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Send students in French prep schools: the work load is insanely huge and the grades are insanely low --- 5/20, equivalent to a D, are quite common, and grades over 15/20, roughly A-, are really scarce. It learns to value the tiniest progress (if you don’t go crazy) and not to care so much about grades. The first time I got a 5/20 I was, well, sad. But then, when I found myself able to reach 12/20 (C+ or B-) it was *really* rewarding, and by that time I didn’t care about low grades any more.

Marcus Arvan

Pierre: I'm sure a lot of instructors would like to send their students to French prep schools. Alas... ;)


Looking back, it was a good experience. Tough, but pretty instructive on oneself.

Rob Gressis

Hey Marcus,

Another specific question: what sorts of readings do you assign your students in an intro course? E.g., do you assign them primary source material? How many pages a week do you assign? And would you do things differently if you taught at a state school like mine?

Marcus Arvan

Hi Rob: what do you mean by primary source material? First, I *never* use textbooks, and never will. I think they invariably give a poor and distorted view of theories and arguments, and discourage original philosophical thinking (specifically, because of how they give students the impression that we have all this stuff "figured out").

In my intro classes, I usually alternate selections from classics (Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, etc.) with contemporary selections. In my view, no one should be able to make it through an intro course without reading at least some of the classics. That being said, I keep the selections short, and alternative them with more recent work -- as I find if you only teach the classics, students get really, really irritated (the classics are, after all, usually really hard to read!).

I also keep the selections *very* short in my intro classes -- just several pages or so on average, so that they can really *focus* on thinking carefully about specific passages. I then go far afield (beyond the readings) in my lectures, and have them do group assignments on the stuff I lecture on.

In upper-division courses on the other hand, I'm pretty brutal in how much reading I assign -- as I want to really give upper-level students a lot to chew on. When I then do in my lectures is the opposite of what I do in the lower-division courses: I focus my lectures very *narrowly* on particular arguments in the reading that I think are particularly important.

So, that's sort of the deal:

Intro classes=short readings, no textbooks, expansive lectures.

Upper-division classes=long readings, no textbooks, tightly focused lectures.

Rob Gressis

Thanks, Marcus. By "just several pages or so" do you mean something like five?

In your upper-division courses, how many pages a week do you assign? For instance, if you were teaching a course on the Critique of Pure Reason, would you assign twenty pages a week? Forty? Five? (I realize that's a very specific, difficult text, but it's one I've taught before, so I'm interested in how you approach it.)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Rob: Yes, in intro classes, I often only do 5 pages or so a day -- sometimes more, but that is fairly typical.

In upper-division classes, it is not uncommon for me to assign 30-40 pages per meeting. I haven't taught the first critique, but in an independent study I did this semester on the 2nd Critique, I did do something like 40-50 pages at a time -- though sometimes we would spend a few weeks on that same 40-50 pages, to really go into it.

The reason I like to assign a lot of pages all at once -- even for difficult texts like these -- is that it is *very* important to me (as a philosopher and teacher) to get students to see the "big picture" before getting into the "nuts and bolts." I know many professional philosophers think you *have* to go through stuff slowly first, but I think this is what accounts for a lot of "missing the forest for the trees" in the profession. It's one thing to understand particular passages from Kant one at a time -- but, I would say, without the *big* picture first, it's easy to be led astray at the micro-level.

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