[lit-ideas] Re: Can U Read Kant?

  • From: "John McCreery" <john.mccreery@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 13 May 2008 23:17:40 +0900

On Tue, May 13, 2008 at 9:48 PM, Phil Enns <phil.enns@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

> This doesn't quite address my question.  The issue for me is not the
> 'U' but the reference to Kant.  If, as educators, we are supposed to
> adopt the ways and manners of our students, leaving behind canonical
> texts and big ideas, who cares whether you or 'U' can read Kant?
As I see it, you confront a real dilemma. Back when I was teaching a
Middlebury College (1972-1976) it rapidly became apparent to me that even
back then there were (1) excellent, serious scholars, who while never
popular, regularly attracted excellent, serious students and (2) popular
teachers who filled lecture halls by reducing their subject matter to
simplistic formulas that students found easy to accept and apply. What I now
hear from friends on other lists is that popularity, measured both by the
number of students in classes and the ratings on course evaluations, has
become a significant factor in tenure and promotion decisions, excellent,
serious scholars who make themselves unpopular by, for example, assigning
too much reading, especially of difficult texts instead of textbooks
deliberately designed along "X for dummies" lines are, in fact, in serious
danger of finding themselves unemployed or, if already tenured, stuck with
no hope of raises or promotions. Worst case, their departments' existence
may be in danger, if the institution in question is forced by economic
pressures to shut down departments deemed unproductive.

Thus, if I were employed by this type of institution and wanted to teach
Kant (or, more likely in my case, Pierre Bourdieu), knowing that my
livelihood depended on remaining popular, I would think long and hard about
how I presented the philosophy. I might, for example, adopt the Buddhist
view that assumes different levels of study for different levels of
enlightenment and teach a lower-level course based on illustrated stories
about the philosopher's life and times into which I would introduce a few
key ideas to tempt more able and ambitious students. I would ask myself how
best to use new media, the Internet, music, and video, as well as classic
theatrical devices to make this intro course as popular as possible. Then, I
would speak privately to students who showed particular promise and offer
them reading courses, i.e., private tutorials, in which we would work
together on the essential texts.

Just brainstorming, but that's what comes to mind.


John McCreery
The Word Works, Ltd., Yokohama, JAPAN
Tel. +81-45-314-9324

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