I ran into this little piece on ALDaily, and it reminded me once more that what I’m doing, if I stick to doing it, is a worthwhile way to spend what years I’ve got left breathing air. The best thing about this report is the end, in which Kelly Jolley, the philosophy professor in question, reveals that he’s far more of a Platonist than this amateur teacher of Plato could ever imagine becoming:
Perhaps the dispute between Jolley and his critics boils down to how you define great teachers. You typically think about them as being devoted, above all, to their students. Jolley says his first priority is to philosophy itself. “I care about the discipline of philosophy more than the academic fate of any individual student — and I think I should,” he said. “Otherwise I’m just a baby sitter who occasionally breaks into syllogism.”
At first, I thought, “Wow! That’s great!” Then I realized that I’m not sure I agree with it. (Leave it to a philosopher.) While I don’t think that I should be a babysitter who does syllogisms, I do think that I should take into account students’ levels of ability and make my classes fit them.
On the other hand, I’m not omniscient, and I shouldn’t presume to know whether a student lacks the ability or just hasn’t pushed hard enough, and thus I should keep things difficult and let the students who drop out write their own fates.
Yet effort and ability are not everything in intellectual endeavors. Sometimes, if a student discovers that she can lift the small intellectual weights, she goes on to take on bigger questions and rises philosophy rather than starting out on its level.
But then one can’t wait forever, in a fifteen-week semester, for everyone to rise to the basic competencies that dialectic requires. If one waits until week five for some students, others have missed out on four weeks of more advanced stuff.
I’ll have to do more dialogue with myself on this one. No, that doesn’t make one go blind.
I like the fact that Jolley came out of a Church of Christ background, and I love that he carries his instruction out of the classroom into the world. I admire that he engages in non-credit reading groups with students (I’m trying to get one going with the Dawg Cogitans group), and I nearly said Amen out loud when I found out that his introductory syllabi are filled with primary texts. In other words, if I have the time and strength, I will strive to become this.