel it as my own…” – Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Basis of Morality.

I thought I would take a break on the long path of virtue and the meaningful life to stop and describe my reflections on a recent outing to help the homeless. Last week I joined a small group of faith-based philanthropists on their weekly Saturday morning ‘mission.’ We were 4 people (three men and one woman roughly ages 40 to 67) in three vehicles, visiting three aggregates of homeless individuals (‘tent cities’).

In my friend’s pickup truck were the precious, mostly nonfood supplies – he tells me there are many sources of food for these unfortunate people, but for little else. The supplies we provided included small propane tanks (about 6 hours heat, but also good for cooking and heating up coffee), bottled water, protein drinks, canned tuna, gloves, socks, toilet paper, wet wipes, soap, hygiene kits, batteries, and feminine products. We also had a limited supply of pillows, tents, blankets, shoes, and stoves several of which he brought at the request of specific individuals the week before. There were also hot meatless burritos he had made that morning starting at 5:30 AM, which were very much appreciated by our patrons. Perhaps 40-50 persons total accepted our wares – I would guess ages 20-70 with an average of about age 40 and about 70% male. Persons of color were surprisingly few – apparently they choose local shelters over the streets.

Before we left on our mission, there was a very brief sermon by a clergyman done remotely by speaker phone. His emphasis was not only on helping the unfortunate, but also on the reason – the command of Jesus to the apostles to “Feed my sheep!” He reminded us this is not mere community service as for example one does in a fraternity or social club, but fulfilling the wishes of the divine. Other than this there were no religious linkages. None of the party proselytized or even mentioned Jesus, God, or the bible on our rounds, nor were there any prayers. The supplies were given completely unconditionally – it was truly touching!

Also noteworthy was the unexpected discipline of the patrons who lined up in front of the table of goods and waited their turn, asked permission to take things they needed, and offered genuine gratitude. I am told that these camps have their own ethics; for instance, he who steals from another may find his tent and possessions burned to the ground. We saw at least one instance of a couple taking in a newly homeless young woman. And I must confess I was surprised that I never felt the least bit in danger. We learn that civilization survives even extreme poverty and homelessness.

I will take up a few philosophical matters related to my experience in the next blog. Join me then.

(continued next post)