Friday, September 16, 2016

Relying On Old-Skool Prompts, A Throw-Back to Junior English, But Fast Pace in A College Classroom

When I inherited a junior year English classroom, I also inherited an ethics unit from a veteran teacher and I followed it closely, recognizing that she was an expert and her curriculum would suffice, whatever it is I was teaching. In the junior year, she simply asked the kids, "How do you know what is good? How do you know what is bad?"

Then, Plato, Aristotle, Existentialists, and World Literature followed.

It worked.

I am teaching Philosophy of Education, and I began yesterday with the same two questions. Most of my students knew Allegory of the Cave, so I could dust upon that. The mathematics, though, was interesting. We calculated how much someone being paid $12 an hour would be paid, before taxes, 52 weeks a year (assuming 40 hours). The income would be around $26,000. We then calculated the cost of higher education, even at a Jesuit University that questions traditions and encourages us to be Men and Women for others. We compared this salary with the cost of higher education.

We read articles about the disparities in Connecticut, and also watched videos of achieving youth in poor communities, to counter the mythology they believe. I ended with showing a 9 minute documentary of refugee youth trying to achieve in the United States (with families who haven't been able to work because of war, poverty, and violence) and I returned to the question of what is good and what it bad.

Meandering through the ethics of education: privilege, access, opportunity, and content, I asked my students if any of the system is fair? How is it that a relocated refugee youth could be dropped to the United States as a senior and asked to compete with youth born on third base thinking they hit a triple?

Philosophy offers space for me to do this. We free wrote at the beginning of class and I wrote,
Good depends. Sleeping is good, one might say, but too much sleep is sort of bad. The overall act of sleeping is good, but waking up as an early bird to catch a worm is sometimes better than actually sleeping. I think this is similar to education. Education is good, but charging $ for it is sort of bad. How can learning be commodified? Is there a price tag for learning? 
As for being just, I want such a world to be fair, but there is always the scenario I think abut with my little sister. She had a conundrum when she went to sleep, because she had a lot of stuffed animals. She felt if she kissed one of them, to be fair, she needed to kiss all of them the same way, the same amount of times, all to be fair and equitable. The OCD was a bit much. 
As for learning....Learning is good, but it becomes bad when we think along competitive terms. Why do we create ranks in higher education and judge between community colleges and ivy league schools. Learning is learning; why should one institution be valued over another? As for me, I hated the obnoxious, know-it-all students I studied with, and there was nothing I despised more than being in the presence of someone who put on an air of superiority. For that reason, I hated learning, because I didn't want to learn in such a way that I felt superior. Those people, competitive, are obnoxious. 
And what about a skinned knee. So many parents hate to see their kid hurting or wounded or troubled or struggling. Yet, isn't it the difficult learning, the harm, the wounds, where the best knowledge is gained. Isn't bad learning actually good?
This was drafted in 5 minutes in my notebook as I asked my undergraduates to contemplate Jesuit education and social justice. We put a dollar sign to it, and everything changes - especially in Fairfield County. And I think, "Man, I talk this way for free all day long, but then it is given a dollar quantity because I teach."

So, strange.

And in the end, I return to the idea of what is good. Add an 'o' to God and that is what you get, "good." The individual decides this and it is up to him or her to decide. I feel the thinking life is a good life, but it might distract you from the economically better life. Such is the dilemma of a Jesuit education - what happens when we actually think about these things?


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