I want students to write papers in which they genuinely engage a question that is motivated by the text and their own curiosity in which they come to an insight worth sharing. Getting students to this place in their writing is the biggest challenge of my teaching life. One of the difficulties is that students think of writing as a technical endeavor. They are given a prompt. They need to find a thesis that they think that can support based on evidence they can find in the text. They set to work writing the paper by looking for the evidence and then choose a thesis that is most supportable. This approach to writing papers short-circuits the stage of thinking. It is to this stage that I try to return students and get them to work. The problem is that it feels to students like flying without a net. They do not have experience with being asked to think. They do not have experience with being asked to take their own questions and insights and concerns seriously.
This last semester, instead of giving prompts in which I tried to motivate their thinking and then hoping it would push them into the gap for thinking they tend to short-circuit, I told them explicitly that this process of finding their own puzzles and problems was what I was expecting. It helped that in the class I did this most explicitly in, we were reading Aristotle and talking about how wonder is the source for philosophizing because when we come to an impasse, we are motivated to think. I asked them to think about what the impasses in the reading were for them and why and then to delve further into the reading to try to work through their impasses. The very first paper in this class was explicitly on what causes them to wonder in the world at large, and how they understand this process of wonder in the pursuit of knowledge better in light of reading the first several pages of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Read more
Monday night I went to a high intensity interval training pilates class. During my third minute of elbow planks, I thought I was going to cry. I cried once when I was running a half marathon, when in the last half mile I realized I was going to PR. There’s something about that moment when you think you are reaching your threshold and you just cannot do anymore and then you keep doing it. That moment is where you realize the struggle is mental.
I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It also brings me close to tears. Murakami makes me feel guilty for the times I have stopped because of the pain. He makes me feel bad for being a mid-distance runner and not a long-distance runner. In the pilates class, which is grueling and unlike any pilates I have ever heard of, the teacher berates us for giving up. I understand that. Motivate, push yourself. That’s all good. But I had to learn to pay attention to pain in running and to take it easy–to do what looks like giving up, to stop feeling the exercise as demand.
At one point Murakami talks about the one time he ran an ultramarathon. After mile 34 his breathing felt good but his legs wouldn’t work, so he had to propel himself my moving his arms and hands. Then at mile 47, he broke through a wall. It stopped hurting. He kept going. He ran the next fifteen miles unencumbered. I think I know that feeling. It happens for me three minutes into an elbow plank. It’s when you realize that you can persist through the pain if you tell yourself to just keep on. Read more
Having had some publishing success in my career, I’ve been rewarded with tons of requests to review article manuscripts in the last couple years. I am still not jaded enough to dislike being called on or not to need the recognition as an expert by editors such requests indicate. I appreciate having some influence on the field that this work affords. It also affords me the awareness of some common pitfalls. To avoid them, I offer this advice. Read more
Thinkers from Plato to Marx remark on the need for leisure–for leisure time won by having one’s expenses covered and necessities provided–to engage in the life of the mind. After the busy work of investigating Athens, we have now settled into the leisurely place of Nafplion where we have plenty of time to think. I’ve set two thinking projects for myself: one is a paper on Arendt and Aristotle that I’m giving at the American Political Science Association (APSA) at the end of the summer and the other is a piece on Aristotle’s conception of government, politeuma, which I have presented a number of times and am now ready to send it out for publication. Read more