A few doors down from the campus beauty salon and across the hall from a basic electronics class, you’ll find a voice in the wilderness of materialism and vocational madness.
It’s an apt place for Scott Kramer, the grizzle-bearded oracle of Socrates and the soul of the humanities department at Spokane Community College.
From his humble corner in a structure so huge that it’s simply called “Building 1,” the philosophy professor in bluejeans reminds another generation of future workers that there’s more to life than money, a three-car garage and Mariners tickets.
“For a lot of students, I’ve only got one shot,” Kramer said from his tiny book-filled office at the Mission and Greene campus. “So I want to make it the best shot possible.
“Vocational training prepares people for a job, but philosophy prepares them for life,” he added. “There’s a nice way for all this stuff to fit together.”
At SCC, a decidedly vocational-driven institution, Kramer is the lone full-time philosopher for a student body of 9,000. For some, his lectures are better than lunch at Orlando’s, a campus restaurant located one floor below Kramer’s classroom.
“When I’m with my friends, I want to talk about this stuff all the time,” said Chris Halverson, a second-year student who wants to be a history teacher. “But they’re not interested. (Kramer) definitely knows what he’s talking about.”
After 27 years of passionate lectures, Kramer on Friday will receive a rare Exemplary Status award from the Washington Community and Technical College Humanities Association. Kramer will be only the third Spokane professor since 1986 to win the award.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” said Therese Mirande, chairwoman of the association’s award committee and a Pierce College instructor in Tacoma.
Mirande said the association honors professors who make a significant contribution to the humanities by inspiring students, improving the quality of materials and strengthening the teaching profession.
SCC technical students don’t have to take philosophy or any other humanities courses. But one third of the student body does, and the school graduates about 400 students each year with associate of arts degrees. Many go on to four-year universities.
A native of Chicago, Kramer earned multiple degrees from Southern Illinois University in the 1960s when inventor R. Buckminster Fuller was an instructor. He roomed with Charles Johnson, the University of Washington professor who wrote “Middle Passage,” winner of the 1990 National Book Award.
Kramer has brought Johnson and other authors to SCC for lectures. He helped secure grant money to launch a popular interdisciplinary course that combines 15 credits of philosophy, English, history and sociology instruction.
“As our only full-time philosophy instructor, he’s really developed the program,” said Shirley Hauck, dean of instruction for liberal arts and vocational-related education.
Kramer has tried teaching graduate students at larger universities. But he has stayed in Spokane because he believes he can have a greater impact on freshmen undergraduates.
“I can affect change,” he said. “This is where it counts. That’s why I’m here.”
Kramer, however, loathes all the attention from “that damn award” and other honors. He’s denied repeated requests from SCC administrators to take his photograph and refuses to celebrate his own birthday.
Kramer would rather SCC hire a second full-time philosophy professor and ease his classroom load. In most quarters, he said, he’s responsible for 120 students.
Behind his tinted glasses, Kramer shines in the classroom. As he sits on a stool, cradling a red-capped coffee cup, Kramer peppers his lectures with questions that challenge students to learn how to think and examine their lives.
In a 45-minute lecture Wednesday, Kramer asked more than 70 questions to the class of 35 students. More than half of the class got caught up in the discussion of the writings of Plato, the best known follower of Greek philosopher Socrates.
“If you’re a stonecutter making a sculpture, all you need to do is chip out what’s not needed,” Kramer said, jumping to the board to draw the outline of a stone. “The beauty of the form you want is already in the stone.”
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