REPOST: Why do we make students sit still in class?


According to this article, an educator and mother wonders why many insist classrooms be still and quiet.


Students swing from the monkey bars at Hess Academy in Decatur, Georgia. Physical education and movement are key parts of the curriculum at the private school.

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(CNN) — As a graduate student, I had the opportunity to observe a number of idyllic, progressive classrooms where students danced to the pencil sharpener or sprawled across beanbag chairs while completing their work. I read countless books and articles about research that supports physical activity as part of academic success. It made sense to me — theoretically — that children should be allowed to move their bodies. Asking them to do otherwise, I came to believe, could be detrimental to both the student and the teacher.

Then it got personal. I had two children of my own, two fearless boys who are so busy they don’t have time to stop for uninteresting activities like eating, sleeping or potty training. Our eldest son lobbed himself out of his crib at 10 months and hasn’t stopped climbing since. Putting clothes on our younger son currently involves a high-speed chase followed by a wrestling match and, if we’re lucky, ends with at least one piece of clothing partially in place.

Obviously, it takes more than a little mental and physical effort for them to keep their bottoms in a chair.
This doesn’t bode well for academic success in traditional classrooms, where sitting quietly is a prerequisite for nearly all instruction. I cringe in anticipation of the notes my sons’ constant motion and chatter will prompt future teachers to send home. I worry that their intellectual prosperity will be curtailed by the simple, but daunting, expectation that they sit still for hours each day.

In my household and others, the question looms: Does sitting in any way help students learn? Why do we feel the need to tame students’ physical natures, rather than incorporate them into the learning process? By sending our children off to still, quiet classrooms, are we neglecting meaningful, hands-on learning that could be occurring through physical activity?

After all, the brain is ultimately an essential part of the body, a co-conspirator with those wiggly feet and chatty mouths that get little ones into trouble. As the late arts educator Elliot Eisner reminded us, we learn about the world through our senses, drawing information in through our bodies to feed our understanding of the world.

That the mind is nestled within our physicality is not a new concept, but perhaps a nearly forgotten one in our age of cerebral and cyber wealth. Even in the early 20th century, progressive educator John Dewey famously unbolted the desks from the floors of the classroom, arguing that education stems from experience. More recently, we’ve seen treadmill desks and bouncy balls substitute for desk chairs.

As an educator with an interest in authentic learning, I wonder if that is enough.

As the mother of super-physical children, I worry that it’s not even close to being enough.

The paradigm of the still, quiet classroom with neatly aligned desks unfortunately requires that some students spend a great deal of energy complying with physical restrictions rather than learning. Certainly, at some point, children need to learn to control their bodies. But making it an overriding concern in the classroom might be a waste.

Meanwhile, commitment to recess, art, labs and nearly any type of learning that involves the body is generally dwindling. As an educator and mother, I know that image is fundamentally at odds with the nature of children.
So, educators can either spend a great deal of energy trying to get students to conform to the expectations of quiet focus — or they can change the expectations.

On my quest to find educational arcadia for my children, I explored the options available in our neighborhood. Just looking around at the schools near my home in Atlanta — private, charter and public schools that my children could attend — I found innovative teachers and administrators who don’t want students to sit still and work quietly. They’re making changes to schools’ physically restrictive natures, sometimes for entire buildings, and sometimes just at the classroom level.

It wasn’t always obvious, and required me to ask questions and look closely at how classrooms were set up. Here were three educators I found who were finding ways to make movement a part of how their students learn.

Movement is the mission

Just as my concerns about my sons’ educational futures began to crescendo, we struck gold. A progressive private school opened mere steps from our front door. Focused on experiential education, a sense of community and child-focused flexibility, Hess Academy has my oldest, wiggliest son flourishing.
According to Kristen Hess, the principal and founder of Hess Academy, movement in the classroom is an extension of student choice.

“As adults we have the option of movement available to us,” she told me. “We fidget or doodle, we get up to stretch our legs, we walk to the back of the room, but we don’t give this option to children.”
The best learning environment, she said, has different options, not just a standard solution for all students. I could see her philosophy at work in a classroom where students worked, some sitting at tables, some stretched across the floor and some using their chairs as writing surfaces.

Hess’ first foray into education was as a gymnastics instructor and her active nature coalesced with her learning philosophy when she entered graduate school, she said. There, it became clear that “expecting children to disconnect from their bodies isn’t natural. We have five senses for a reason.”

Hess sees at least three roles for movement in the classroom: It’s a way to optimize focus and attention, to release pent-up energy so students can focus on a different activity, and as a vehicle for learning. Taking advantage of just one of these aspects, she explained, is usually insufficient.

“Unfortunately there is a trend of decreasing movement in our daily lives and spending less time outside,” Hess said. “We have to counter that in the classroom by giving students time to interact in meaningful ways. All of our teachers believe that movement enhances learning.

“The more you can use your body, the better you can learn concepts.”

The school itself has the feel of a beehive. During a recent visit, once class was moving around the school on a scavenger hunt. In another class, students scattered around the room to discuss ideas and create drawings for “Think Out of the Box Thursday,” where they transformed a given shape into creative creatures and inventions. The littlest ones conducted an experiment, setting an insect buffet outside their classroom window to see which foods ants would eat.

The activity often extends outdoors. The days typically started and ended on the playground, where all students got a physical outlet to burn off their extra energy before even entering the school. It’s an extension of the classroom, a place that marries play and learning.

Recently, when I arrived to pick up my son, I found him scouring the playground to locate and identify insects or collect food for caterpillars and grasshoppers. It wasn’t just my child’s curiosity at work; it was part of a classroom unit on bugs.

The learning comes home, too: His classroom’s tadpoles inspired him to give us nightly tadpole updates and regularly re-enact the birth of a tadpole from its egg by curling up under a blanket and popping out.

Many parents might assume that such freedom of movement means classroom chaos. They might believe their child would never succeed in such a setting, and they might be right: Not all children are suited to this kind of environment and not every teacher is comfortable or capable of managing it.

Truthfully, I would be skeptical had I not witnessed enough classroom settings to see that this approach works — but only if it is coupled with a clear structure. This is particularly important during transitions. Teachers who embrace this flexibility need the finesse to effectively shift students from less restrictive activity to more organized work. Knowing the students, their limits and strengths is key to understanding what techniques might work best.

Teacher Megan Anderson Angiulo explained that her classroom management techniques varied from year to year depending on the class. If she wanted to get students’ attention during a less-restrictive activity, she gave them a physical prompt, such as “Put your pencils down and put your finger on your nose.”
Redirecting their entire bodies — not just their brains — effectively moved students in the next direction. With a different class, she might clap a rhythm that students would repeat. With her current group, she laughed, that would set off a clapping frenzy. She’ll save the applause technique for another year.
“Ultimately,” she said, “you have to trust that they want to learn.”

Matching student and teacher

Not all parents have the resources or the desire to send their children to private school. It didn’t seem like an obvious option for my family, and I’m still surprised that we were able to make it happen. Fortunately, there are options. Although the freedom of movement might not be an explicit part of every school’s curriculum, teachers in all kinds of schools are trying to incorporate movement into their classrooms.

At the International Community School, a public charter school near my home that offers an International Baccalaureate, I found fourth-grade teacher Drew Whitelegg.

He makes a point of allowing a lot of movement among his students. His curriculum is inspired in part by Jonathan Kozol’s book “Letters to a Young Teacher,” which explains that kids are good at moving and talking a lot — and yet, institutions are surprised when students struggle to sit still and stay quiet.

“If you try to fight the restlessness and impulsive nature of children, you end up denying an important developmental stage,” said Whitelegg, who served as a soccer coach before becoming a teacher. In addition, “it sets up disciplinary issues where students are in trouble for nothing other than the need to move.”

In the classroom, students moved constantly — at their own discretion and at the request of the teacher. I saw one student sit in a swivel chair with wheels so she could oscillate rhythmically during the lesson. A soccer ball lingered under the feet of one student, and then another.

During a math lesson on place value, a group of students lined up in front of the class holding numbers ranging from .001 to 100. Using the soccer ball as a decimal point, Whitelegg asked the class to put the numbers in order. He demonstrated the lack of symmetry on either side of the decimal point by moving the students so their line folded in half.

While movement wasn’t part of the entire school’s mission, Whitelegg explained that teachers try to match rising students’ needs with teachers’ strengths. His classroom often winds up with students who need to move.
His classroom can look chaotic compared to others, he said. Recognizing that his colleagues tend to use teaching models that support a quiet classroom, he said that he is more comfortable in a more dynamic environment — and so are the children that end up in his classroom. He emphasizes the need for students to learn boundaries early in the school year and to build a classroom culture in which students know what to expect.

“As a teacher you try to remember what you were like when you were 9 or 10 years old,” he said, “and you start from there.”

Controlling the chaos

Finally, I visited our local public school, where you might expect it to be most difficult for teachers to rethink traditional classroom expectations. Unlike private schools that have the liberty to approach education in unconventional ways, public school teachers are beholden to an entirely different set of expectations and standards. Although teachers at the school attested to administrative support for unconventional strategies, it seemed conditional on rising test scores. It is easy to understand why teachers under such scrutiny might avoid taking risks, but some teachers are up to the challenge.

I met Carlita Scarboro, a first grade teacher, at Laurel Ridge Elementary, near Atlanta. Scarboro’s classroom is active and lively, full of confident and convivial students.

“Making them sit,” she said, “creates problems with behavior.”

Scarboro’s interest in allowing movement in the classroom originated with her experiences with her own son, who was diagnosed with a mild form of autism. Her experiences volunteering at her son’s school and her background in business and event planning informed her “rogue” teaching philosophy: Her classroom, she believes, is a lab.
“I like to take them out for field work,” she said.

Getting students involved in activities allows them to better grasp the content they’re studying, she said.
“You can reach them on all different levels,” Scarboro said. “If they sit there, they zone out and they’re not engaged.”

In her class, students watched a video on goods and services, then followed it with an activity: Pairs of students wrote scripts and used props to act out the parts of consumer and producer and to portray the laws of supply and demand. I saw how their bodies became part of the learning, with students celebrating vocally and physically when they answered correctly on the group quiz that followed.

Scarboro moved herself, her students and their work around the classroom to keep them on their toes. Students moved from the rug to their tables and to various part of the room to submit papers or deliver the lunch count to the cafeteria.

Allowing movement in the classroom requires a lot of classroom management, Scarboro told me, and despite the motion and noise, it was highly structured. There were clear signals to transition from one activity to another, to quiet down or shift students’ attention.

She built in some organization in fun, easy-to-understand ways, too. At the beginning of the year, students were organized into teams and their spots on the carpet were color coded to coordinate with their table and team mascot — orange tigers, red puppies and green geckos. She said it’s important to establish definitive parameters at the beginning of the year and not to change them. Having such “stops” in place allows her to give the students more leeway later on in the school year.

“Kids need to feel like they are part of the action,” she said. “It makes a big difference when you feel like part of the process.”

Finding the right fit

My family emitted a collective sigh of relief when we found a school that was a perfect fit for our kids and their persistent levels of activity. With a little effort, I believe other families can do the same; it’s clear that teachers in all kinds of situations can push the limits of traditional physical restrictions in schools.

In my own curriculum, as a professor, I have built more and more movement into our classroom activities, forsaking the traditional format of lecturing to her students. It’s often an uphill battle for students who expect a “sage on the stage,” but the benefits have been rewarding. I see fewer students drag themselves to my classes with dread, falling asleep at their desks or noodling around on their cell phones and more students are meaningfully engaged with the content.

For parents like me, who see their children struggling to maintain the still, quiet expectation in school, I encourage seeking out educators and schools that allow opportunities for children to learn through their bodies.
It might mean visiting classrooms, talking to teachers or cornering the parents of older students for guidance. It could be as simple as calling the principal and saying, “Listen, my kid is a mover. Who can handle that best?”
It is not always easy, but it can be done.


Lou Habash is a philosophy professor in New York. Log on to this Facebook page for more updates.

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True wisdom: Knowing what you don’t know

Aristotle once said, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”
When I first read this quote from the great philosopher, it took me some time to realize its true meaning. But soon after, I understood what he meant and it opened my mind to the reality of knowledge and learning.

Learning is a never-ending pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, a continuous process. We can really never say that we already learned everything. If we believe that we know everything already, we may have failed to realize the true essence of knowledge.

The depth of wisdom is endless. Thus, Aristotle pointed out that as soon as we started to know more, we will realize how much more we still need to know. And in realizing this, we will understand that the knowledge we have is small compared to the many more things we can still learn.

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Before, I thought that learning all the major and minor chords of the piano is enough to say that I have already mastered the instrument. But then, after more years of study, I found out that there are still several scales to master aside from the basics and that there are still inversions and intervals to include in my playing.
I realized that there are still so many things for me to learn. This is what Aristotle meant.

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REPOST: Can We See Philosophy? A Dialogue With Ernie Gehr

An interview with Ernie Gehr, one of the most influential avant garde filmmakers about his philosophical views was published in this New York Times article.

The common currency of philosophy is language. But does it have to be?

In other words, can a non-verbal, visual experience qualify as philosophical inquiry? Can philosophy be an act of seeing rather than a verbal one? Can it be a film? Can the vehicle of expression be light?

Not surprisingly — we are discussing philosophy after all —the answers to these questions vary. Some claim that a film can not do the “hard work” of philosophy — that is, the detailed, often complex reasoning that spoken and written language can perform so thoroughly. While distinguished written works in the 20th century by thinkers like Stanley Cavell established film as an appropriate subject for philosophy, the question of whether a film itself can be or do philosophy remains more contentious.

Ernie Gehr is generally considered one of the most penetrating and influential avant garde filmmakers working today. Gehr, who was born in 1941 and is often grouped with the “structuralist” filmmakers of the 1960s and ‘70s like Michael Snow and Hollis Frampton, creates non-narrative works — sometimes jarring or disorientating, often meditative — that naturally raise questions about the physical world and human perception. (This 2011 New York Times article by Manohla Dargis is an excellent general introduction to Gehr’s work.)

Whether or not one accepts the film-is-philosophy assertion, Gehr’s work falls firmly into the realm of direct experience and inquiry. According to the film scholar and writer Scott MacDonald, whose series of “Critical Cinema” interviews with filmmakers are a standard source in the field, Gehr is one of a number of filmmakers whose work is animated by the “idea of using cinema as a retraining of perception, often of slowing us down so that we can truly see and hear.” Works like his 1991 film “Side/Walk/Shuttle” subvert the viewer’s learned sense of motion, environmental sound and gravity. His most famous film, the 1970 “Serene Velocity,” uses a single drab interior — a hallway in an academic building at SUNY Binghamton — to do the same with our sense of perspective, space and light. Many of his more recent works (he has made nearly 50 since switching from film to video, for financial reasons, in 2004) pose the same challenges.

As a filmmaker, Gehr makes no particular claims to philosophy, but believes that the various components that go into the viewing experience, including the material of film and video themselves, are “all part of the experience of consciousness.” Film, he wrote in 1971, “does not reflect on life, it embodies the life of the mind.”

With the idea that philosophy is connected to and enriched by and sometimes advanced by other arts, I interviewed Ernie Gehr for The Stone at his home in Brooklyn in September. The occasion for this talk is a premiere screening of five of Gehr’s new video works, all from 2013, to be held at Lincoln Center on Sunday, Oct. 6, as part the New York Film Festival’s “Views From the Avant Garde,” where 45 programs of avant garde films and videos are being shown this week.

Below are edited excerpts from our discussion.

Peter Catapano, editor, The Stone.
STONE: The visual diet of ordinary people — at very least the 2.5 billion or so who are connected to the Internet — has changed drastically in the past two decades. The amount of created visual language we consume — photos, television, movies and video clips — is exponentially larger and the pace at which we consume it much quicker. How do you think a young person raised in this environment would see your films?

E.G.: I don’t know. Most likely it would vary from one individual to the next. There are definitely differences — I wouldn’t say in languages but in techniques.

For example, movies from an earlier period, say the ‘50s or ’60, may now seem very slow to some people because the cutting or action was not as fast as in contemporary movies. The cutting was minimal, with some exceptions — 20 seconds, whatever. Now commercials and television have become great factors in people being able to just such switch channels. I’m using the term “commercial” in a really neutral sense; I’m not putting anything on it.

Likewise with sound. In order to keep people’s attention, movies use sound more intensely now than ever before. The idea of a moment of silence, for example — a producer would panic if a director would do that. It’s also played in movie theaters at a higher volume than it’s ever been. I just find it too much sometimes.

It doesn’t mean that people are picking up on things more rapidly than they did 40, 50, 100 years ago. I doubt it. It’s just that these rapid cuts — the best examples are contemporary coming attractions, TV commercials or MTV — are not involved with making you see something or reflect upon something.

Maybe if human creatures are around 1,000 years from now something will happen to our wiring. If things keep moving in the same direction, maybe humans will be able to pick things up faster. But I don’t think there’s much difference between now and 20 or 30 years ago, aside from the added stress in our daily lives.

I’m still very much involved in challenging myself and the viewer. I want to see. I want an experience of a work. Someone is making something — I really want to understand what that person has created. I want to have a sense of the work, as a human experience, hopefully making my life a little bit richer. And that takes time. It takes time to see things. It’s not that my vision is so slow. But I really need time, and I think so do other people.

Sometimes when some of my work moves slowly it’s to force someone in a way, including myself as a viewer, to actually look at what is there, to discover things. I don’t see everything I’ve recorded or put together or recorded till later on.

I find it really pleasurable. And part of it comes from looking at paintings and listening to music — over and over and over again. I’m talking about not songs but instrumental music, where I try to understand how a passage here may go with something that I might have heard earlier.

STONE: What sort of music do you listen to?

E.G: I listen to mostly, but not exclusively, classical music. My favorite composer is Charles Ives. He constantly surprises me. Here you have music, especially if you hear his work in a concert hall, you hear it almost for the first time. It’s amazing how much is happening. And if you don’t pay attention, it’s a problem.

STONE: A recent article in The Times noted how large museums are moving towards proving the public an “experience” — like the recent “Rain” exhibition at MOMA —rather asking them to sit and look at something static. Is it true that people want to be in control of an experience or is it more about capturing more people into a space?

E.G.: Numbers seem to play a huge role. The more people that come to a museum, the better — as far as the museum goes. And part of it, I totally understand. Museums are getting larger and larger, and employing more people and there are more and more expenditures and in order to survive, they need greater attendance. But it’s a dual thing — the more people you have, it’s like going to a shopping mall, and it becomes difficult to have an experience.

I sound elitist in that respect but I don’t mean it that way.

I used to enjoy going to museums very much because it was a place where … I’m not sure I would use the word meditation, because when I am focused on something I am actually quite tense. I try to see it with all my senses and that means I can’t think about myself so much but respond to everything that’s there as fully as I can. And that really requires time and concentration.

And people don’t have time now.

STONE: If you look at the very popular new age trend of meditation, of trying to slow down and reduce stress by finding quiet time — we find something akin to self-help versions of what a viewer might get watching some of your work, which is very focused on certain images and forces the viewer to pay attention. Do you think there is some sort of need for people to focus the mind in this way, even though they think they want more and more stimulation?

E.G.: The first work of mine that you saw was “Still” (1969-1971). Part of what I was interested in was going counter to the grain of the quick take. This was the era of the Vietnam War, and you would see films that were for or against the war. I always felt like these movies were at the time hitting me on the head telling me “this is good” or “this is bad.” I couldn’t think for myself when I was seeing any of these works. And I wanted very much some work that would just feed me information, just neutral, just report. I like to decide for myself. Because the world is made up of so many people, with so many different perspectives. We’re not going to agree on everything. And to tell me it’s good or bad is always, among other things, an oversimplification of reality. And by reality I don’t mean just world events but even what we are looking at. So “Still” was in part made with some of that perspective.

And if you look at it even in terms of subject matter — forget about how weird it looks for a second. Here you have a shot of a street [31st Street in Manhattan], fairly common, mundane. There is nothing special about it, nothing sexy, attractive about it. Some people are passing by. So if you sit there in this movie theater and you start looking, and let’s say you’re not interested in formal perceptual issues, you watch this minimal amount of cars passing. What is this image? It’s an urban setting. Buildings across the street. There’s a store, “Early American.” Next to it, Kastos, a soda/lunch place. There’s a tree surrounded by concrete. Nature exists in this way in an urban setting. We’re not in the country.

So it gives you time to reflect upon that. Also the concrete, the street, there’s just continual traffic. I know it’s horrible — the sound. So how good is that for human existence? Maybe you’ll think about that maybe you won’t. So without my telling you this is good or bad for you, it’s just presenting to you, just giving the continual take, no editorial, just showing you, not just the exciting moments. It’s just a continual take, letting you decide whether that is good for human existence.

STONE: In an attempt to respect the categories of philosophy, I looked into some views on the distinction between film criticism and film philosophy and came across this in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Whenever scholars attempt to spell out what film is (Is film art? How is it different from other arts?) their discourse becomes necessarily philosophical.” Do people who actually make films think about questions like this?

E.G.: Yes. That is an issue. What is it you are making? It’s always an issue.

In the late 1960s, I had recently completed my first two 16-millimeter films — a short piece called “Morning,” and “Wait.” Around that time, I went to see an Ingmar Bergman film called “The Seventh Seal.” These big philosophical questions about life and death. And I kept saying to myself, O.K, this is a big issue you’re talking about. But you’re not talking about film. I made these two little pieces that have to do with light, and the absence of light. Each frame is recorded at a different exposure so it’s either existing or not existing.

What is film? Why work with it? It’s like why do you use paint? Or why do you use paper and pencil or written language? It was very important, yes.

But things just happen. There was no particular course where one thing led to another. I didn’t start saying, “So what is film?” then came up with some idea. It was worked out intuitively, and a lot had to do with life experience with the medium of film, of going to the cinemas from childhood on and having different responses — to the place where the movies where shown, to the image and screen, to what the movies were doing to me, psychologically and especially emotionally, being kind of moved in different directions and finding that I had no control over them. So that molded to some degree my coming to film.

But another factor was coming across a flip book. It might have been before I was 10 or somewhere in my early teens. Somebody gave me this flip book, just sheets of paper and as you use your thumb to move those sheets, still images take on a life, they start to move, but you can move them forward and backwards, you can flip it around. If you take out the staple as I did in that point in time, and shuffled those images around you could get somewhat of a warped image from the straight look of what was there, say, someone jumping over a fence.

This was something I felt I could do myself. I wasn’t thinking “Oh, I can work with John Wayne in 35 millimeter!” This was real; it was exciting to me, the possibilities that were there. The relationship of a still to a moving image — that was so haunting. And I think my clearest articulation — thought not the only one — I made in that respect is the work “Serene Velocity.” It deals with space, and what happens on the plane, with the fact that you are working with this deep space and the same time with frames, no movement. It’s all in the way we see. It’s real. The experience of space is real.

It is a question that is always haunting me: What is it that I’m working with? It’s also, What is a film? What is a digital work? Is it the physical item? Is it the projector? The strip of film? The tape? The disc? It’s all part of it. It’s mixed media. And the way these things all interact tell us so much about human perception and experience and the way one sees anything in the world.

I do reflect upon that. And if that is reflected in the work it needs to come from within the work, rather than something superimposed.

STONE: Like in the Bergman film, where they ask the question or state the problem and we or the characters are meant to think about it? But you are using the language of the image instead.

E.G.: Yes. And it requires the viewer to lean forward and ask these questions. What are these 16 or 18 or 24 flickerings? What is meant by the “life” of the film? You pull the plug, and there is no film on the screen. You close your eyes and there is no film, even if there is one on screen. So these are questions that do weigh. How to articulate them with the medium? You need to reflect upon the medium itself. What are the characteristics of the medium and how can you make them come alive for someone else?

Photographic emulsions, those chemicals — they are so alive. Light strikes them and there’s this phenomenal thing happening. You have to respond to that. You have to imagine and try to bring that alive in a work. And that’s not easy.

Lou Habash believes that philosophy still has a place in this world. You can find more links to philosophy articles at this Twitter page.

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REPOST: Young Graduates Struggle Whether They Majored in Engineering or Philosophy

This Wall Street Journal article reports the struggle of Americans on financial crisis and unemployment rate.

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For young Americans trying to make their way in a tough economy, getting a skill that’s in-demand will help — but it’s no guarantee of a steady job.

The Wall Street Journal over the weekend reported on the struggles of America’s young adults, who are coming of age in the worst economy since the Great Depression. Five years after the financial crisis, the unemployment rate for Americans under 25 is 15.6%. Those lucky enough to have jobs have seen their inflation-adjusted wages fall, and many are stuck working part-time.

The story focused on a pair of employed-but-struggling 23-year-olds in St. Louis, Emily Koehler, a graduate of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Derek Wetherell, who is three semesters shy of a degree from the same school. The friends both majored in social sciences (Mr. Wetherell in political science, Ms. Koehler in an interdisciplinary mix of political science and sociology). That led several readers to wonder whether Mr. Wetherell and Ms. Koehler might be better off if they had studied something with more real-world applications — and, by extension, whether this generation’s struggles are at least partly of their own making.

“Are you oblivious to the idea that maybe what these people choose to do with their learning years has something to do with their inability to get a job?” read one fairly typical reader email.

It’s absolutely true that college majors matter. In 2010-2011, unemployment rates for recent college graduates ranged from 4.8% for those with nursing degrees to 14.7% for those studying “information systems,” according to a May report from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. (Political science was indeed near the bottom of the list, with an 11.1% unemployment rate.) What you study affects what you earn, as well: The median wage for recent engineering graduates was $54,000, compared to $30,000 for humanities and liberal arts majors. The earnings gap was even wider for graduates with more work experience.

Such figures can be misleading, however. For one thing, they lump together graduates regardless of where they went to school or how they did there. There’s also a reason many students choose not to major in math and science –those subjects are hard. Moreover, it isn’t always obvious which degrees will turn out to offer the best job prospects four years later; many students who enrolled in nursing programs in the belief they’d offer a sure-fire career have discovered that the nursing shortage turned into a glut while they were in school.

Beyond such intricacies, however, lies a larger truth: This remains an unusually challenging job market for practically everyone, especially the young. Engineers and computer programmers have it better than most, but even most of them face unemployment rates well above their prerecession levels. Wages have been stagnant for all but a few of the most specialized workers. There are 2.7 million fewer employed young people today than there should be based on prerecession employment levels — it’s safe to say not all of those missing workers should be java developers.

Indeed, recent research from economists at Yale University found that while the wage gap between college majors usually grows during recessions, that was less true this time around — the recent recession was so severe that its affects were felt across the board.

Still, there’s no doubt that some members of this “lost generation” are more lost than others. Those with readily marketable skills are more likely to be employed, and more likely to earn a decent wage, than those without. But to some extent, that’s the point: In a time of low unemployment and healthy job growth, young people have a chance to overcome early mistakes, whether small, like picking the wrong major, or large, like failing to complete school. The prolonged weak recovery means this generation hasn’t had that opportunity.

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REPOST: ‘Ender’s Game And Philosophy,’ New Book, Asks: ‘How Queer Is Ender?’

The movie adaptation of the novel, Ender’s Game gained attention from movie reviewers. Know their thoughts from this Huffington Post article.

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The upcoming film adaptation of the bestselling novel, Ender’s Game has received a lot of attention, not for finally adapting the sci-fi classic into a blockbuster movie, but instead due to the book’s author, Orson Scott Card, and his virulently anti-gay opinions.

Card, whose views on gay marriage have long been publicly known, first came under attack from earlier this year when DC Comics hired him to write a new digital Superman comic series, which ended with the illustrator leaving the comic over Card’s views and a petition being signed by thousands of readers calling for Card’s firing.

The adaptation of Card’s book is slated for a tentpole November release, and now with the cast and director doing the press rounds for the movie at places such as Comic-Con, they are having to field questions about the author’s anti-gay statements, and the controversy is poised to take the hype away from the film itself.

While the author himself may be anti-gay marriage, a book hitting store shelves in October, Ender’s Game and Philosophy asks in one of its chapters, “How Queer is Ender?” A detailed look into the gay themes of the book, reveals that Ender may more queer than the reader might think. Below is the chapter which details how one of the great science fiction books of our time, written by an outspoken gay marriage critic, may just be more queer than originally thought.

“How Queer Is Ender?” from Ender’s Game and Philosophy published by Open Court Publishing

“Furor over Orson Scott Card’s anti-gay views drives ‘Superman’ illustrator to leave comic,” reads a recent headline on “Entertainment Weekly’s” website.

Artist Chris Sprouse stepped down as the illustrator working with Card. The author of Ender’s Game is not shy about his anti-gay-marriage stance, and because of that many people protest his work. Card, who serves on the board of the National Organization of Marriage (a group that works to advocate against gay marriage) does not just believe gay marriage is wrong, but that homosexuality itself is an immoral danger to society and the soul.

As virulent as Card’s anti-homosexuality stance is, it seems there’s a good chance that we can find anti-gay messages in “Ender’s Game!” It’s not a stretch, as the main bad guys are the “buggers,” which is a term often used for gay men. But we think there may be more beneath the surface of the story. Interestingly, we’ve found that Ender’s Game may actually be very sympathetic to forbidden male love . . .

There are many who argue that Orson Scott Card is in fact homophobic, and whether he is or not, we can say that he certainly is a proponent of heteronormativity, the idea and tendency towards treating heterosexuality as normal and homosexuality as odd, wrong, or queer. In Kate Bonin’s “Gay Sex and Death in the Science Fiction of Orson Scott Card,” Card is quoted as having said: “Gay rights is a collective delusion that’s being attempted.”

It’s queerness that is our focus here, because calling someone “queer” has its roots in calling someone “weird,” making him or her an outsider or “Other.” The term has been used derogatorily against gays, but recently over the last couple of decades the term is now also used to describe a philosophical movement called “Queer Theory.” And it helps us understand how books like Ender’s Game create gender, sexual, and identity categories that don’t exist biologically. In fact, if the queer theorists are right, then it seems as a society we create our own “buggers”—scapegoats; people we can treat like insects, to help us establish our place on the “inside,” solidifying our traditions, roles, and hierarchies.

Identifying the Enemy

Imagine that a father and son are on a ship that is attacked by a horde of Buggers. Both men are horribly injured. Luckily, Ender is not far from the scene and, in another bout of heroic violence, makes quick work of the Buggers and rescues the hapless victims. Finally, after a tragically long time, Ender gets them to a hospital. They are both rolled into the emergency room at once. The doctor walks into the room, looks down, and pronounces the father dead. Looking at the boy, however, the doctor says, “I cannot operate on him; he’s my son.”

How is this possible? . . . Think on it for a moment.

Do you find the answer comes to you easily? The doctor is the boy’s mother. Most people struggle with the answer. We’ve heard many interesting answers ranging from, “Was the doctor Jesus?” to “Was the doctor the father’s clone?” But by far the rarest answer is, “The doctor is the boy’s mom.” Why? Well, the answer is one that has motivated a great deal of feminist and queer theoretical thought. Queer theory actually has its beginnings in feminism — not just the political feminism that tells us that women are equal to men, but in the feminist insight that our society, language, and norms all work to repress women. That’s why the doctor riddle is one many people find impossible to solve.

Haven’t you ever noticed that, when it comes to many professions, the respected ones are imagined as male? What do you imagine when you imagine a doctor? How about a nurse? Who do we think of when we think of a pilot? How about a flight attendant? Professor? Teacher? Notice that over and over again in the highest level professions we imagine men, but the lowly ones . . . women. What about a Major, or Admiral? When you think of the military, does a woman come to mind in any rank? We bet that we could have changed our riddle some so that its focus was an Admiral, rather than a doctor, and it would have the same result. . . .

Almost all of the terms we use to describe something posi- tive have a masculine connotation and all of the weak and negative terms have a feminine connotation. “He runs like a girl,” and “He throws like a girl,” are examples of the fact that it’s part of our linguistic and social psychology to believe women are inferior. And our language helps maintain that Otherness. Our female author has even been told (and not just by men), “Don’t be such a girl” which is not just impossible but really, really offensive and it is not accidental that there is no feminine equivalent of “manning up” to something. So the short story is that our society has a deep disrespect for women, and it isn’t their intellectual or physical inferiority that results in only one girl attending Battle School, but the fact that society purposefully keeps them down.

This Othering has led many thinkers to consider the ways we identify a person or a group of persons as others. Gay men, for example, are treated very much as Others in our society. Consider how often gay men, especially, are in danger of violence and abuse. Generally, we applaud masculinity as the best characteristic a person can have. Much in the way that Rose the Nose (commander of Rat Army) waggles a massive virtual penis in front of the boys, our society seems to say, “Be in awe of this, but don’t like it! If you do, then you are queer.” What we begin to realize is that if we have a deep disrespect for women in our society—as evidenced by our language—then part of the reason we have such deep disrespect of homosexuality, especially on the part of men, is because they are “choosing” to be feminine. In other words, we treat them as people who must want to be abused because they could be on the “inside”—men who are proud of their masculinity—but instead choose to be outsiders. They disgrace the awesomeness of being a man by choosing to indulge in the lesser, the Other, the feminine.

It is not uncommon for ancient texts to admonish men for reducing themselves to “womanliness” while praising the virtues of being a man. We often read those texts as making statements about homosexuality, but the idea “homosexuality” is new, while hatred for the feminine is very old. In fact, one verse from the Bible’s book of Leviticus, (18:22 “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable”) is often used by opponents of gay marriage to indicate that homosexuality is sinful, but, historically, it is more likely a condemnation of men willingly taking on a subservient—women’s—role.

When we consider the historical context, we realize that ancient cultures differentiated between the “right” way for a man to have sex with a man and the “right” way for him to have sex with a woman. Sex between two men was common and respected in ancient Greece, but this sex usually occurred while both men were standing, facing one another as equals. This differed greatly from the subservient, bent-over position women (who could not be citizens) were expected to take during sex. So, the admonition is against men who willingly play the role of the lesser (the woman), rather than against sharing their bodies or their love with other men.[1]

Being a Bugger

What is important to realize, from a queer theory perspective, is that man and woman, and heterosexual and homosexual are not clear biological categories. We are of course taught that boys have a penis and girls don’t. (In other words, the boys have something special that the Other, the girls, lack.) We’re also taught that there is a clear line between straight and gay. This is especially true for men. We have some acceptance for bisexual women, but any man who claims attraction to men is immediately, and permanently, placed in the category, “gay.”

Firstly, let’s look at why queer theorists think those distinctions make no sense. Well, obviously there are more “sexes” than male and female. There are, of course, hermaphrodites, for instance. And do you really want to say “having a penis” or “having testicles” makes someone a man? Are all men who have had their penises or testicles removed no longer men, even if it was in some sort of military accident? What about men who have been castrated due to cancer or illness?

We might argue what makes male-female is having either XY or XX chromosomes. But there are people who have XXY or XXX chromosomes. There are even cases in which someone has a penis and looks like what most of us would consider a “man” but has no Y chromosome! So how the heck are we supposed to divide the sexes into just two when there are so many different phenotypes (people who have one penis, a vagina, or two penises, or a penis and a vagina and so on) or different genotypes (people who have XX, or XY, or XXX, or XXY, or XYY)!?

Secondly, can we really be sure that there are just “straight” and “gay”? Sure, there are bisexuals, but even the whole idea that there are “homosexuals” is a relatively new one. During ancient times, there was no real idea of homosexuality. People were attracted to different people. It was not unusual for a man to engage in a same-sex relationship in his youth and then go on to marry a woman and have children later on. Even during the middle ages there was no clear concept of sexuality as we view it now. The distinction was mostly between “sin” and “not sin.” Sodomy (also, interestingly, called buggery) was pretty much any sexual action that was sinful, which was not specific to homosexual relationships.

Although laws against sodomy (those sexual practices deemed to be deviant, often including sex between two men) became common by the middle ages, laws against being gay really don’t become common practice until the nineteenth century, as is the case with the Labouchere Amendment of 1885, which made it possible to prosecute a man for homosexuality even if sodomy could not be proven by making a vaguely defined idea of “gross indecency” illegal. As a result, the amendment made it, by default, grossly indecent to be homosexual, regardless of sodomy. Famously, this act was used to prosecute Oscar Wilde (author of A Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest whose “love that dare not speak its name” can be found in many theorists’ interpretations of A Picture of Dorian Gray).

If queer theorists and current scientific theories are correct, we all exist not as heterosexual or homosexual, but on a spectrum from preferring same-sex sexuality to opposite-sex sexuality.

(Queer theorists would even complain about categorizing people as being “same” sex or “opposite” sex, but for the sake of concise communication, we’ll stick with those terms). Some people are biologically predisposed to being interested in the same sex and some the opposite sex, but there would also be many people in between—not just bisexual people, but people who mostly prefer men or mostly prefer women. In our society, we’re terrified to think that many of us are born somewhere on the middle of this spectrum, because we’ve been taught to hate and fear same-sex relationships, so we cannot even think about it!

Books like Ender’s Game are part of what defines our gender roles for us. Philosophers like Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick help us understand how literature and language help define and express gender and sexual roles. We read Ender’s Game and learn that most women don’t belong in Battle School. They should be empathetic, like Valentine and to a lesser degree like Petra, and love us and support us in our violent (even genocidal) rages. And we learn that even if we like to look at male bodies, that we gotta be strong, deal with it, and be men! Kate Bonin, in her essay “Gay Sex and Death in the Science Fiction of Orson Scott Card,” makes it clear that such self-control is essential: “Though gay sex is figured as intensely appealing, it is a resolutely forbidden fruit. Characters who ‘give in’ to homosexual impulses are punished.”[2] Ender’s Game teaches us to suppress our own bisexual or homosexual feelings and biology.

How Gay Is Ender?

Sedgwick points out in her book Between Men how almost impossible it is for men to have any kind of bonding with, or desire for bonding with, other men in our society. We have very little allowance for any kind of male relationship that doesn’t involve a woman. She describes the “homosocial” desire as meaning the desire for men to have relationships, of any kind, with other men. And a homosocial environment is one that is exclusively or largely exclusive to males (and often hostile to homosexuality). With only one exception in the form of Petra, the entire Battle School experience is homosocial. Boys live together, shower together, sleep together, and plan and execute battles together. Consider the Battle School. Analyzing it through language, subtext, and imagery, we see a great deal of homosocial, as well as potentially homosexual, implications. James Campbell, in his article “Kill the Bugger: Ender’s Game and the Question of Heteronormativity,” comments thus on the boys’ characters and stations:

They are libidinal animals in a highly structured homosocial environment. Reading the novel for sexuality, then, is not merely a matter of discovering (or imposing) some wink-wink-nudge-nudge allegory on the text, but rather eliciting the patterns of desire that emanate from its characters as sexual agents. (Science Fiction Studies 36:3, 2009, p. 494)
Remember Rose the Nose’s first interaction with Ender? On Rose’s lap sits his computer display of a larger-than-life phallus, while he has forbidden Ender the use of his computer out right. Sure, this may be a simple childish tease, but it is also a sexualized symbolic display of dominance.

The power struggles between the boys often take on sexual meaning, imagery, and language. Computer desks again feature in a later power struggle when Ender learns how to hack the computer of Bernard, another boy threatened Ender, to send everyone messages saying, “Cover your butt. Bernard is watching,” and later, after Bernard’s cronies attack Ender, “I love your butt. Let me kiss it.” These accusations of homosexual attraction embarrass and degrade Bernard. Even the official battles themselves—the primary focus of education at the Battle School—are homosexual in nature: they are bat- tles between male participants, in which one side “wins” by penetrating the corridor protected by the other team.

Sedgwick would likely point out how very sexual the imagery is here and notice that it is males who are engaging in that sexuality with each other. Someone might argue that these battles are not truly homosexual because the thing the boys are competing to penetrate is the entrance to a corridor, and so it seems they are fighting over a feminine symbol rather than a masculine one. At best, though, this means the battle fought by all male participants is a macho war over who gets to possess a woman’s body!

Male-male attraction is as significant a theme as male-male violence in the book. When Ender meets his first commander, he was overwhelmed by his appearance: “A boy stood there, tall and slender, with beautiful black eyes and slender hips that hinted at refinement. I would follow such beauty anywhere, said something inside Ender.” There is no way to describe this passage without having to account for an attraction. Something in Ender wants to follow Bonzo. Card makes no attempt to shelter us from males finding other males beautiful.

But, it doesn’t take long, however, for violence to emerge out of that homosocial relationship. Bonzo threatens that he will “have” Ender’s “ass someday.” Later, Bonzo and several friends approach Ender to attack him in the shower. The pages of descriptions of the scene paint a picture that is more than vaguely homoerotic: Bonzo strips naked to fight naked one-on- one with Ender in a hot, steamy, slippery battle that is finalized when Ender connects “hard and sure” with Bonzo’s groin. Sedgwick would see here the fact that in “Ender’s Game,” homo- erotic interactions almost always result in punishment. These sexual encounters—or even the suggestion of such—are “punished” by demoting, degrading, or killing the transgressors.

Not all homoamorous (love or affection between same-sex persons) relationships in the book are characterized by vio- lence in Ender’s Game. Many are characterized by forbidden-ness, regret, or dissatisfaction. Alai, Ender’s first friend at Battle School, sends him in to his first battle with a kiss, which Ender guessed was “somehow forbidden.” The kiss was accompanied by the word “Salaam,” which is Arabic for peace and which is commonly used with brief kisses between men sharing the greeting, so the kiss may have meant nothing sexual- sexual at all. It is interesting, then, how Western readers— indeed, perhaps even our Western characters, like Ender himself—may immediately assume that it does mean something sexual! In fact, among queer theorists, there is some contro- versy over whether queer theory itself assumes a common Western, white cultural backdrop. Either way, what we do see is affection between men that is forbidden—they want to be close—emotionally or physically, but can’t!

In what seems like it must be a purposeful move, Card creates a Greek-style mentorship between Ender and Mazer Rackham, Earth’s hero of the previous Bugger war. Greek mentorships usually involved an older man and a young man who engaged in a learning relationship that often also involved sexuality. For his training, Ender and Mazer share a bedroom while they work together to learn to think the way the Buggers think. Keep in mind that “Bugger” has been used, for a long time, as derogatory slang for a man who engages in sexual deviance. And this is on the asteroid Eros, named for the Greek god of love! A man and a boy are sharing a bedroom on Eros so they can learn how to think like Buggers. We don’t have to read deeply into this to see that something very homosocial, if not homosexual, is happening.

When Ender gets transferred from the Battle School, his close friendship with Bean—a promising child who serves as one of Ender’s toon leaders—is interrupted, and readers are provided a window to Bean’s secret heart, which is tender and full of a possibly forbidden love for Ender. Because Ender’s news was delivered just before lights out, Bean must undress in the dark and crawl into bed. He begins to sob, then turns to self-inflicted pain to control his agony. Bean first “tried to put a name on the feeling that put a lump in his throat and made him sob silently,” for “once he named the feeling, he could con- trol it.” We are left with the question, ‘What is the feeling?’, because Bean falls asleep before our narrator gives us a clue.

In these relationships, it seems as if Card paints a beautiful and tragic tale of lust and love between men. Card details those relationships according to a clear pattern: male acknowledgement of, and even love of, male beauty is acceptable—though never rewarded—as long as males do not take the step toward sexualizing that beauty. When they do, they are punished by humiliation, degradation, violence, and even death.

Tainted Love

So. Ender’s Game is rife with male sexuality, and it normalizes for us the idea that men are beautiful and that other men may love them from a distance, but any notion or expression of sexuality toward them should not exist. We end up back were we started. What is treated with the deepest loathing? Not the male body or deep (even forbidden) love between men. What seems to be truly judged and warned against is the feminization of any of these males; the sexual act in which one male supposedly feminizes himself by engaging with another sexually or by expressing his love outwardly (unlike Bean, who, in manly fashion, stifles and hides his love of Ender).

What if it is actually the feminine that Ender’s Game is the most “phobic” about? There certainly is evidence in the Ender’s Game that women are not thought of particularly highly. We have only two developed female characters—a soldier in the Battle School, and a sister who later philosophizes (in Children of the Mind) that women are simple creatures who cannot really love men fully.

So from a queer theoretical perspective, Ender’s Game may not suffer from a violent fear of male bodies or male love, but instead from a fear of those things which we deem to be female. Perhaps Ender’s Game, and the Enderverse in general, aren’t so much homophobic as they are sexist . . . expressing the yearning and suffering of a deep unrequited love between men, which can never really be eased by the inferior love of women.

Follow New York’s Lou Habash’s Twitter page for more updates on life’s philosophies.

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REPOST: Manage Your Time: 3 Ways To Train Your Brain To Get More Done Faster

This Huffington Post article shares how to use the innate organizational power of your brain to make your life less stressful and more rewarding.

Organize Your Time Management Brain Train

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Science suggests that your brain is one of the best organizational tools out there. But how do you deploy it to de-clutter your life? A coauthor of the book Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life: Train Your Brain to Get More Done in Less Time provides some thought-provoking strategies.

1. Tap Into Your Logical Side.

“Disorganization is often driven by anxiety and fear,” says Paul Hammerness, MD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Those feelings are processed in the amygdala, a primitive part of the brain. Rational thinking, on the other hand — the cornerstone of effective organization — takes place mostly in the prefrontal cortex. Rev up this area by filling out an expense report or looking over a spreadsheet; you’ll be on the road to thinking more logically and tackling tasks more efficiently.

2. Flex Your Memory Muscles.

First thing in the morning, go over the upcoming day’s tasks, step by step, in your mind. Making a mental to-do list stimulates your working memory — the part of your brain that helps you store and use complex information. Focus on completing the items on your list in order. If you’re interrupted (say, the phone rings), make a conscious effort to ask yourself if you need to respond — an action that taps right into your working memory. Once you’ve reacted (or not), revisit your mental list. The more you use your working memory, the more likely you are to stick to a task, which should ultimately leave you with a greater sense of control.

3. Give Yourself A Break.

“Despite all the brain’s impressive hardware, there is a limit to what it can deal with,” Hammerness says. Most adults can focus on one task for only about 60 minutes. To make the most of your attention span, stop hourly and walk around; any new action will “reset” your brain and ready it to return to the work at hand.

Lou Habash is a philosophy professor at the King’s College in New York. More of his philosophical views can be found by visiting this Facebook page.

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REPOST: Meditations on contract faculty teaching philosophy

This article discusses a major issue in teaching philosophy.


A few years back I was lecturing (adjunct) at a local state university — a non-elite, non-ranking institution with mercifully generous admissions standards, and (hence) a student body fielded mainly from two smallish contiguous area codes. I myself did a semester there very many years ago before completing my undergraduate studies at an equally non-elite non-ranking university with equally charitable admissions policies, in one of the two aforementioned area codes.

This institution had but one “core requirement” philosophy course — an introduction to logic, which frog-marched the students across the badlands of modus ponens and modus tollens, categorical syllogisms, and logical fallacies. At the beginning of the course students sat an 80-question exam consisting of these topics, and at the end of the course sat a version of the same exam — similar ratios of question-types, but different phrasing. Performance on the exit-exam (we were told) could not count for less than 80% of the students’ final grade.

We were given rather a lot of lee-way as to how we delivered the content; and although there was predictable convergence, no two instructors taught the course the same way.

Once it became clear to me that this was the only philosophy class the undergrads were required to take, I took it upon myself to ensure we covered a few other things — among them, (1) an introduction to the main branches of philosophy, and how epistemology and logic are related; (2) a reading and discussion of The Euthyphro; (3) a discussion of the differences between knowledge, belief, and faith; and (4) a discussion of the difference between ‘training’ and ‘education’.

This last topic mattered to me, because of the nature of the course content, on the one hand, and the departmental parameters for assessment, on the other. I had scope to *train* students as I saw fit, to the end of ensuring they performed well on the exit-exam; but the generous latitude notwithstanding, there was very little space therein to advance one whit the students’ education — in the true sense of the word.

Since I used the first two weeks of the term to introduce students to the mood and method of philosophy – to make real for them, so far as possible, what “being philosophical” (about something) might mean, and how important it is that those we designated as “educated” (rather than “well-trained” or “degree-holding) have a philosophical attitude – students tended to leave the first fortnight of my lectures with precisely the sort of look we like our students to have at the end of the session. Students often lingered behind to chat, or follow-up with questions or comments; and even if only a few disclosed to me their symptoms, many showed signs of having been bitten by the bug. But it was very dispiriting to hear students leave the lectures of my colleagues, who – by staying squarely on-track – began their lectures with “All men are mortal…”, and thereafter faithfully plodded through their chosen textbook.

Not that there was anything at all wrong with that. But our students – many of whom should not have been at university, frankly – were, in their first month of their first semester, still looking for those things that would distinguish college from high school. Yomping around on the terra incognita of “If P, Q” on day-one of their first philosophy class ever wasn’t winning hearts and minds to the cause. (There seemed to be little point in discussing the etymology of ‘philosophy’ – which most of my colleagues seemed to do before “Socrates is a man” – if one was going to ignore the question “How does knowledge differ from wisdom?” and jump straight into validity.)

At the first faculty meeting (in October, five weeks into the term), the HoD asked how the new adjuncts were faring; and I – too prideful and stupid to know either my place or how one should respond to such questions from one’s new boss – dared to offer for discussion whether this “core requirement” was such a good idea, and ask of the assembled troops whether it seemed terrible to anyone else that the *one* chance we are guaranteed to make an early impression upon undergraduates is with BARBARA rather than Socrates.

The HoD and senior faculty were very kind and gracious in their response to my untimely meditations. It is how my queries were tabled, though, that is the point of this story.

I insisted – and quite possibly pounded the conference table – that it was our duty (I pray I did not say “solemn duty”) to have our students leave the classroom a little better than they were before they entered it. A little more curious. A little more skeptical. A little confused, perhaps – confused in that positive, productive sense – but certainly a little better than they were when they slammed down hard on the alarm clock and stumbled out of bed in the morning. All educators (I insisted) have this duty; but of all departments, and among all specialists, we more so than others — for if not the philosophers, then who?

“Well” chuckled the four-year-and-still-returning adjunct next to me, “I think you set your standards a little high”.

“Shall we aim instead leave them no-better-off, or worse-off?”, I responded.

I remained at the university for five consecutive semesters, and in the narrow space allotted me tried my best to ensure that my students were getting their “If P, Q” (etc.), but were also learning to expect more from themselves, and were engaging their other subjects with an inquisitive and critical eye — and interested in taking more philosophy courses. My enthusiasm for these simple objectives was manifestly not shared by tenured faculty, while the adjuncts were concerned that coloring outside of departmental lines might redound negatively upon them and injure their status within the guild.

I will tell you that am between forty and fifty years-old, and in no sense or context am I an old-timer. But when I return to my cache of books from the likes of Hocking, Muirhead, Sidgwick, Santayana, or Royce, or rummage through JSTOR archives or Google Scholar for early papers, I confront every time the feeling that philosophy is no longer what it was, and that something wonderful has been lost.

That sentiment, I know, is absurd. But I know, too, that The Guild is not what it was — or, it seems to be no longer what it seems to have been. The basic questions we ask, and enjoin our charges to ask with us, have not changed — or, have not changed very much. I think we all welcome additional questions, as we do new voices to our shared stoa (painted or unpainted).

But I would not mind a real renaissance of philosophy — not by way of new books or para-genres (A Philosopher’s Guide to Metallica on the shelves of Barns~Ignoble left me shuddering), but by way of a return to confidence that what we do is very important. Not for the Guild, or the Academy; not for “democracy” or “social justice”, or even for Western Civilization, or for any single such thing; but for all the good things that may yet be made possible by the courage of an unassuming undergrad from a non-elite, non-ranking state college, who – having become a little more philosophical than she was the month prior – one day finds herself prepared and confident to say: “Sorry, I don’t think that makes sense — and here’s why”. She will need some logic to identify the problem, and for her “here’s why” to be compelling; but she will need philosophy to know that making sense of nonsense matters.

More pertinent links and information about philosophy can be found at this Twitter page for Lou Habash, who is a New York-based philosophy teacher.

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