Test Day

I love test days when I’m teaching.

Granted, I really love every day that I’m teaching. I have had several people ask me over the course of this semester how teaching this philosophy class has been going. My answer, every time: I absolutely love it. Since the moment I stepped into the classroom to teach, I realized that teaching is something I seem to have been “built” for. I was never taught how to teach. I’ve spent most of my time observing how others teach, either in high school, undergrad, or graduate settings.

People teach so differently in so many different situations, and I find that I’m wary of prescribed methods of pedagogy (although I’m sure I could do with some more formal pedagogical training). It’s been so great to just throw stuff against the wall and see what sticks. There are tougher days, when it’s like pulling teeth to get students to engage. There are amazing days when we talk about something I didn’t even plan on. And there are days when teaching the students is actually a method of teaching myself.

But today? Today is a test day. Which is glorious on its own, because (1) I had little prep work, and (2) I’ll get to see the fruit of our labor over the last four weeks (we’ve been discussing philosophy of religion, faith and rationality, and the problem of evil).

What I’m Doing

All has been quiet here lately, and with good reason. I’m doing a lot of interesting things:

  1. I started teaching a high school philosophy class last week, which is a pure joy for me.
  2. I started actually writing my thesis a few weeks ago, and I’m a little over 3000 words in, and working on the next big sections. Hopefully I’ll be around 6-8000 words by the second week of September.
  3. I’ve been coaching a high school cross country team since August 1. Also a joy, but of a different sort.
  4. I’m prepping to teach a freshman orientation class at my university this fall.

All while doing my best to keep the centers of my life focused — just trying to be a present and loving father and husband. I fail a ton, but I’m working hard to make sure the work I do doesn’t hinder or suppress who I am.

This is a good, tiring, slightly overwhelming time for me. I get the sense that I’m moving in a direction that will be highly satisfying for me vocationally — we’ll see where I’m at by the end of 2018.

My other hope is that, while the blog will suffer a little over the coming months, that I pick it back up with full force once things settle down in late November. I love epistemology, but I imagine there will be other areas I want to explore in the future.

Successful Internalization

I don’t often get to verbalize concepts from my thesis. I mean, I do in writing, but I don’t often get to have verbal conversations where I’m explaining the concepts I’m exploring from start to finish. Last night, however, I got the chance to do so while talking to my mom. We discussed my plans for the philosophy class I’m teaching this semester (starting Monday!), and as I explained my hopes and plans for the class, I realized that my primary goal is the following:

I want to simply prepare the seniors taking this class to be courageous when tackling the most difficult questions about the world and humanity — the questions that philosophers and theologians and everyone else have been asking since at least a few thousand years ago. These are questions that are going to be dealt with in college philosophy courses, in their dorm rooms, internally, and on social media. It does no good for us to stick our head in the sand and give the high schoolers pat answers to these questions that no serious philosopher finds convincing or rational.

This purpose is largely driven by my own experience in college philosophy courses. None of my philosophy professors were seeking to destroy or unravel my faith — it just slowly happened over time because I had never been prepared to answer these questions well. Descartes’s problem of knowledge and certainty that he brings up in Meditations on First Philosophy is an important problem to explore, except when you don’t have someone that can walk you through that problem that you trust.

The same can be said for the problem of religious knowledge (the one that I’m addressing in my thesis). This is where the title of this post is coming from. I got the privilege last night of talking through why I think the way I do about religious knowledge now; especially regarding the separation of knowledge categories between objectivity and subjectivity, and why that split is important. The ease with which I explained the problem (and my/Kierkegaard’s proposed solution to the problem) indicated that I have at least successfully internalized that answer to the point of being able to explain it.

That’s a good feeling.

Syllabus Selections

I just finished up my syllabus for the philosophy class I’ll be teaching (starting Monday!). A couple of excerpts —

On Biblical Integration:

Students will examine the Western philosophical tradition in the light of Christian belief, along with the various proofs of God’s existence and their historical relationship to Christian thought. They will also have practice in handling and presenting a Christian response to the issues which could be brought before them in a college philosophy class. We will follow the Apostle Peter as a model for engaging with current philosophical thought: “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15).

Some of our “Classroom Rules”:

1. Students will engage with each other respectfully, even (and especially) in disagreement. Disagreement is encouraged! Disrespect – not so much.

2. Students will actively engage with both the content of the course and with each other during class discussions. This course will only be valuable if we actively dialogue with one another.

3. Students will be brave. This class is an open environment, meant to facilitate the discussion of difficult and challenging ideas. Sometimes this can make us nervous or frustrated. Bravery in such contexts is key!

I stole that last bit from Alan Jacobs in How to Think. Hopefully we will see some engagement and students find the class meaningful. It’s either going to be incredible, or I’ll go down in flames!

Teaching Philosophy

I’ve been spending a ton of time organizing curriculum and a semester-long schedule for a high school (senior-level) philosophy course that I am teaching this fall. It starts in two weeks, and I’m pretty excited to get a crack at teaching in a subject I find both meaningful and necessary.

In the first section of the course, assuming all goes to plan, we’ll be discussing what philosophy is, why it’s important, and how to determine whether we are thinking critically or not. I’ll be using several different resources and articles to make the point, but one of the main things I hope to use is Alan Jacobs’s How to Think — especially “The Thinking Person’s Checklist,” which he placed at the end of his book, but which summarizes his thoughts throughout the book nicely. Here are a few of my favorites on the list:

2. Value learning over debating. Don’t ‘talk for victory.’

6. Gravitate as best you can, in every way you can, toward people who seem to value genuie cmmunity and can handle disagreement with equanimity.

7. Seek out the best and fairest minded people whose views you disagree with. Listen to them for a time without responding. Whatever they say, think it over.

11. Try to describe others’ positions in the language that they use, without indulging in in-other-wordsing.

12. Be brave.

Those last two, in particular are extremely important. One of the values I hope to instill over the course of the beginning section of the course is having no fear when engaging in thought and conversation about a topic that might otherwise make us anxious, afraid, or angry. Not only do those emotional responses hamper good quality discourse, they prevent us from stepping away from ourselves and our biases and incapable of even remotely rational thought. The truth (whatever it might be) ought to make us excited, not scared. And an opinion that is contrary to ours (even if the conclusion fundamentally affects the way we currently view the world) is worth engaging with — otherwise, we are not honestly interested in the truth at all.

We haven’t touched necessarily on what philosophy is (my usual number one question when thinking about a subject), but we are a little closer, by following the rules above, to answering the question, “What is philosophy for?”