Grading My Future Class

In preparation of my ethics course next semester, I have been spending a lot of time trying to decide how I am going to grade my class. I have narrowed it down to two options: one is to grade three papers; and the other is to grade one. The reason why I am having trouble deciding between the two is because I do not know how paternalistic I want to be as a teacher. In my previous experience teaching English, almost none of my students wanted to be there; they simply had to because their visa required it. Thus, everyday my students came to class to barely participate and turn in homework that was written with very little effort. Personally, I am tired of teaching students who do not care.

This being my past experience, it makes sense for me not to want to force my students to be productive, even if they would benefit in the long run. And it is not only because I find it unpleasant, it is also because I want to respect their autonomy. I am generally anti-paternalistic. I think that if some student decides not to work, then it is simply his fault. As long as a student does not disturb others, I think they should be able to do what they want to do. If they do not want to come to class, that is fine as well. That said, I do want my students to learn, so I originally planned to highly recommend that my students write two previous papers before the final one. I thought this was a good way to circumvent paternalism. However, after proposing this idea to other philosophers, two of them pushed back—in fact, most people I told pushed back. They basically said that if the papers were not mandatory, many students would not write them; and thus, they would suffer. So their arguments were basically that it is ok for me to be paternalistic, but since I am generally anti-paternalistic, these arguments, though initially appealing, were not ultimately convincing. Some professors ban the use of laptops in their classroom because they distract the student. Some also make attendance mandatory. I disagree with both of these policies. Again, as long as those students are not making it harder for other students to learn, they should be allowed to do what they want. If they do not learn as much, then that is their fault.

During this process of trying to figure out what to do, I imagined how I would have done in a class taught by me. For those who know me, it is an understatement to say that I used to be a different kind of student. My philosophy was to do the least amount of work in order to get a B in every class. I did not see the value of learning and only saw college as a means to make more money. Since I suspect many students that I will be teaching will share this attitude, I thought it would be helpful to try to put my shoes into an average student's shoes. And I have come to the following conclusion: if the 18 year old me were to take my class, I think he would get a B-, assuming that he would not write both of the highly recommended papers. I am comfortable with that conclusion. Would he have learned as much? No. But again, that would simply be his fault.

After I concluded that thought experiment, I felt vindicated for my plan to only grade one paper. However, it then occurred to me that if I truly wanted to respect my students' autonomy, I should leave this decision up to a vote. My students should decide for themselves whether or not they want more papers to be graded. After suggesting this idea to a few of my colleagues, I again received push back. They thought that the majority of the students would vote to have just the final paper, and that the other students who would lose the vote would come complain to me. This is certainly something I do not want, but it seems to be unavoidable. It is impossible for all the students to get what they want. So even if I were to decide in the beginning, nothing would prevent the students from complaining. The benefit of leaving it up to a vote, however, is that the blame is not on me, and I would be respecting their autonomy.

Wikipedia and Philosophy

The vast majority of Wikipedia paths lead to philosophy.

It turns out that if one searches almost anything on Wikipedia, and then clicks on the first link in the definition that is not in the parentheses, one is eventually led to the Wikipedia entry on philosophy. Here are a few examples:

pizza → oven → HVAC → mechanical engineering → engineering → science → knowledge → fact → proven → sufficient → logic → reason → consciousness → quality → property → modern philosophy → philosophy

dance → art → human behavior → behavior → organism → biology → natural science → science → knowledge → fact → proven → sufficient → logic → reason → consciousness → quality → property → modern philosophy → philosophy

love → affection → disposition → habit → unconscious mind → mind → cognitive → science → knowledge → fact → proven → sufficient → logic → reason → consciousness → quality → property → modern philosophy → philosophy

What does this interesting finding say about philosophy? The reason why I am currently pondering about this is because I will start teaching philosophy to undergraduates next semester, and I thought that it would be fun and fruitful to share this fact with my future students. In the process of trying to guess what my students would say, I realized that I was not even sure if there was an answer that I was looking for. What would my answer be if I were in their shoes?

It says that philosophy is the abstraction of all things.

It says that philosophy is the study of the understanding of the nature of anything and everything.

It says that philosophy is the beginning of all knowledge.

I am not satisfied with any of these answers, and perhaps there is no right one. Nonetheless, I hope that it sparks a flame of curiosity in my future students.