The teaching meme

Fri 25 Jan 2008 09:06 PM

Janet has tagged me with the following question: Why do you teach and why is academic freedom critical to that effort?

The glib answer is that I teach because it pays the bills, and without academic freedom it would be more fun to work at a coffee shop instead.

A longer answer:

Teaching philosophy is not about teaching students facts or results. It is about maneuvering them so that they confront arguments and struggle with questions. In that sense, teaching philosophy is about getting students to do philsophy. I teach because philosophy is worth doing (and fun), and students ought to do things that are worth doing (and fun.)

When teaching Descartes, for example, the discussion depends on how students respond at first. Sometimes students acquiesce to arguments for the existence of God just because they already believe in the conclusion. With students like these, I need to put on my critical hat and try to get them to see the weaknesses in Descartes' arguments.

More often, students think that Descartes' philosophy is just special pleading for religion. With students like those, I need to put on my Cartesian hat and try to get them to see how the God plays a systematic role in his philosophy.

Effectively engaging students requires that I have both hats available, and that I can choose which to wear as necessary. For other topics, I need further varieties of millinery. And what is academic freedom if not intellectual haberdashery?

I tag Ron.