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There's not a lot I demand out of life but fresh air

November 08, 1987

"Is this too difficult for thy brains?" Paul McGuire frequently asks his algebra students at San Diego State University. On occasion, the disbelieving students may then see McGuire winding up and hurling chalk at them with nothing to say afterward except, "There goes that beautiful piece of chalk!" McGuire, 49, gives math a dramatic twist and a street-level perspective. From Oklahoma City, McGuire teaches part time and is an author of two books on Chicano gangs as well as being a sculptor, musician and philosopher. Times staff writer Tina Cravat interviewed him and Peter McCurdy photographed him.

I've always wanted to be teacher. Even though the pay is terrible and I can't find a full-time job, I still hang on. I have a philosophy of life which can be captured in my motto, "There's not much I can do for the world, but what I can, I do."

I believe algebra should be taught with regard to the people in the class. You must communicate with everybody. Most of the teachers I've had always talked to the A students, or the two or three people following along . . . "Oh, Johnny...everybody understand?", then they've erased the board, and the rest of the kids would be asleep or just lost and bored. I like to pick on every student, keep 'em alive and incorporated.

I'm an intense person. I'm a Sagittarius; that's why I'm such an actor in class. I do it for the sake of dramatizing the mathematics. I want to make algebra more meaningful to them so that they can better remember it and recognize that it is really a very important part of life.

And, in fact, mathematics is life. It was the Greek philosophers who spoke of truth, goodness, beauty, unity and oneness and how they are all interchangeable. With math you have truth, which is interchangeable with beauty. In other words, that which is true is beautiful, good and has unity.

My sculpture--even if it's ancient and ugly looking--has a truth and beauty about it. I give my works unity as I create them, incorporating many "found" pieces into one. Everything in my life works under that umbrella, the transcendentals.

I see the world as being full of life, one pulsating unit of which we are all part. Human nature is constantly improving. A lot of people have the religious philosophy that human nature is evil. Well, I don't. I think mankind is constantly evolving toward goodness.

Part-time teaching gives me the chance to dabble in all these things. In addition to teaching, sculpting, and writing, I've also recently made a music video, which is titled "The Most Beautiful Jealousy in the World." It teaches students how to add and subtract fractions, by my own devised "jealousy" method.

You see, there are many things a person can do in a lifetime. Once you get an education, you realize what you can do for the world. You have to try the best that you can, to do what you can do, contribute what you can. If you come across a brick wall, you don't give up. You just let things slide for awhile, and try at something else. I approach the world from different directions. I haven't written a book in three years; that doesn't mean I won't ever again.

How can I have the money to survive? Well, I live on a shoestring. When I came to San Diego from Oklahoma 11 years ago, I came with $200 in my pocket and my father said I'd be broke inside a week. Well, instead I had a job inside a week and I saved my money. I traveled to Europe, England, Ireland and then got married with enough money to put down on a house in Mira Mesa, where I live now.

I have another motto that I live by and that is: "There's not a lot I demand of life but fresh air." You've all heard the saying "The world owes me a living." I don't feel the world owes me a living. I don't feel the world owes me anything except fresh air.

There's not a lot I demand out of life but fresh air.

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