Both of these writing modes are essential skills for graduate students to master, but it's hard to get them to even try the "teacher-development" mode, perhaps because it's more difficult. (It's especially important for continental philosophy students to master this, since they will very often be addressing non-CP experts when addressing professional colleagues.)
On the topic of useful teaching material available online (following up on Roberta's post on material for logic courses), I recently came across the series ‘60-Second Adventures in Thought’ produced by the Open University. These are short (60 seconds!) animated videos explaining some of the most intriguing philosophical puzzles:
There is a growing body of evidence that student evaluations not only 1) do not measure teaching effectiveness, and may well be negatively correlated with it, but also 2) that women and other visible minorities fare worse across the board on them. In other words, they're ineffective at measuring what they are frequently seen to measure and highly discriminatory in what they do measure.
The current state of the research is nicely summarized by Philip Stark in this post at The Berkeley Blog, which should be read in its entirety. Even having previously known about much of what Stark discusses, I was particularly stunned by the following:
• students’ ratings of instructors can be predicted from the students’ reaction to 30 seconds of silent video of the instructor: first impressions may dictate end-of-course evaluation scores, and physical attractiveness matters
• the genders and ethnicities of the instructor and student matter, as does the age of the instructor
It's enough to make one wonder how we have allowed the practice of conducting these evaluations to go on for so long and why anyone takes them seriously at all.
Consider the typical way we grade students in a course. We give a number of assignments. We grade each. Then we average those grades to get a course grade. That course grade is then taken by various outside agents - employers, grad schools, etc. - to be a measure of accomplishment. But there is one very obvious irrationality in this system. Consider two students: student 1 has had the benefit of excellent prior training at, say, a top private HS. 2 has gone to much weaker schools. Maybe 1 has already had some philosophy and certainly has good training in writing papers. 2 does not. Thus, on the first assignment, 1 ends up with a much better grade than 2 because the paper is just plain better. Over the course of the term, however, 2 improves at a vastly higher rate and by the end of the term they are doing work at the same level. Even those professors who include "improvement" as a factor in the final grade are likely to give 1 a higher grade than 2. (Let's assume that 1 does better on all assignments up to the final one, but stipulate that one's assessment at the end of the course is that they are now producing work of equal quality.)
Sometimes it might seem hard to generate constructive, cooperative class discussion. Often we have a few students who dominate open discussion, with most students spending our classes in silence. And some of us are particularly concerned about getting students from underrepresented groups to participate, especially in spaces where the dominant voices are typically (white straight cis) men.
I would like to share an activity that was passed along to me last year, called "Complete Turn Taking." I now put aside a number of days each term for this exercise, as students just love it. For my MWF introductory courses, I set aside most Fridays for this activity.
Students have to bring 2-3 typed/written questions to class
on the week's material. They organize into groups of 4, and I stress diversity in the groups. If there isn't an attached group project with this exercise, I try to have groups to change from week to week. And I encourage students to learn each others' names.
"What Tarquin the Proud said in his garden with the poppy blooms was
understood by the son but not by the messenger.--Hamann,"--Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard.
"If wisdom were give me under the express condition that it must be
kept hidden and not uttered, I should refuse it. No good thing is
pleasant to possess, without friends to share it."--Seneca (Letter 6).
Can philosophical writing legitimately call attention to its own limitations? By 'limitation' I do not merely mean (a) the ways in which it its possible philosophical aims are constrained by or even unattainable due to the written form, but also (b) the ways in which it might fall short of other philosophical activities. (Let's leave aside the ways in which it falls short of non-philosophical activities.) For, while (a) can be viewed as a species of self-awareness or truth in advertising, when (b) is true, we might wonder why one is writing at all and not just engaging in those other activities (which by stipulation are better at whatever one is trying to achieve)--at its extreme, then, there might be circumstances where persisting in philosophical writing, however much required (say) for one's sanity, might be an instance of ἀκρασία.
In an otherwise effusive letter (six), Seneca explicitly calls attention to the limitations of his writing when it comes to pursuit of wisdom [sapientia]. At first it seems (echoing Plato's Phaedrus 275a) that he is primarily interested in claiming that "the living voice [viva vox] and the intimacy of a common life will help you more than
the written word."[Plus tamen tibi et viva vox et convictus quam oratio proderit.] We might think we're in Derrida's territory. But not all speech is created equally; in context, Seneca rejects learning by attending lectures or even philosophical dialogue. What really facilitates philosophical learning is observing exemplary behavior that can be copied [breve et efficax per exempla]. It's not clear this primarily involves speech at all. Rather, it requires living together with a proper model. Seneca advocates this residential-college approach by comparing it favorably to his own way of teaching, which (among other things) in each letter involves, (i) assigning (authoritative) maxims to be memorized (recall, and here, here) [deinde quia longum iter est per praecepta], and (ii) assigning selected admired texts. In fact, Seneca insists that what, say, Socrates said was far less relevant than his practices (or norms) [plus ex moribus quam ex verbis Socratis traxit] to Plato and Aristotle.*
techniques are things people say to get someone to drop out of a discussion,
either by leaving or becoming and remaining silent. There are a variety of forms that this can take. This post has an illuminating
taxonomy with a plethora of useful examples, all of which can be changed
mutatis mutandis to philosophy contexts. Inspired by the post I offer some
saying that because you're a woman [or black/trans*/queer/whatever].
exactly what I'd expect from a feminist." [Focal stress usually on the identity term.] You're just part of
the feminist take-over of this department.
MOOCs and MOOTs are different things, and we should be working a lot
more on the latter than the former. A MOOT is a Massive Open Online Text, a
flexible on-line teaching tool that combines searchable, comment-on-able text,
multimedia, tools for peer-to-peer collaboration and feedback, and who knows
what other goodies we haven't thought of yet.
The big advantage of MOOTs over MOOCs is that you spend your time on
pedagogical innovation, not on designing what could only be cut-rate
assessment, feedback, and cheater-detection.
"Strauss' interpretation of Plato is wrong from beginning to end." M.F. Burnyeat.
Although we philosophers are thought of as a cerebral bunch, our loathings can be pretty intense. I need not mention the hundred-year, fraternal civil war, which around here we label a 'divide,' between analytic and continental philosophy; we are not known for our fondness for what passes as 'theory' among literature and cultural studies departments (and I have experienced plenty of uncivil behavior from folk in, say, science studies in return). But when professional philosophers are not just puzzled by the Straussians they encounter, we reserve a special kind of bile and invective against them, especially as Strauss's students found their ways into advising Goldwater and Reagan (and beyond); once I was halted in my invective against Wolfowitz by (The University of Chicago's) Ralph Lerner's, 'Paul once sat in that chair, and was no less passionate than you.' Undoubtedly a few of us were at least mildly irritated by reading Steven Smith's very respectful review of books on the legacy of Strauss in a recent New York Times Book Review--"doesn't he know that 'Strauss is not a Philosopher!'"?
In his famous essay, Burnyeat (a former teacher) overreached. Invoking "ordinary scholarship," Burnyeat treats Plato (surprisingly Popperian) as a "radical utopian," primarily relevant for opening up "a reasoned debate on the nature and practicality of a just society" (emphasis in Burnyeat). Given that Burnyeat was in no sense an ordinary scholar, who also searchingly pioneered the historiographical construction of the classics, these lines are painful read; Burnyeat reduces the significance of Plato's political philosophy to being a forerunner of Rawls. Those of us living in the shadow of the surveillance state may find Strauss' "anti-Utopian teaching" ("invented" or not) about Plato a useful touch-stone, sometimes. For in Republic and Laws surveillance are ever-present and its limits thematized. The cause of Burnyeat's overreach is that Plato's Laws has always been a blind-spot to him (and until recently ordinary analytic scholarship).
At some level, Burnyeat must have known he overreached, because he allowed the original and reprinted version of the piece to have a clear reference to a famous short story by Oscar Wilde, -- which may be read as an allegory on philosophical madness [Murchison is introduced as a truth-teller] ! -- that ends with that enigmatic "I wonder."
At a banquet dinner in honor of Adam Smith's 300th birthday I ended up sitting next to the local Head of the Chamber of Commerce of the Fife (the region that includes Smith's birth-place, Kirckaldy). She complained that despite the economic recession and unemployment there were still plenty of jobs that could not be filled. I suggested maybe her members should pay higher entry-level wages; she insisted that the difficulty was finding conscientious people in her depressed area. On her telling too many kids did not have the bourgeois virtues of steadily showing up on time, being dressed in representative fashion, and good manners to engage customers. We found some middle ground that the area needed better vocational training (the banquet was hosted at Adam Smith college).
I was reminded of this because recently, Marcus Arvan proposed the following sales-argument to recruit more philosophy majors:
The thing, though, is this: the assumption that seems most causally responsible for all of this -- the assumption by students and their parents that a philosophy major is a "bad deal" -- is patently false. Philosophy majors:
In short: we are useful, and we give students and parents what they want -- they just don't know it. If parents and students did know how useful a philosophy degree is, we just might be able to steer more students our way, have more majors, more donors, and more academic jobs.--Marcus Arvan
realized I was a lousy teacher because I hadn’t approached teaching the
same way I approach everything else. I hadn’t approached it as
something I could learn from others and get better at... Nick Smith taught me to be confident but
open, and to use my personality in the classroom rather than sublimate."--B. Copenhaver [The whole interview is worth reading.]
Ancient philosophy, however, is a philosophical way of engaging with these texts; that is what distinguishes it from other ways of studying them. And philosophy develops differently at different times, so we should reasonably expect the state of ancient philosophy to reflect its engagement with philosophy.--Julia Annas "Ancient Philosophy for the Twenty-First Century," (25).
Summer is arriving so it's time (despite two more rounds of grading ahead and too many deadlines) to read around a bit. When I first encountered the passage above at the start of Professor Annas' self-congratulatory essay -- "engagement with analytical philosophy restored the study of ancient philosophy to philosophical vigour" (41) --, I was surprised because I thought it meant that Annas was going to historicize the practice of "ancient philosophy" (by which she means the philosophical, analytical engagement with folk like Plato, Aristotle, and others). The surprise following from the fact that I would not expect her to have an interest in such an enterprise. (The rest of the essay suggests, she doesn't really, although she admits "we do well to be aware of" our own "philosophical assumptions and methodological preferences." (42))
One might also read the passage above as reflecting on the danger that fashions in contemporary philosophy are
echoed (perhaps with some delay to let these fashions be reflected in graduate
curricula) in the interpretation of past thinkers. (While researching my
dissertation I noticed that Ayer gives us a Hume as seen from Vienna; Garrett
gives us a post-Quine-ean Hume; it made me wonder if my Chicago Hume would be a funny
mixture of Wittgenstein and Kant.) Indeed this is what she has in mind (e.g.,
p. 27). Now, one might think that once such a diagnosis is offered one is
well down the road of debunking the enterprise so diagnosed. While there are
glimpses of a debunking attitude ("we can now see that a great of the time
and fuss [about "the 'Third Man'"--ES] was off the point" (31;
[undergraduates could always see it and those silly enough to say so would be
told they lacked rigor]), it's not the main point of Annas' narrative of
Rather, she celebrates the hard-won autonomy of "ancient
philosophy" from present concern:
Some anointed folk publish in top journals during their PhD and spend their lives publishing in the Leiter-top-10. Most of the rest of us presumably have very different experiences. (My only publication ever in the "top 20" is an invited one.) I want to share some of mine to give young people a sense of 'what it's like.'
I am from the generation that was still actively discouraged from publishing while writing my PhD (obtained, 2002). Unfortunately, during my research I falsified the central hypothesis that guided my dissertation, so I was left without a coherent narrative (and, thus, no monograph). I had no idea how to write a journal article (see my tips here; and Cogburn's). Unsurprisingly, my first eight or nine submissions were rejected often with dismissive referee reports (and long delays, of course). I suspect that in addition to my lack of skill in writing articles, journals were not very interested in learning about Adam Smith's philosophy of science. (I even had job-lecture-audiences snicker at the mention of "Adam Smith;" eventually I switched to Hume.)
All four of the core chapters of the dissertation had a very hard time getting into print; they accumulated more than 30 rejections altogether. One (the most a-historical) never got past referees, and I eventually discarded it. One (on Hume and Newton) took eight years and countless rejections (even from journals (!) where the editor-in-chief had asked me to submit it after hearing the material presented) before it appeared in Enlightenment & Dissent, an intellectual history journal--along the way I had inverted my thesis. Another paper, on the methodology of the Wealth of Nations, was regularly savaged by referees (I once received an eighteen-page, typed, single space small font report, which taught me a lot on Smith's digression on silver among other things), and was published in a wonderful, super-niche journal (even by the standards of history of economics [a small, insignificant field in economics])--bless Warren Samuels' soul. Only the fourth, on Smith's proto-Kuhnian philosophy of science, appeared in a respectable philosophy, specialist history journal; it received extremely critical reviews, even from the journal's referees and editor that eventually (after two R&Rs) published it in 2005. It is now my most cited paper; a google scholar search suggests it is the most cited paper in the history of the British Journal for the History of Philosophy.
"LIKE MOST English philosophers (Bradley being the great exception--corrupted no doubt by Hegel), Whitehead is a pluralist, as were Occam, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Bertrand Russell."--Charles Hartshorne, "Whitehead's Revolutionary Concept of Prehension."
I advocate that the first sentence of a journal article should have a straightforward thesis statement. Even so, I grant that this rule can be trumped by aesthetic considerations. Hartshorne's line is memorable, in part, because of the unlikely nature of this set of "English philosophers" and the uncommonly, polemical nature of a parenthesis; Hartshorne also implies that pluralism is a virtue. We are immediately made to feel something is at stake in this English tradition.
Readers' nominations for even more memorable first lines of journal are welcomed.
A few weeks ago, a
graduate student said in my class that he “had to restrain [him]self from
tearing [a prominent female academic] a new one.” After class ended, I told the
student, in private, that he should probably refrain from using
colloquial phrases that reference anal rape in professional contexts. He was
shocked to hear my interpretation of his comment. Later, I asked my Facebook
friends if I had handled the situation appropriately. Of the many who
responded, about half said that I had; the others said that I should have
corrected the offending student in front of the other students, either to
educate the other students (if they saw nothing wrong with the comment), or to
reassure them that their response was appropriate (if they did object to the
comment). In light of the latter argument, I invited all of those present in
the class, including the student who made the comment, to write this post with
me. Except for two students who were too busy, they graciously agreed.--Jennifer Rubenstein
How should college
instructors respond when a student says something in class that the instructor
believes to be offensive but that the student might not realize is offensive?
This is the broader question raised by the incident in our class. Cases of this
kind raise different issues from cases in which students knowingly cause
offense or are culpably ignorant (e.g. they use the “n-word”). In the latter
types of cases, the egregiousness of the violation means that it is almost always
appropriate for the instructor to confront the student immediately, even if
this causes shame or embarrassment; the instructor is also usually reasonably
confident of her immediate assessment of the situation.
One more cautionary observation before we begin. The volume is published by Bloomsbury, which has taken over Continuum, the house which apparently had contracted the anthology. A number of the pieces unfortunately contain stylistic and grammatical inadequacies in expression. For some essays this is just distracting, but for others it is extremely frustrating. Clearly the publisher's copy-editing was highly inadequate. We can only hope that this will not become a trend with Bloomsbury. More significantly though, we cannot help but wonder whether it really is such a good thing for English to become the de facto lingua franca of European philosophy. This is perhaps unavoidable today -- not long ago, something called the 'European Science Foundation' produced a ranking of philosophy journals, and publication in languages other than English was initially used to relegate journals to the 'B' or 'C' category. Now, if Anglophone philosophy puts a premium on 'clarity,' as defined by composition models taught in Anglophone universities and less elsewhere, then the obligation to write in English seems to unavoidably place international colleagues in a bad light. In this reviewer's experience, the profession suffers from a pressing need to address this issue.--Hakhamanesh Zangeneh
There are (at least) three issues here:
(i) Especially given the high prices charged for their product, academic presses and journals have a professional obligation to maintain the highest standards of copy-editing. Cost-cutting measures do not inspire confidence. I have no ideological objections against outsourcing, but the recent (apparent) trend toward concentrating copy-editing philosophical texts in Bangladesh and India is not improving the situation. (I am probably not alone in having to correct the copy-editors; as my fellow NewAPPSers can testify, I tend to be the one needing correction!)
This semester, I’ve experimented with anonymous grading for
the first time. Now that I think about it, it is a mystery why it took me so
long to realize the obviousness of it, but better late than not at all, I
suppose. As many other countries, the Netherlands does not have a tradition of
anonymous grading at all, but I recently found out that in the UK it is fairly common practice, showing that it can be done. This was one of the topics of
Jennifer Saul’s recent Aspasia Lecture in Groningen, and I am happy to report
that she made such a good case for it that my colleagues in the evaluation
board of the Faculty are already looking into adopting anonymous grading
Why should it be done? Well, for those of you familiar with
the literature on implicit biases, the answer will not be hard to find: we
inevitably rely on stereotypes and preconceptions to perceive and judge people,
which serve as convenient heuristic shortcuts. This can have a negative effect
on how we judge members of stigmatized groups (based on gender, ethnicity,
class, geographical origin etc.), and it can also unfairly boost our
judgment of privileged groups. With grading in particular, it has been noticed
that anonymity significantly increases the average grades of members of these
stigmatized groups, simply because their work is looked upon more objectively
without the association to a particular person. (See this informative report by
the British National Union of Students.)
Marcus Arvan at the Philosophers' Cocoon has started a new series on What it is like to be a VAP. His first post is well worth a read and resonated with my own (three, very privileged!) years as a VAP.
But what caught my attention is this remark by Arvan:
Slowly, though, things began to change for the better. I attended a
teaching workshop which emphasized the "flipped classroom" -- i.e.
getting students to do more work in the classroom, rather than
being the "sage on the stage." My wife and mother also suggested that
instead of working myself into the ground prepping for classes, I should
prioritize getting students to work. I did.... It has worked wonders. My student evaluations have soared, and more importantly, my students are improving beyond my wildest dreams. Getting them to work -- to do philosophy themselves, both in the classroom and at home -- works wonders.
Recognizing something akin to this is crucial, I think, to all great (philosophy) teaching.
'The history of philosophy as practiced by professional philosophers [hereafter HOPPP] is a service to the rest of the profession; HOPPP's scholarly output is primarily geared to facilitate (undergraduate) teaching.' This suspicion [hereafter HOPPPS2P] had lodged in my mind when a few years ago I started to reflect on (a) the extremely low citation rates for journal articles in HOPPP, which suggests that there are no genuine controversies nor classic papers that ground future research; (b) the lack of concern about the proliferation of Handbooks and Companions that are effectively slowing down research in HOPPP; (c) the extreme difficulty of getting a position in HOPPP if one is not working on a canonical figure. (There are, of course, extreme regional differences on (c); in some places there are no positions for HOPPPers; in other places so-called 'systematic' and 'practical' philosophers do not even regard HOPPP as philosophy, but let it exist out of institutional inertia, benign neglect, etc.) But I wondered if I could ground ground HOPPPS2P in hard data.
Luckily, Michael Beaney, the thoughtful editor of British Journal for the History of Philosophy (BJHP), wrote areview of the last 20 years of the BJHP, with some recommendations for the future. Now BJHP is a young journal, but it has become one of the top venues in the sub-field. (In Europe it certainly also helps that it is listed in Thompson's Web of Knowledge/Science index so that publication can count in the right metrics.) Beaney and his team compiled data on the contents of the first twenty years.
"What this shows is that almost half the journal has been devoted to the work of just seven philosophers – the ‘big seven’ of early modern philosophy – and that around two-thirds of the journal has been devoted to the work of just sixteen philosophers, with three more early modern philosophers included as well as Plato and Aristotle from the ancient period and four [Hegel, Mill, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche--ES] nineteenth-century philosophers.
My friends, the serious historians of philosophy, often look down at (Analytical or even Continental) work that engages critically with authors from the canonical past; 'as if such classic texts could coherently be criticized from present perspective--we all know that involves vicious anachronism!' Even those employed in Analytical departments tend to prefer contextual understanding and sympathetic exegetical imagination over attempted refutations. (In fairness to the serious historians: they also look down at work that mines the past for useful insights.) These historians say they want to understand the past on its own terms and sometimes they also insist that in doing so we can understand the present. But (with a nod to Nietzsche) my friends are, in fact, quiet undertakers (the brilliant ones) or museum guards (the mediocre ones); they never imagine being a Maharal to the past and make it live.
Every Wednesday, I go to Riverbend
Maximum Security Prison in Nashville to facilitate a discussion group with
prisoners on death row and philosophy graduate students. It’s a nice prison, as
far as prisons go: clean, suburban-feeling, with a soapy smell that lingers on my
hands and clothes after I leave. The
reception area is filled with motivational posters of determined mountain
climbers and goal-oriented rowing teams.
Beyond the checkpoint, an ordinary sidewalk leads to death row. The path is lined with beige wooden fences
and topiary shaped like giant bathtub stoppers.
We pass through a series of grey doors and empty hallways until we reach
the smiling faces of ten men who have been condemned to death by the state of
WUI Collective and REACH Coalition, Postcards from Death Row (2012)
Th Dec 6, 5 pm CST: I'm moving this post back up as it's received some important comments from Ed Kazarian, in response to a comment I made at Leiter Reports to a post by Amy Ferrer, the Executive Director of the APA. By the way, all of Ferrer's posts at LR deserve reading.
The past month (September 2011) we've had a series of interesting and informativeposts on preparing graduate students to enter what is commonly called "the job market." The presupposition here is that the job market in philosophy begins post-PhD.
I don't want to criticize the content of the posts; as far as I can tell, the advice has been excellent. But I do want to suggest that we change our frame of reference on these matters, and specify that we have been discussing only a small segment of the complete system of employment for philosophy instruction in institutions of higher education. So I'd like to suggest we call the analysis of the complete system "the political economy of philosophy instruction."
Teaching is Not Magic. I'm stealing this motto from my
fellow-blogger, Michael Cholbi. Teaching is not some magical thing that
one has innately or that one "gets" or that one gets the hang of after a
few years of exposure. Most philosophers are rightly skeptical of
scholarly literature in what one might call "education studies." But
thankfully, philosophy has its own association of philosophy teachers
(the AAPT) and its own journal (Teaching Philosophy) that both share
that skepticism and recognize that good teaching is at the very least not
something that every philosopher should have to figure out on her own
and that it should be informed by argument, reason and evidence. Its
not good enough to point one's graduate students to these resources.
Graduate programs should be centrally involved in the AAPT and in
Teaching Philosophy, because arguably, Ph.D programs are most
responsible for the students who have learned the most. Share the
wealth, folks - how did you do it?--Rebecca Copenhaver, In Socrates' Wake.
Copenhaver's post is focused primarily on the North American situation (in my neck of the woods PhD bursaries are employees not "students," etc.), but her reflections apply more widely. The post reminded me of the weaknesses of my graduate education and also, alas, the shortcomings of my current practice as a supervisor. Anyway, I encourage everybody involved in PhD programs in philosophy to go read her whole post.
I have just volunteered as a philosophy and neuroscience teacher at my
daughter's school (third grade and gifted). If you have any fun
ideas/puzzles/exercises/studies for this grade level that relate to
philosophy or neuroscience, please post them here. Though I have ideas
of my own, I could use some help.
Joshua Miller (homepage; blog) has sent us this interesting guest post:
university, Morgan State, is revising its general education curriculum
requirements. Obviously, this is an exciting and anxious time, as the faculty
gather to share their pedagogical methods and ideals while protecting our turf
and trying to fend off managerial incursions on both ideals and turf. When we
met last Spring, our president held up a copy of Richard Arum and Josipa
Roksa’s Academically Adrift and
suggested that we should use it as a guide. Though there are seriousmethodologicalproblems with their research (and
troubling substantiation for previous research showing that many students are not and will not be well-served by a college
education) the book does help those of us in the humanities and liberal arts
make the case for our disciplines.
and Roksa use
data from the Collegiate Learning Assessment to demonstrate that the only students who show significant gains in critical thinking,
complex reasoning, and written communication have taken certain kinds of
courses. These courses had three factors in common: (1) more
than 40 pages of reading per week, (3) more than 20 pages of writing
per semester, and (3) high teacher expectations.
As a result, I have
proposed that Morgan State (and other public universities) should require these
types of courses at the start so that
core critical competencies
are available as they
go on to their major coursework. (The longer proposal is more specific to
Morgan’s needs but also includes lengthy details like book lists.) The
best way to do this is the First-Year Seminar. Small liberal arts college
faculty are probably familiar with this model, but it is uncommon at large
I hate to be an optimist in response to Dennis Des Chene's dire predictions about the future of undergraduate education being turned into online distance learning environments. So, here follows a refresher course (recall this) on why folk choose to spend a lot
of money to have their children join an elite liberal arts college
education and the many quasi-elite institutions of higher learning that emulate the elite (I hope my debt to Veblen is clear) :
1. It is a form of status seeking and conspicuous consumption.
2. It provides a) a valuable social network, not to mention b) opportunities for assortative mating.
3. It is a life-style choice (see 1). Moreover, The enormous residential infrastructure
keeps retention/graduation rates very high (see also 4b).
4. It a) teaches a lot of important social skills in b) a protective environment.
5. And for a minority group of students it is an escape from one's class.
I make enough copies for all students of a text related to the theme of the course (or the second session).
I then ask a random student to read it out aloud. Before I let him/her start reading, I always make a point to ask for the student's name, and some other identifying stuff (year, major, birth-place, and a few unrelated factoids--favorite sports-team, pizza-joint in town, etc) that may allow for some small-talk. I explain that I do so because that way I will have a better shot at remembering their names [I try to remember names no matter how large my course--I always print out enrollment-sheet with pictures]).
If the student has a clear reading voice, I praise it; if -- as is more likely -- the student reads too quickly or in a way that confuses the rest of us, I interrupt and explain what's going wrong. (I sometimes ask the student if s/he has idea what the text that has just been read means.)
I then start probing the read text with the class -- via a Socratic method; each time I call on a student I repeat step 3. Along the way, I let students experience how much of their readings and interpretations are really a product of their culturally laden assumptions or their relying on background knowledge or their lack of experience in probing the logical and conceptual structure of texts, etc. (I want them to experience how hard it is to read a text closely.) Ideally, students start a conversation with each other and to stop expecting 'the answers' from me, and I just keep discussion going as long as it is focused on the text.
This (2-5) works really well with the Introduction to Hobbes' Leviathan, Locke's Preface to the Essay, Spinoza's introduction to the TTP, Hume's Introduction to the Treatise, Nietzsche's intro to Genealogy of Morals, etc.
I go over the syllabus either just after break or at the end of the class.