III. Teaching Philosophy

As a teacher, I bring to students what I consider the most valuable aspect of my educational background: independent thinking. Immanuel Kant expresses such thinking most poignantly in his definition of the Enlightenment, to make use of one’s understanding without direction from another. Following Kant I encourage students to ‘Sapere aude!’ - ‘dare to know!’

To illustrate with an example, by the end of the graduate course “Alternative Models of Political Theorizing,” the students had both a strong grasp of central models of modern and contemporary political theorizing, and their own critical readings of these models. Even those students who initially merely followed my assessment of political thought found their independent voice by the end of the course and, thus, dared to know.

I firmly believe that in the present political climate, where dependent thinking is fostered in media and popular culture, the teaching of independent thinking is more crucial than ever. However, I find that students are often not educated to think and act independently. Kant rightly argues that it is the often the guardians (professors) themselves, even critical ones, who keep their students “from daring to take a single step without a walking cart in which they have confined them” (“What is Enlightenment?”).

I encourage students to get rid of their walking carts with a rich set of teaching methodologies. Rather than formal lectures, I facilitate close textual reading via both in-depth classroom discussions and brief lectures. I encourage students to analyze the material on their own terms in their presentations, classroom contributions, and paper assignments. I reward those students who creatively take up a thinker’s arguments instead of merely repeating what a thinker has to say. 

In my lectures, I serve as a model for analyzing the subject matter critically and raising questions, which are central components of political and feminist theorizing. I gradually draw the more passive students into our discussions. I ask students to work collaboratively on questions in smaller groups and experiment with film, on-line classrooms, and guest lecturers. I also devote individual time outside the classroom for those students who have difficulties keeping up with the course requirements.

Students often enter my classes with a suspicion of political and feminist theorizing. I encourage students to overcome their suspicions by showing them—in the design of the course, our discussions, and the writing assignments—how supposedly abstract theories have a central relevance for everyday political and social practice. I make abstract theories accessible to students by using tangible cases taken from current social and political events. Moreover, I encourage students to make connections between theories and their own particular experiences. I also hope to inspire students’ interest in studying political and feminist theorizing through my own enthusiasm for political and feminist theorizing.