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Some Defy Yuppie Life Style to Keep Idealism of the 1960s Alive : TEACHER: Philosophy Is Her Reward : 'I didn't go into teaching to make money . . .'

June 21, 1987

In the world of work, it is the era of the yuppie. Although there is evidence that they are more media creation than demographic fact, the affluent, self-indulgent, status-hungry baby boomers born in the two decades after World War II have come to dominate our image of professional life today. But the hunger for money is not the only force at work in the work force. To provide some perspective, The Times recently interviewed four baby boomers who have kept alive the idealism of the '60s and work for peanuts--by choice.

Cathy Harlow is a second-year philosophy instructor at San Diego City College, the only full-time faculty member in the philosophy department. At 38, after a long time in graduate school, she earns $20,500.

She has spent the last two summers in Nicaragua building schools.

The following are excerpts from an interview with Harlow last week.

I guess I went into college thinking I would teach physical education . . . and then took a general education requirement in philosophy and loved it. So I just kept taking philosophy courses and decided it was much more likely I would recreate after I teach philosophy than I would read philosophy after I recreate.

I decided to go into philosophy knowing that the field was a very difficult field to get work in. Many of my fellow graduate students who were very, very talented pulled out, at one point or another . . . and went into the computer field or went into law.

But when I was in graduate school, one of the ways I made it through was being a teaching assistant. And so I got first-hand classroom experience very early in graduate school and just thoroughly enjoyed it.

(Between undergraduate and graduate schools) I decided, alas, I should try the business world. . . . So I worked for this insurance company. But I only worked there for 10 weeks or something like that. It was horribly hard on my stomach.

I was a claims analyst. It was a dental insurance company. Just a wonderful bunch of people I was working with. But desk work, all day just doing the same sort of thing, just drove me crazy.

It was the lack of contact with people. I mean, one of the things I really enjoy about teaching is having a lot of contact with a lot of different people. When you're analyzing claims, there's not that much room for that.

I think what I teach is important. I think that there are very few avenues for people to sit down and think about the sorts of things that philosophers would have us think about. And the traditional means is this: come to college, take new courses in philosophy.

I think I would enjoy teaching many things. But philosophy is kind of a first love.

I get a lot of gratification from the classroom. The students tend to be appreciative. And I think that's probably important to all of this. I get a lot of gratification teaching something that I think is important.

I didn't go into teaching to make money . . . I mean, it was clear to me, when I decided to go into teaching, that that was not a main goal. I just needed enough to make ends meet.

That's why I don't teach during the summer. I could be teaching right now. But I swore that when I got a contract position, I would not overwhelm myself during the summer, because that kills you in the classroom. I mean, you've got to have, I've got to have a break. I've got to get away from the classroom, get re-motivated, re-stimulated, get some new knowledge under my belt. Do some other sorts of things.

When you spend a month living in a little two-room, one light bulb shack with a family of 12 (in Nicaragua)--and it was a wonderful experience, it was a really wonderful family life--you see how much we have that we don't need, and how much we don't have that we do need.

I've never been a big consumer. I have difficulties with consuming a lot. I don't believe in it. I don't believe in the throw-away sort of society we live in. I mean, not that I act perfectly consistently with that, but because the value system is behind it, it's not hard for me, at all, to be satisfied.

I wasn't raised in a family where money was at all a high priority. I mean, a lot of that has a lot to do with the way I am.

My father was a hod carrier. Do you know what a hod carrier is? It's heavy-duty manual labor. He'd mix the plaster and he'd put it on a hod on his shoulder and he'd carry it up the scaffolds. And about the time I went to college, he became permanently disabled with rheumatoid arthritis. It was very severe, probably having to do with his occupation.

My mom was trying to make ends meet with four kids. . . . We were raised in a two-bedroom house. One for the folks, one for the two girls and a front room for the two boys. And we never felt like we were lacking. And I still think I had one of the richest childhoods that I could imagine.

I really do think we live way too fast in this society. We obligate ourselves to so many things that we don't take the time to sit and think about why we're doing something. Is it a valuable sort of thing to do? Is this really a choice that I'd make?

That's the beauty of teaching philosophy. I get paid to think about things that I think are important and to discuss them. I mean, what more could anyone ask for? I may not get a paid a whole lot to do that. But at least I'm not running around with my head falling off and not having time to sit down and try to evaluate things.

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