I have been participating in many discussions about what students need as of late when I heard an amazing factoid at the University of Akron. My students are excited to be in my ethics class, and apparently, I have been “discussed as an excellent professor” around campus. Several of my students told me that they heard they should take my class. When I asked the reason, they candidly told me because of the discussions several had last semester.
I have been trying to think what I did differently from the Fall. In the Fall, I tried a blog. It didn’t go over so well, but what I did do is watch local Cleveland news and pull from popular stories from Good Morning America more intensely in the Spring than in the Fall. There is always a news story illustrating concepts. Moreover, we are not shying away from thinking through concepts used in politics all the time, King on race and connecting that up to Ferguson, Locke on the social contract with the November elections, and Kant on rights to name a few.
In general, students desire the power of self-reflection and an engaged class. My ethics class is very discussion oriented since the concepts addressed always have a practical orientation. I can find these concepts anywhere and everywhere, and ethics is the one class in which students might immediately recognize the power of their own intellectual growth. They are given tools to shape their own reflections about living and leading a moral life. So many of my students come to ethics with less than refined moral positions. After my class, one could easily see that they have thought more intently about these issues. I do not shy away from transmitting the power of these ethical theories. However, I often wonder if the freedom for discussion is lacking everywhere else but the humanities classroom. Since so many of my students are vocational majors, they are given information to internalize by rote. There is no space for growth in such vocational training, and philosophy may be providing a space to experience the actual growth of one’s mind.
If I am right, then the implications for philosophy are staggering. We can give students the experience of an engaged classroom, show them how relevant philosophy can be, and improve their overall university experience. I wonder if this is added reason why my ethics class is recommended. It could be that I connect well with students; as Wolverine says, “I am the best at what I do.” I’m a little bit more humble than that, but constantly referencing ethics in the news has been working wonders for the classroom.