I love teaching, and I’m always thinking about pedagogy and obsessing about how my classes are going, what my students are ‘getting out of’ our classes, and how they feel about what they’re learning or failing to understand. When I reflect on teaching, I come up with two ways in which I love it. On the one hand, I love that I get to teach for a living. Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am to be doing precisely what I set out to do when I chose this career path. Beyond my love of teaching, I realize that I love my students not for what they bring to the teaching experience (although, that’s of course true), but also in a very different way.
When I tune in to the news these days, there’s a nightmarish quality to many of the stories I read or hear. From the completely retro contraceptive and abortion ‘debates’, the assault on women’s reproductive rights, the immunization of doctors from the duty of reasonable standards of disclosure (this one’s for you, AZ), to the senseless murder of young black Americans and Afghan families. And, of course, the GOP assault on higher education and funding for public universities like the one my students attend. News like this makes me despair about democracy, not as such, but particularly when it yields policy that restricts human rights and funds unjust wars, and elects governors who devise naive budgets. Democracy is a terrifying business at times, or perhaps always.
The thing is, I love democracy just as much as the next person. Kind of like I love a good thriller, or at least for some of the same reasons. And part of loving democracy is loving the people who constitute a democratic society. This is often difficult to do, unless you realize that hating a person and hating an idea/ideology are two completely different things. This is a lesson that bears constant repeating in the classroom. Why do I teach philosophy students about democracy, ethics, inequality, civil resistance, human rights, and all the rest of it? Because I love them as persons and I want to be able to increase the number of persons whose ideas I also love. I want to decrease the number of harmful ideologies that people are taking seriously. Progress is not only about decreasing the number of despicable persons and policies in power, but also about decreasing the number of despicable ideas circulating as live political options. For me, this is a practical imperative for philosophy: the neutralization of harmful, ignorant, and discriminatory ideas in the public sphere. Hope for a better democracy is, for me, necessarily entwined with my love of teaching.