What You Need To Know…

… about this course.

Teaching Philosophy

The tagline for this blog sums up my pedagogy: “So as to give them courage, we must teach people to be shocked by themselves.” In other words, an education can be jarring or surprising; it can cause a kind of vertigo. New knowledge defamiliarizes old certainties. Ideally, a period of productive confusion empowers people to “think the world.”

There is a difference between getting an education and getting a degree.

To be educated is to claim responsibility for what I think I know. It is to examine the methods by which knowledge is produced. As such, an education is as much an ethical endeavor as an intellectual one. In fact, ethics and intellectual work are inseparable. A real education isn’t simply the acquisition of technical skills in order to accumulate capital for an employer. The point of an education is to develop as an intellectual and ethical being, an activity that ultimately benefits not only the individual but society as a whole.

Some students, teachers, and administrators don’t understand this approach. They instrumentalize education and view it as a commodity. This is especially true of those students who relate to their education as if they were customers consuming a product. We could call it the Burger King model of education. Unconsciously, they have surrendered to reification, to the dictates of a marketized relationship to the world. The market thinks through and for them. I believe an education involves transformation. While ultimately social, the pursuit (or construction) of knowledge is an end in itself. So let’s be clear: you are not a customer and I am not a customer service representative.

1. All of my classes are reading intensive. If you don’t do the reading, then my lectures won’t make sense. Those who don’t like to read should find another course.

2. I believe that if students are not actively being challenged then they aren’t learning. The difficulty of certain assignments requires no justification. The difficulty, the challenge, is your education.

3. I expect “college level writing” in response to paper assignments. I expect my students to think about the course materials.

4. My lecture style is extemporaneous. I tend to address a few central points and often follow avenues of thought as they present themselves. I am not interested in spoon-feeding people oversimplified slogans or factoids to be memorized and then regurgitated on command.

5. I am always open to questions during lecture. I may need to finish a thought before answering, but I encourage people to engage with me. I speak in the language I am comfortable speaking, and which seems appropriate to the topic and occasion. If I use a term that isn’t easily understood, then ask what it means. Be sure of this: I will never talk down to you. Instead, I expect students to actively participate in the development of their vocabularies.

6. All knowledge is situated. There is no pure objectivity or absolute neutrality. Knowledge-formation is political. Social struggles determine what counts as knowledge. I am pretty up front about my own ideological commitments. You are not required to share them, just as I am not required to obfuscate them.

7. Take yourself seriously. You are an intellectual being. Never let anyone tell you otherwise. Intellection is not somehow “elitist” or “snobbish.” Thinking, and thinking about thinking, lies at the very core of our human identity. Commit to your education. Take responsibility for it. As Bertolt Brecht said, “Thinking is one of the chief pleasures of the human race.”

Some Misconceptions

1. GE courses are inconsequential.

On the contrary, GEs are indispensable. All students are required to take them because the content (and methods) they cover are considered absolutely fundamental to a basic education.

2. Criticism is the equivalent of cynicism.

To be critical is to go against the grain, to refuse to automatically conform to the demands of the larger social formation. Critique is the activity of questioning the foundations of thought and practice. Cynicism on the other hand, because it is often reflexive rather than incisive, ultimately reinforces the status quo.

3. “Academia” has nothing to do with “the real world.”

The concept of “the real world” usually functions as an alibi for those too lazy or impatient to think about the very world they claim to fully inhabit. In any case, there is no practice without theory just as there is no theory without practice.

What we do here is important. Scrutinized, the false dichotomy between “academia” and “the real world” doesn’t hold. This is the real world. You’re living it. Right now. And the outcomes of this process are potentially explosive. As Terry Eagleton has observed “If you allow a lot of young people to do nothing for a few years but read books and talk to each other then it is possible that given certain wider historical circumstances, they will not only begin to question some of the values transmitted to them but begin to interrogate the authority by which they are transmitted.”

Advice

1. Use print resources– specifically hard copies of texts, and a notebook with handwritten notes which can then be transferred to a digital format. Typing up your notes is an easy way to deepen and confirm your understanding of readings and lectures. They can also form the foundation of an essay.

2. Use the library and its website, including the databases and journals that you’re already paying for. Google searches are inadequate to the demands of the course. Use scholarly sources. Wikipedia is not a scholarly source. Nor are answers.com, bookrags, and any of the other websites out there which effectively function as cliff’s notes.

3. Give yourself enough time to complete the assignments. Don’t wait until the night before to start a lengthy assignment. You will probably need to devote five hours per week to preparing for class. Note the rhythm of the course: you have four days between the last class of the week and the first class of the next week but only one day between the first and second classes of the same week. Plan your studies accordingly.

4. Go to office hours and/or correspond with me via email.

5. Talk to your classmates. Study together. Discuss concepts or texts that seem challenging. You can learn as much from each other as you can from your professors.

6. Resolve to write the best academic essays you can. Proofread your work. Write more than a single draft. Read your writing aloud, preferably to others. By now you know your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Make use of the LAC or CARP.

7. Ask questions. Take risks. Engage with the course rather than sitting back and passively watching the class meeting unfold. On the other hand, don’t let your loquacity lead you to blurt out whatever pops into your head. Speak to the issues at hand.

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