The MT Chair

One concept we employed at the alternative school was called the MT Chair. It was a simple pun on empty which i always felt strange about. Was our school empty? Hardly ever. Was our philosophy empty? Certainly not. So why this?

Where there is an empty chair, it invites filling. Have something to say? Perhaps you’d care to sit down.

There is an ancient Jewish ritual of leaving one chair for whomever might come wandering in. In the old days to not treat a traveler with respect — to not welcome them at the sedar table — was a sin.

Ironic I suppose. In any event at the alternative school we welcomed visitors and they did not have to call ahead! In the early years the school had many hundreds who came to take a look.

Later I returned to the traditional system, armed with new concepts and distinctly lyrical. There was often a single seat not far from me, in a prominent position to address the class. Whoever sat there would get instant attention. “Did you have something you wanted to say?” Instead of an introduction from the teacher, some student by sitting had signaled that he or she had something to direct class attention to. It was not easy to flow with this unexpected interference, but it was often worth it.

Later as a Professor I made it explicit. Let those who had gathered their thoughts into communicable passages lead that day. As MLK put it, echoing Moses, I may not get there with you, but the promised land is that way.

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