How did you do the homework?

“The question to ask your students is not ‘Did you do the homework?’ Instead, it’s ‘How did you do the homework?’”

I heard these words this summer from Kevin Mattingly, an educator I deeply admire (and the creator of the EdX course on the Science of Learning). They struck me the minute I heard them, because they helped me to see that I had assumed that students knew how to reach texts in Philosophy or Religious Studies – an assumption that no longer strikes me as a good one.

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Michael Puett and Chinese Philosophy at Harvard

Confucius

Master Kong (better known as Confucius). Not to be confused with Master Puett.

I just came across this piece in The Atlantic about Professor Michael Puett’s Chinese Philosophy course at Harvard. It’s a great example of how the study of philosophy can change your life.

I would note, however, that the author shortened the quotation attributed to Puett. She has Puett saying “This course will change your life.” He may have said those words as part of a larger paragraph, but he’s not the type of person to say so that directly. What he has said is something more like this (something I have, on occasion, shared with my students as we begin our study of Ancient Chinese Philosophy):

“If you read these texts — if you really read them, and think them through, and take them seriously, you will not be able to look at the world in the same way again. They will change your life.”

That quotation is a bit more Puett’s speed, in no small measure because it places the agency upon the student, and her effort thinking through these complex ideas from Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, and others, as opposed to on the professor.

It’s a great piece! Read it here:

http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/10/why-are-hundreds-of-harvard-students-studying-ancient-chinese-philosophy/280356/

Questioning Questioning

Socrates

Socrates, from Raphael’s “School of Athens”

Recently, I was talking to a friend (and fellow blogger) who teaches Physics. In the course of our conversation after I observed her (inspiring) class, she said to me, “I never ask students a question they don’t have the tools to answer.” This statement gave me some pause. I thought to myself – only half in jest – I never ask my students a question they are able to answer.

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