John May Questions Teaching Philosophy

From: John May []
Sent: Fri 1/23/2009 7:45 AM
To: Kirstein, Peter N.
Subject: Teaching Philosophy and Raison D’être in being a professor

Professor Kirstein

After reading your “Teaching Philosophy and Raison D’être” I am confused. You state that “I believe teaching is a moral act”. Would those be your morals or the morals of another person, group or society? If they are your morals then would that not make you a vaild target for those who disagree with them? If so then it would be acceptable for David Horowitz to call your teaching into question.

If your view is that it is acceptable for a professor to teach their morals, as long as they are sincere, then I would agree, although haltingly, with your statement that “Different views and competing visions should be introduced when appropriate”. The portion of that statement that causes me concern is the ending, i.e. “when appropriate”. That starts to sound a little arbitrary, or as you state it, like some form of censorship.

I seriously doubt that you would support any professor who sincerely espoused the views of the KKK. Yet that same professor could copy, almost word for word, your “Teaching Philosophy and Raison D’être” and be justified.

It seems to me that balance would requires competing views, whether you embrace them or not. Otherwise you end up being nothing more than what Nietzsche referred to as an epileptic of the concept.


John May


From:   Kirstein, Peter N. Sent:  Fri 1/23/2009 8:34 AM
Subject:   RE: Teaching Philosophy and Raison D’être in being a professor

Dear John:  

Teaching is a moral act and of course predicated on the instructor’s morals but within the realm of effective and pedagogical best practices.                                                                                                      

I would support the right of a professor to espouse the views of the K.K.K. in class as long as its history is fairly rendered, students were encouraged to disagree and there was an absence of any hate speech directed toward a student or group. I might be uncomfortable with a colleague who supported the Klan but academic freedom would protect that person’s right to do so as it would for him or her to support the views of George Walker Bush.  

Presenting competing views is essential but not required in all circumstances. With regard to neutrality or always presenting all sides of an argument, allow me to quote myself from a YouTube video on  a talk I gave at New York University:

“Roberta Matthews, former provost at Brooklyn College, astutely noted, “teaching is a political act.” For me it is also a moral act that requires challenging the canon and educating responsible citizens. A professor should not merely recite facts and figures and maintain a sterile neutrality, as dictated by David Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights, or cover slavishly both sides of every issue. Is slavery defensible? Is genocide defensible? Is racism defensible? Is homophobia defensible? Are war crimes defensible?”

Thanks for your comments,  


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