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Penn State Mont Alto professor marches to his own beat

February 22, 2001

Penn State Mont Alto professor marches to his own beat



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro


MONT ALTO, Pa. - Few things better represent what philosophy teacher John Bardi is about than his small, dingy office on the third floor of one of Penn State Mont Alto's oldest buildings.

The 9-by-12-foot cubicle is, in Bardi's words, the most rundown office on campus. The only furniture gracing the room are a small metal desk, a table without drawers and two old file cabinets.

Bardi's personal touch shows up in a world map that's too high on the wall to read, textile hangings of a Chinese sun and an Oriental paisley, a Japanese print from when he taught school in Okinawa, and a dozen postcard-size Botticelli prints tacked up along the walls.

"My colleagues told me I should demand a better office, one with more status, but this fits me. It's what I chose. I like the way the big windows let in so much light," said Bardi, 53. "My door is open and students come in to hang out."

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Other things say John Bardi dances to a different tune. His office voice mail tells a caller, "John Bardi, lover of wisdom." His hair hangs in corn rows and dangling beads.

"My friends say it's my midlife crisis, but when you do what you really want to do in life, it's a good experience," he said. "The bouncing beads help me to notice the world more."

Bardi has been at Mont Alto for nine years. Before that he taught philosophy at the University of Maryland, Frostburg State University and Shepherd College. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri in 1974.

Until then, he spent his life in school, starting in England, where he was born to a U.S. Army father and an English mother.

He picked up his guitar at the same time he picked up his Ph.D. and went on the road with a rock band for three years before settling down to teach.

"What better thing is there for a philosopher to do?" he asked. His musical stint included gigs with area bands like Damion and the Classics and the Jade Brothers.

Bardi hosts a live, hour-long television show Wednesday nights on an Adams County, Pa., cable station. He calls it "The John Show." He plays his guitar, pontificates on life and talks with listeners who call in. The show's premise is a benevolent look at Earth by beings from Outer Space who comment on human folly.

"It's a humorous commentary on current events, a weekly report on how things are going on Earth by a nonearthling. I talk about philosophical issues, questions of vision, the nature of life. Not everyone likes the show, but I have become sort of a local celebrity," he said.

In a recent show, Bardi talked of the steady ongoing pollution of the mindscape. "In North America alone," he said, "3,000 marketing messages a day, 12 billion display ads, 3 million radio commercials and 200,000 television ads are pumped into the collective cultural consciousness. That's more than politics or religion."

Bardi not only likes to quote famous philosophers, he adds his own brand of wisdom to theirs. "Socrates said an unexamined life is not worth living. A colleague of mine said an unlived life is not worth examining," Bardi said. "You need experience in life, something to reflect back on."

"I've lived overseas for 17 years, I've been teaching philosophy for 24 years, I've been married four times. I have much to reflect back on," he said.

He has four children. Two are grown, one is in college and one is in high school.

He said every cherished institution is undergoing major changes today - education, religion, marriage and family. "Students in my classes today are Christian, Jew, Muslim and Buddhist, and they all think differently about God."

Bardi sees what he calls an atrophy of imagination, especially in education, and finds that most students are bored in school. "I was bored too until I found my own passion, philosophy. I didn't study philosophy to see what I was going to do with it, but to see what it was going to do with me."

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