Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The last time I convinced anyone of anything philosophical was in the classroom

(I've been jabbering about similar things over yonder too; I'll be mostly there from now on.)

Prof. Leiter's comment on the placement data at this post on Philosophy News has generated some heated responses.

I take Prof. Leiter at his word that when he suggested stratifying placement data according to "quality" - "4/4 school with mediocre students" versus "a placement at Princeton" - he was merely pointing out that "individuals have different preferences about different 'kinds' of jobs" rather than saying anything about the relative value or importance or job quality of teaching at a "4/4 school with mediocre students." That is a good point to make. Different people prefer different jobs; information about where departments place students - in mainly teaching positions or at Ivy League schools or nowhere - would be useful for helping people with those preferences make informed decisions.

In any case, I'm glad Prof. Leiter clarified his suggestion because I don't think his comments were put very artfully. And, as such, I don't think that the reactions belie some hyper-sensitivity on the parts of those who were offended because they "want to teach, and welcome the challenge of working with students from non-traditional backgrounds."

The fact of the matter is that many philosophers don't see teaching a 4/4 at an underfunded state school as qualitatively worse than teaching a 2/1 (!!!!) at Princeton. (Though, Prof. Leiter is right that many would prefer the latter over the former [which is a different point than the one about quality]). Those philosophers welcome teaching, see it as an integral part of being a philosopher, and would prefer to do that over research. I'm probably one of them. I like research alright and still actively engage in it, but I prefer teaching.

I think teaching will be my lasting contribution to philosophy. I want to be really good at it and I want to keep doing it. My research won't keep philosophy departments funded or add new members to it. Maybe, if I'm lucky, my research will generate a few citations and a response here or there.

However, the students I convince to be philosophy majors because I taught the hell out of Intro will help keep departments funded and add new members to the discipline. And maybe some of those students might be women or underrepresented minorities or first-generation college students who will bring unique perspectives to old problems or will come up with unique problems using old perspectives. And even if no one becomes a philosophy major because of my classes, I've at least exposed them to ways of thinking that they wouldn't have otherwise been exposed to or never had a chance to think about prior to my class.

Teaching is great. I want a job that lets me do it. I might even want a job that lets me do a lot of it with students who might at first be resistant to philosophy and who wonder why the hell something like philosophy still exists. I want the chance to show them why it exists and I want to see evaluations saying that my class blew their minds or was helpful.

That felt like a confession, but it shouldn't have.

-- Jaded, Ph.D.


Anonymous said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

Spot on.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine at a Catholic university once told me the following: The patron saint of scientists and philosophers is someone who spent decades engaged in what was perhaps the single most important and most extensive philosophical research project ever done in Latin up to that point in time. But history remembers him most for teaching a certain quiet fat kid. (Albert the Great and his pupil Thomas Aquinas, respectively.)

Our accomplishments as teachers are nothing to look down upon, and will have a more lasting impact than the vast majority of journal articles published in any given year.

elisa freschi said...

I wonder whether part of the problem lies in the non-distinction of research and teaching as two *distinct* talents. Teaching is not just "less" than research, it is something else (as you very nicely explained). Some people are willing and able to do both, some are not. It is counter-productive to force a brilliant scholar to do research just because s/he is brilliant or a less-than-brilliant one to teach just because s/he seems "dull".

zombie said...

I hope that stuff is in your teaching statement.

Anonymous said...

Well put. Glad to see you back on the blog! You've been missed.

mysjkin said...


Anonymous said...

I'm stunned by the arrogance of 6:17's post. Hopefully something else was meant and it was simply not artfully constructed.

Anonymous said...

"It is counter-productive to force a brilliant scholar to do research just because s/he is brilliant..."

Um, are people forced to do scholarship? I mean, sure, in that one needs to produce scholarship for tenure, but that's the job, right?

I suppose there are people out there who complain that the only jobs they could land were research-oriented jobs, but I've never met such a person.