Skip to main content

Pedagogy of Prestidigitation

I put what might be too much thought into presentation when I teach. I say it's too much because I don't know how much of it comes across to my students, but insofar as a teacher must entertain, it seems appropriate to work on one's showmanship. Over time, I've developed some particular aesthetics of teaching that both keep me motivated and focused in the task, and hopefully contribute something unique to my students' experience.

My basic model is jazz improvisation, for reasons perhaps best understood by fellow initiates of Robert Anton Wilson. The presentation slides give me an overall structure and contain the essential information. For the most part, the slides are supposed to be springboards for verbal improvisation. I like the idea of running discussion sessions, and when it happens I enjoy it, but I find it hard to get the students going. In introductory ethics courses, when I include assignments that require them to read before coming to class, it's easy because everybody knows what's right (before they take philosophy, at least). In most courses, I think I scare them too much. It's not intentional or anything, but I've been given to understand that I have a forceful presence. As much as I try to dial it down, it seems to come across anyway.

Still, that's just about lecture style, and not really all that different from the most general public speaking advice. In addition to that, I give some thought to the peripherals. For instance, I value minimalism in my self-presentation. Remember, I said my conditioned response to teaching is to reach for the chalk? I value that model because I (usually) don't have to bring the chalk and board.

The blackboard is classroom infrastructure; I walk into a room and expect to see one. The tools are simply at hand, something I find in the environment, take up, and use. Most of the time I taught at Tulane, I had a pile of books and notes and papers to hand back. Way too much baggage for someone teaching about letting go and liberation, right? As I got more comfortable in the classroom, I started trying to scale back and bring only what I really needed. At Twente the classroom tech is so reliable that I don't even need notes or textbooks. I can walk in with no materials, log into a computer, fire up my Google Presentation, and get to work.

If there is any magic in it, it happens there. To walk in with nothing and create something wonderful using nothing other than what is to hand is the work of an illusionist. Behind the scenes, there's preparation and reading and notes and consultation, but the students don't see that, and they don't need to see it. If I've done it right, they're too occupied with the illusion to think about it.

At least, that's what I tell myself the good days are like. I know it's more like some stuttering, some swearing, the occasional funny joke, and the ubiquitous unfunny joke. Still, if I don't imagine something better, I have no incentive to improve. Even fictions have their function, in the end.


Popular posts from this blog

Justifications for Intellectual Property Part 1: Utilitarianism

There is no way this tutorial series would be complete without some discussion of justifications for intellectual property. While not necessarily a matter of law, some knowledge of the philosophical foundations will provide a better sense of the values at stake in intellectual property debates. Notice, for instance, that the tutorials on fair use were punctuated with appeals to values, social goods, and individual rights. Without an understanding of the moral and political framework against which the law stands, one can very easily find oneself in a stalemate, with one value pitted against another and no way of deciding which should prevail. To understand the jurisprudence around intellectual property rights, one has to have some idea of the justifying theories to which attorneys and judges appeal in their arguments and decisions. So, without further ado, let's get to the tutorial.
There are three main ways of justifying intellectual property rights: the Utilitarian theory, the Lab…

Justifications for Intellectual Property Part 2: Labor-Desert Theories

I know it's been a little while, but I want to finish this tutorial series rather than abandoning it and moving on to other topics. Of course, I would have liked to have finished it by now, but various research and teaching-related obstacles have kept me nose down in the Real rather than preparing content to be released into the internet. Nevertheless, I'm returning to routine, so I'm going to release this installment today, rather than wait for my usual MWF release schedule.
At any rate, let's pick up where we left off and talk about justifications for intellectual property rights. While the utilitarian justification discussed in the last post enjoys the status of having been enshrined in law, scholars and jurists have often brought in other property-justifying theories. Perhaps the most popular of these are Labor-Desert justifications, best exemplified by John Locke (the philosopher, not the character on Lost).
In his Second Treatise on Civil Government, Locke const…

Justifications for Intellectual Property Part 3: Self-Expression Justifications

The third dominant justifying theory for intellectual property rights is often called the Self-Expression justification. Most scholars attribute it to Hegel, but it ultimately has roots in Kant. While few philosophers even addressed intellectual property, Immanuel Kant discusses the sale of pirated books in Metaphysics of Morals. Kant argues that reprinting a book after first publication is a violation of the author's right to entrust his communication to a particular publisher. Viewing books as importantly communicative, not material, in nature, Kant claims that a publisher is essentially a spokesperson, someone designated by an author to communicate his ideas to others. Reprinters interrupt this process by taking it on themselves to communicate the author's idea, without his consent. Reprinting is then akin to removing the author's control over the communication of his ideas. While Kant's argument does not get you an entire system of intellectual property, he does dr…