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06/04/2021

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meaningful

In my reading of the OP, the question seems to come down to whether making a difference for some students is sufficient to make teaching meaningful. I would say it is, in agreement with Marcus above.

Here is an argument from my own experience: I work mainly with first generation students, or students who grew up in environments that do not have much to do with academics. Exposing them to intellectual discussions, reading and engaging with texts for the first time and seeing how some students get to enjoy it and gain awareness of their talents feels meaningful to me. Of course, it can be claimed that this may happen in other classes, but I think there is something particular for philosophy classes and for particular abilities students develop (like reading and verbal skills). In line with the OP, one may object that they were already talented, intelligent etc, but there is marked improvement of those skills that would not have been possible outside university (and perhaps those students would not even have known they are good at doing a particular thing).

Perhaps this is something I am particularly sensitive to since learning more broadly and pursuing academic philosophy have opened a world I did not get to experience while growing up. Although I am not a first generation college graduate, I did not grow up surrounded by books or engaging in intellectual conversations, but once I got exposure to this - and I can trace it as far back as high school, to particular classes and teachers- any chance to participate in it felt like a reward.

Perhaps it is also relevant to clarify that I grew up in country with (what used to be) a strong public education system (so none of this would have been possible if my family had to spend a significant amount so I would get meaningful learning experiences). I think this is relevant when we think of the value of education - it can be meaningful insofar as it enables people to reach their potential beyond the condition they were born into, but less so if it is only a means of consolidating pre-existing privileges.

Joe

An interesting part of John's post is his thinking about the goals of education. Besides, his expressed frustration in an attempt to apply the active learning approach in teaching and implicit disappointment at his own formal education are thought-provoking.

Thanks to Marcus for sharing personal and family stories, some of which seem to be evidence for the good of education.

I also have a problem with teaching (Maybe should post this in another thread?). As a new philosophy lecturer, my enthusiasm for teaching declined significantly after I met a few students who greatly overestimated themselves. These students seemed to believe that they know many things and they must be right in most, if not all, of their beliefs, and behaved impolitely in class. I am not able to convince them as a math lecturer. Now I tend to only do "the bare minimum as a teacher", to avoid been frustrated or offended by these students, especially when my position is just temporary. But I know this may not be right. I wonder what are the thoughts of more experienced philosophy teachers?

postdoc

I usually enjoyed teaching but the quality of the students' work would worry me. I taught at a few Russell group universities in the UK. My impression was that most of the students did not have the intelligence, preparation, and/or desire required to learn and understand philosophy at the university level, much less write about it (I'd say that 5% of my students were hardly literate). I felt that the universities were just admitting students for the tuition, and that students who had almost no interest in intellectual pursuits were attending just because it was expected of them or they thought it would lead to better pay afterwards. I found the situation disheartening. Of course, there were always a handful of good students who would brighten my day. Largely though I felt the "education" the students were receiving was a waste of their time and money: they didn't really want to learn and the universities weren't really interested in teaching them, being far more concerned with how satisfied the students were with their experience.

Rosa

Here's something I have been doing for a few semesters now, and really loved: I assign a short essay at the beginning of the semester, asking them to reflect on their academic, professional, and personal goals for the course, and then assign a short essay at the end of the course asking them to reflect on whether they met their goals and whether they would have set different ones in light of what they know now. At the risk of sounding cliche, the things they have to say (especially in the second assignment) are both humbling and inspiring - and that's true of the large majority of students, not just one or two here and there. If we set our courses up in such a way that students will be invited to actively think about why they should matter to their broader lives, my sense has been that they really rise to the challenge, and that what comes out of it is deeply meaningful.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Rosa: That's a really cool sounding exercise. Thanks for sharing it!

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