Those of you in the military, aviation, or some other practice that uses the radio alphabet will understand the title of this post. The rest of you will wonder, so let’s be clearer: what on earth is this blog about? Well, you might check the “About This Blog” page. But I can also spell it out a bit in this post.
I love teaching and I love learning. A couple of years ago, I figured out what the Stoic philosopher Seneca had figured about a couple of millennia ago: docendo discimus. By teaching we learn. Damn! Scooped again, by a damned Roman. One obvious way Seneca’s insight is true is that you might understand something (or think you understand something) without being able to explain it to others. But it’s not until you come up with a way to explain it to others that you really understand that it. True enough. But there’s another way yet: if you turn your teaching into crowdsourcing, you’ll learn a lot, too. You’ll learn things you never knew, simply because your students know it, and you didn’t.
“Aha!” you’ll exlaim: “It’s a scam: the University of Michigan is ripping off my parents, only to educate its faculty.” But it’s not that simple. Much as I dislike Socrates, he was onto something in arguing that teaching was about helping the student realize what she already knew. (Socrates wouldn’t have said “she.” He wouldn’t have given a shit about her, whoever the she was. Just consult the histories on his relationship to his wife. So apologies for the historical inaccuracy.) Let’s call it a catalytic relationship: teachers are the catalysts who help draw out (ex ducere, or educere) what’s already there. So, yes, you, students, need us. Thanks for the tuition dollars: you’ll figure something out, we’ll figure something out, you get a degree, we have a job, and it’s all good.
Where this blog plays a role in all that is in getting the students to reflect on what they encounter in this class — weird stuff, take my word for it — and what they know or like. For example, I learned about a seriously messed up drink called Four Loko on the blog. The students related it to John Locke, but it was quite clear Immanuel Kant was the relevant reference point. (And, OK, guys, here’s a bit of moralizing: Four Loko would have appealed to me when I was fourteen. Not when I was eighteen, nineteen, or twenty.)
But I also learned about more thoughtful and interesting things, all thanks to the students in my courses.
So what on earth is this blog for? It’s for students in my introductory course — mainly freshmen and sophomores — to take up odd and weird and hard-to-understand ideas, apply them to something they know or care about, and tell the world about it. Pretty damned cool.