Wednesday, February 22, 2012


It was old skool at my school today as a power failure knocked out all the classroom computers for the morning; I had to (got to) teach my Philosophical Ethics class without any technology.

I told students they were getting a class like I used to back in 1975 when I first started college except that in those days, the professors would smoke in class. Naturally, a few kids wondered aloud whether it was cigarettes or something else being puffed on; I allowed that sure, sometimes people smoked pipes, and left it at that.

Although there were a few things I would normally have done that I couldn’t—including using the computer and projector to type up questions and notes—and while I would have liked to have shown a clip from the film Saving Private Ryan as I usually do when I first introduce Virtue Ethics (our topic of the day), overall, the experience was very positive—for me, at least, and I think that, by and large, students didn’t hate it too much either.

The “aesthetic distance” between students and teacher was reduced by the lack of a screen that I controlled. Instead of occasionally directing their attention away from the center of class, I generally sat down in the middle of them and just talked about what we were talking about.

I think it made a difference in their willingness to push back at some of what we were exploring together—or maybe it’s just that Aristotle’s conception of happiness, which allows for the possibility of something feeling happy without actually being happy is simply an outlandish enough idea to most people that they just couldn’t help themselves.

In any case, I found it pretty refreshing to have nothing but text and ideas to fall back on; it’s unlikely that I’ll take to teaching all my classes all the time in this manner, but from time to time, going back in time works well.


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