Doing New Things in Teaching (with more words added later)

(Explained using only the ten hundred words people use the most often, just like at that one not-real place I found with my computer. I wrote this using a thing the guy who makes that not-real place made to help people to write more simply.)

I work at a big college (the kind that has a lot of little colleges in it). This week I went to a meeting where some of the top leaders of my big college talked about how they want a lot of us in my big college to do new things in teaching.

They said a lot of stuff about how teaching is good and how teaching matters a lot to people and how important it is to do new things in teaching . . . and especially how important it is that people in my big college do the new things before anyone else does them.

What they did not say, but I thought I heard anyway, is how they do not really know what teaching is.

Continue reading “Doing New Things in Teaching (with more words added later)”

Why I Don’t Want to Get STEAMed

STEM education is all the rage: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, the collection of disciplines regarded as the most desirable, the most likely to lead to financial success for individuals and economic growth for nations, the obsession of universities and policy makers alike.

I don’t know who was the first to consider the possibility of making a concession to the older and richer tradition of liberal-arts education in the United States, but I’ve also come across the acronym, STEAM, in which the ‘A’ stands for Arts.

That’s nice. Continue reading “Why I Don’t Want to Get STEAMed”

Being on the Same Side

I use a rubric in assessing my students work, set out in tabular form: each row is one of the criteria from the learning outcomes, while the columns indicated degree of mastery, with stronger performance on the left.

When a student comes to see me about an assignment, usually concerned about the final grade – GPA rules all! – I immediately turn to the rubric and discuss specific ways they can improve their performance on the assignment.

Talking to one student, this semester just past, I said, “My goal is to get everyone to move to the left.”

I was taken aback when the student asked, in reply, “My left or yours?”


“We’re on the same side, looking at it the same way,” I replied.

After a moment’s silence, the student said, in wonder, “I’ve never heard a professor say that before.”

It makes me wonder what my colleagues are doing in their own classes, or what students think we are doing, that it never occurred to this particular student that an instructor could be on the same side, with the same goals.

It makes me wonder how many of my colleagues, and how many of my students, think of education instead as an adversarial process?

What can we do to tear down that wall?

Philosophy in 2015

Dr. Leigh M. Johnson’s “Morbidity and Mortality Report” on the travails of Philosophy as a profession in 2014 has started me thinking about my own relationship with the field in which I was trained.

I have often been pleased to point out that I have not worked in a philosophy department since 1998, following instead a career in interdisciplinary programs leading to my current position in the School of Public Policy at Georgia Tech.

I generally say this with a kind of satisfaction, even relief: I have made good my escape from a profession prone to taking itself and its own academic stuffiness far too seriously; I am instead aiming to do work, as a writer and a teacher, that will be of use to people trying to make responsible decisions in difficult circumstances.

I have very pointedly identified myself as a practical ethicist, not as a philosopher.

I now wonder if that was a mistake.

I wonder whether I should take the time to re-establish ties to the field more widely, not in order to remake myself (again) in the image of philosophy as it is now, but to join with others who are working to remake the profession, to recapture the vitality and public engagement philosophy might once have had.

This may be a new project for 2015.

Feral Philosophers!

Something noteworthy from The New York Times, this morning: a call by Steve Neuman, a self-described philosophy journalist, to “Free the Philosophical Beast.”

I have nothing much to add to it, but wish simply to point out a few highlights.

One concerns the reason it is so difficult to engage in meaningful philosophical work in the context of a research university:

But I think the key difference between science and philosophy is that we need the results of science more than we need everyone in the body politic “doing science.” By contrast, we need everyone “doing philosophy” more than we need the results of philosophy. In other words, we don’t need to know or understand how the scientist has gone from the minute molecular intricacies of DNA to a public good like genetic counseling. On the other hand, the emulation of the critical thinking and logical argument of a philosopher is a virtue that can be applied to any area of life — from where you stand on the most important social and political issues of the day to how best to spend the rest of your days on this planet.

Another highlight is the closing passage, which resonates with me in my current ventures in ethics education and in the very conception of this blog as a set of “field notes”:

So “powerful, soft strides” toward the reintroduction of the philosophical beast are being made outside the academy, but I would like to see even more philosophers become feral. Being feral is different from being wild, of course — the philosophical beast that still calls the academy its home just needs a wider space in which to roam, and maybe venture more often outside its walls.

Just let me put on some sturdier shoes.