My formative educational moments centralize around instances in which I had an intense feeling of seeing the world clearly, as though some long standing cognitive shortcut was being unwired and I could see things aright. Two particular moments stand out. The first was when I was assigned to read Plato’s account of Socrates’ final days. My professor, being of Native American descent, taught us the logic behind Socrates’ words and at the same time brought the perspective of someone who had been educated outside of the Western intellectual tradition to bear. I had a double epiphany: I simultaneously saw clearly how to discern the logical from the illogical, and my mind opened enough to see that my own culture’s way of thinking had a contingent historical origin.
This experience led me to the realization that I actually enjoyed learning, much to my own surprise as someone who was thoroughly bored in high school. In my double epiphany I came to appreciate rationality as a means of liberating the mind, while at the same time to cherish diversity of forms of rationality. These two newfound qualities led me to an interterm retreat to a Buddhist meditation center, during which it would be charitable to say I struggled with the hours-long meditations. The second formative moment then came from a discussion with the course’s chaperoning sociology teacher, who told me, “the way out is through.” I spontaneously understood the value not only of knowledge but also of the skill of doing things because they are difficult, foreign, and stretch one’s limitations.
These moments modified my foundational beliefs in a way that shaped me, much like Descartes’ doubting meditator who penetrated to the deepest reaches of his biases in order to clarify his mind. I found a serendipitous continuity in the methods of philosophy and the space of the university life where one has the miraculous opportunity to mould one’s intellectual and moral character. This has formed my goal as a teacher to continue creating this space for new generations of students.
Achieving this goal necessitates the promotion of active learning. I set the agenda for the class based on student agency, so that they are set up as actors rather than passive registers of information from generations past. I task students with doing interpretive work, both giving them a model of humanistic inquiry and inviting them to produce the knowledge on their own through discussion and reflection.
My own background as someone who came to university believing I was not a scholar has led me to appreciate that all students, no matter their predispositions, can have life-changing realizations in the university space. I therefore approach each student as an individual so that the benefits of education are equally available to all.