The end of summer means a return to teaching for many of us. I've been reflecting on an important pedagogical lesson, namely, that teaching requires humility — and a sense of humor. So to that end, I invite everyone to share their Worst Course Ever. I'll start!
Course An Early Modern Philosophy course, about five years ago.
What Made It the Worst Principally, one very uppity student. This student was pretty confident that he had Descartes and the other philosophers of the period figured out -- and they were all dopes. Add to this his abrasive personality, a tendency to hijack class discussion, and a strong desire to win the other students over to his cause, and the result were class meetings that were tense, ill-organized, and exasperating. The other students, most of whom were struggling simply to comprehend these very difficult authors, came to resent this student (he did win a couple of disciples), and to resent me for failing to rein the student in.
What I Learned That the, mmmm, aggression that some students display toward philosophy is sometimes rooted in an oversized ego. That this ego needs to be cut down to size, but NOT with aggressive responses of my own. (Better to give such students a platform from time to time and let them run out of steam before returning to the texts and issues at hand.) That students often panic in the face of challenging texts or ideas, making it my job to help them manage or place in perspective this panic. That students need to be told that inquiry is essential to philosophy, and that 'old philosophers' cannot be dismissed simply because they're old. A lot of other things as well....