Saturday, August 16, 2014

Farewell to Jack Shallcrass: a splendid man who led an inspired and inspiring life

From friends in New Zealand comes the sad news of Jack Shallcrass's death. Well into his 90s at his passing, Jack will be remembered as among New Zealand's most inspired and inspiring humanist educators. A lover of fine arts and fine music, indeed, of creative endeavour in any form, Jack advocated ceaselessly throughout a very long and active career and retirement for the deepest values of liberal expansiveness. He championed the abiding worth of human imagination turned to constructive visions and purposes. He treasured open-ended pursuit of positive alternatives and would have defended to the death opportunities for exploration, experimentation, and the pursuit of varied forms of life and living consistent with human beings becoming the most and best that they might become. Jack had strong personal commitments but was forever tolerant of alternative opinions that were not hostile to human wellbeing, whatever forms that wellbeing might take. In short, he was the kind of person the world most needs right now, although we need such people at all times and in all periods. His spirit was kind and generous to a fault and I loved and respected him dearly.


On my trip back to New Zealand last year to catch up with folk I wanted to be sure of seeing again I had the pleasure of a memorable afternoon with Jack and Barbara. We talked and talked and I left them with some of my hand made Mexican coffee. We had a wee 'photo session', which means that when I am at home I see Jack's image every day.

  
Even though I only met Jack near the end of his professional career he gave me a degree and quality of support in my academic and public life that would suffice for several lifetimes. He gave far more than could possibly be hoped – let alone, expected – of anyone. And I treasured that support all the more because I knew that Jack would not necessarily agree with all the details of some of my commitments at the time.

In some typical cases, Jack used his “School” column in the New Zealand Listener to support academic and public work I was involved in during the late 80s. When Literacy, Schooling and Revolution was published, in 1987, Jack flew up to Auckland to launch the book. He never missed a beat, getting right into the heart of the book and developing themes and lines of argument that made the book sound way better than it was. He picked up some of these themes in a “School” column and then went even further in another piece. The book contained a core chapter on the approach to literacy taken in Nicaragua during the Sandinista period. At that time, with many wonderful peers and colleagues, I was involved in raising money for health, literacy, community development, and women-oriented projects in Nicaragua. Helen Clark and Margaret Wilson, among others, had worked behind the scenes to ensure our Nicaragua Support Committee received a 3-to-1 subsidy for monies raised. When Jack learned of these efforts he devoted a “School” column to publicising the fact, supporting it with the claim that it was “a brave cause”. One of the first cheques to come in was for $1000 from an elderly woman in Wellington. The subsidy made that worth $4000, enough to build a health centre. The esteem in which Jack was held publicly made that kind of thing possible, and I know there will be many people who will be able to recount similar experiences.

The kind of cloth from which Jack was cut is, inevitably, in short supply; so short they only made one of him. He lived well, shone like a beacon, inspired many, and will be deeply missed. In the course of a privileged life I count among the highest privileges I have enjoyed the fact that I knew Jack and that we 'connected'.

Rest in peace, Jack, you fought the good fight and, in doing so, you did us all proud.

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QPEC salutes Jack Shallcrass, a liberal and progressive thinker who shared our ideals of a universal and equal system of education, funded by the state and committed to a fair deal for all students.
 
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