Cliff Williams


When I was young, I climbed the tree out back and sat near the top daydreaming and thinking about things. On trips with my family, I sat in the back seat wondering what speed limit laws were—words on a book in some courthouse or some ethereal entity?

Then in college I took a philosophy course my freshman year. I liked it and took more. In graduate school, I filled pages with random thoughts about the books I was reading. The papers I wrote were highly abstract.

In my first few years of college teaching, I told students things. Then I thought, How can they learn to think and create for themselves if I just tell them things? I quit that, cold turkey. I started asking them questions. To get a good discussion going, I discovered that I had to get those questions just right.

The thoughts I had in the tree and in graduate school did not stop. They spilled out into articles and books. (You can see them listed here.)

Fifteen or twenty years after I started teaching, I fell in love with the teaching life. I could be alone with my thoughts. I could talk to students in class and out, listening to their thoughts and dreams and hopes. I could stay in touch with them after they graduated, go to their weddings, and play with their little ones.

I recently finished fifty years of college teaching—a decade and a half at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, New York, three decades at Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois, and half a decade at Wheaton College in Illinois. When I was teaching, I found myself falling in love with teaching all over again at the beginning of every semester, sometimes oftener. That felt good.

If you'd like, read my blog, look at a few of the book pages, browse a few of the stories.