Favorite Teachers

Here are some of the teachers who taught me the most.  Since I teach too nowadays, these are the people I try to emulate. 

Eric Perlberg, International School of Basel

Eric Perlberg

When I met Eric Perlberg in grades 7-8, he seemed to me something of a wandering sage.  He was from New York, was apparently single, kept a beard, and a small apartment in downtown Basel.  Each of these was completelty new to me in a teacher.  Perlburg also played the guitar and was learning to draw. 

I wish I could say that I was respectful to the sage from Woodstock, but at that time I was overly resistant to any assertion of authority.  For example, Perlberg believed we should do homework every evening, if only a little.  I objected to this. To his credit, Perlberg actually agreed with my arguments, and let me off homework, so long as I agreed to sit and watch the sun set.

As a teacher Perlburg's main deal was this kind of immense respect and interest for things - especially art and history in my memory. Every week he'd take us to the Kunstmuseum (Art Museum) in Basel.  We'd go to one or two rooms and just look at the paintings really carefully.  

Kevin O'Connor

kevin o'connor

Kevin was our science and computer science teacher at ASE 2, and more than anything else, he made us all dream of being scientists.  It was hard to imagine a higher calling in his class.   To be a scientist was something like joining an order, and for some reason Kevin inspired an ambition that soared way beyond the classroom.

Kevin had his faults.   I can remember him breaking a hockey stick after losing a game, which probably isn't  in the teacher's manual.   But middling or forgettable, he never was.

Raja says of Kevin that he was capable of encouraging us to learn stuff that he didn't necessarily understand himself.   That was true:  learning that went past his curriculum was what he liked best.

Liz Dixon

Liz Dixon was our English and Creative Writing teacher at ASE 2.   She scared me sometimes. She scared all of us.  But more than anything else she really made us write.

Liz really believed in writing and acting as an expression of the soul. And as unlikely as it may sound she believed that each of us students possessed an innate capability to tap into a genius -- and that the only problem was getting at it, opening up to what lay there.

All this said, as a teacher, and as everyone knew, she wasn't exactly perfect.  Grades were somewhat random; the curriculum was unspecified at best; her classes were something of a wandering mystery.    But when you look back, does that matter?  Not at all, not at all.



I met Egusa in Taiwan in the 1980s, where he was a visiting professor.   While outwardly serious looking, I knew something was up when he rescued us from a boring family dinners to sneak off and play arcade games.

While I only saw him about five times in my life, he was from the first moment a guide and teacher of how life ought be led.    Egusa's main deal was that he took rapturous joy in everything he did, even things that might seem normal to anyone else.   Once, for instance, we had cold chicken and beer on a beach in Kamakura, and Egusa made out as if it were the greatest meal in history.  Or, as in this photo, he could be in total rapture playing the violin -- poorly.  

Lawrence Lessig


When I was a second year at Harvard Law School I noticed a strange class called “The Law of Cyberspace.”   It looked weird.  The course description said, this is not a course about computers; this is not about intellectual property; this is about Cyberlaw.   What on earth is that, I wondered?  The professor was an obscure visitor from the University of Chicago – no one had heard of him

Lessig strode into class with his black jeans and small glasses and pretty soon I knew my life would never be the same.  What a teacher Larry was:  original, shocking, impossibly charismatic, and intense.  Looking back Lessig's brilliance lay in how he identified the stakes in what might have otherwise seemed the routine.  He saw in every decision a process that closed doors.  He had dedicated his life to understanding and challenging the strongest thing of all: what is taken for granted.   

Taking his class changed my life, and no surprise, and Larry was certainly my greatest mentor.

Richard Posner

richard posner

Dick Posner taught me mostly how to write and how to think.   I realise that, before I met him I had only the vaguest inkling of how each of these processes worked.

While Posner is famous as a thinker, for me his aesthetics of writing were much more influential.   Posner cares about words.
And perhaps that's why the one think Dick really did best was listen.  He listened to what you had to say, and got it, whether or not he did what you wanted.  That listening installed a confidence that remains.

Dahlia Lithwick

dahlia lithwick

I credit Dahlia as the editor who taught me the most about writing.   Not always so much by intense feedback, but rather by telling me when I was assuming to much; when I wasn't getting to the point.   I also imitated her, and I owe what parts of my Slate style to Dahlia's example.

Dahlia occasionally insert jokes into things I wrote.  Inevitably, friends would identify those jokes as the spirit of my wit.