Saturday, September 02, 2006

Happy New (Academic) Year!

Classes have now begun. I have been amazed to see how happy I am to be back in the classroom! It's really, I think, a kind of evangelical excitement. I love sharing what I have been so amazed to learn.

My students have been happy, cheerful, and full of good energy. They all participated eagerly in discussion on the very first day of class. I'm looking forward to watching how the semester unfolds.

Some of my colleagues are very interested in the plan to try to start a Peace Studies program at our university. We will start by proposing a Peace Studies minor.

I'm still not feeling as on top of things as I would like: some sabbatical writing projects remain unfinished; my office desperately needs a major overhaul (but I ordered filing cabinets -- that should help!); etc. But even so, as the normal semester busyness begins to take hold, I'm reminded that, for the most part, I love each task that faces me. I don't mind being busy when I'm doing what I love. (I only mind it when it turns into the over-busyness that is simply hard to keep up with because there are not enough hours in the day. But that's not happening...yet.)

So, I am genuinely happy to be back fully in action here! And this is good.

Education is so important. I feel honored to be part of this noble endeavor.


  1. There's often this burst of positive energy at the start of a new academic year, but it feels stronger this year than normal for me too. I have about 50 students per class which makes it hard for the shy students to participate. But I've created message boards for my students to respond to ideas at their leisure. Staying positive throughout the semester is the real challenge. Philosophers often adopt a very objective and "professional" stance in the classroom. This is understandable, we wouldn't want to try to browbeat our students into agreeing with us and we usually see our job as getting students to see a position from many different angles along with the strengths and weaknesses. But it is also good to let students see you as a person and to see why you find philosophy exciting and what you personally think about these issues. I always wonder if I am striking the right balance between the professional and the personal in the classroom. These past few years I think I am letting more of the personal enter the classroom.

  2. I had another "first class" today, and again found myself actually giddy with excitement just before class. This time, the energy of the students was a bit lower. In retrospect, I think it may be because they are coming off the first weekend, and find themselves having to go to class on Labor Day. But I found myself totally undaunted and unbelievably happy, and by the end of class, everyone was more relaxed and laughing and a couple of students told me as they left class, "I think this is going to be a really good class!"

    I was kind of amazed, because usually I am very sensitive to others' energy and when the class is low energy, I have a very hard time not fading myself.

    But, you are right, Richard -- the challenge is keeping the positive energy going througout the semester; and striking the right balance between the professional and the personal; and sharing your own views vs. giving them full space to clarify their own.

    Part of my "evangelical" zeal is exactly to share my enthusiasm about the value of exploring a wide variety of points of view, as well as the value of giving them full freedom to clarify where they stand, and why. So I've become less wary of my own "evangelical" tendencies, since most of that kind of enthusiasm gets channeled towards just sharing my love for exploring a variety of systems of thought.

    In a department retreat last year, we all agreed and affirmed this as an important learning goal for our students: to help them realize that they can explore strange new systems of thought sympathetically without fear of accidentally getting stuck in a system of thought they don't agree with! It still ultimately comes down to their choice. Belief really can't be compelled.

    I tend not to share my own particular views directly until later on, and usually only if I judge that their education will benefit in some way from my sharing.

  3. Yes, I think that openness about what the professor thinks comes better as the course rolls along. Our students are so used to a consumer society that they are inclined to think that deciding on a system of thought is like trying to buy jeans that look cool. Professors must model the behavior they hope the students will adopt. This means real open-mindedness towards "wild" options at the start but then serious level-headed evaluation of which option seems objectively best justified all things considered. So the course needs to move gradually from consideration to decision. At least that's how I think about it.