I have five aims when teaching philosophy: To teach students to become virtuous adults, to help them develop skills that will allow them to accomplish what they need to accomplish in order to succeed in the world, to impart knowledge of philosophy, to develop in my students the ability and desire to think critically, and to empower my students. Given the diversity of academic cultures, I use a dynamic, experimental approach, at least until a mutual understanding is established with the students of an institution, in order to fulfill my first two aims. I begin each semester with the assumption of mutual trust and respect. I trust that my students will be virtuous students, and I respect their status as adults. I also convey to my students that as students in my class they constitute a learning community. As such, they are encouraged to help themselves and each other, and are forewarned that any act that may obstruct my ability to teach my students or any other student’s ability to learn will have appropriate consequences on community. I understand, however, that it is difficult to be a virtuous student and to fulfill all the responsibilities of being an adult. So I take into consideration the various ways in which my students are responding to my policies and assignments, and I make necessary adjustments so as to help encourage them to fulfill my expectations. I also offer students some general advice as to how they might succeed in my class, and when further help is sought I make an effort to understand student’s difficulties and attempt to work with them in order to help them overcome these difficulties.
In order to fulfill my last three aims, I introduce challenging course material that is intended to provide students with a firm foundation of philosophy if they decide to continue to pursue philosophy in the future. During class, I employ the Socratic method in my lectures, along with the use of diagrams or outlines, in order to draw out various concepts and organize them in a way that will allow my students to understand that these concepts are not beyond their reach. I use a variety of assignments and testing methods, including assigned readings, on-line discussions, student led presentations and discussions, short paper or blog post assignments, exams (multiple right answer, multiple choice), take home papers, new media assignments (e.g., online blog posts and 3-D printer game making), or game play (e.g., “Real World” Monopoly), in order to reinforce what they learned and to encourage them to see how it applies to their practical life. I also provide my students with detailed instructions and clear grading rubrics to make them aware of how their grades are in their hands, and so how they can improve upon them if they choose to do so.