Diversifying Philosophy – looking back

A good two months ago I wrote my latest piece here, introducing the course I was about to teach, outlining thoughts and reflections that had guided me through its design. Now the course has been completed: we read great texts from very diverse points of view, heard guest lecturers, watched films. Presentations were held by the students, critical reviews of the texts written. We discussed, debated from our developing frameworks of reflection, and had ‘live’ evaluations of what was learned, and how.

Now, finally seventeen end papers have been written and graded, and I am truly amazed at the work done by all, also by those who due to conflicting rosters or other reasons could not finish all the work. My pedagogical intention was not to get to a predefined level so much, although the minimal level to be attained of course was clear, but to stimulate everyone – inasmuch as possible – to develop their own critical minds and views of what philosophy is and can do.

What interesting group conversations on the literature we had! Where each participant brought their own life experiences and study background to fragments of books like Gender Trouble (Judith Butler), The Wretched of the Earth (Frantz Fanon) or On Reason (Emmanuel Eze). Two films we watched added to the learning experience, as many scenes came back in the discussions later on. They were Lumières Noires, and On Violence. The contributions of my two excellent guest lecturers, Louise Müller and Annemie Halsema, who helped me introduce the subjects of Euro-American and African feminist theory, were invaluable.

There were exciting new ways to see things, and challenges in the way to express and discuss the developing views. The choice of texts and themes proved to provide a good framework for the work done. The (partly international) students had different disciplinary backgrounds, still all did the readings with good effect. A challenge was how to relate the texts to present day issues, in which sometimes personal life experiences are at stake.

How to speak, how to listen, how to give a personal opinion, or how to defend a position academically, even without it being my opinion – which place, and what space, should we give to our personal experiences, and how can we be critical philosophers, and caring persons simultaneously? All such questions at one point or another popped up and needed attention – a vulnerable and valuable process of learning for teacher and students. Without entering into it, engaged, or involved, philosophy cannot be done.

Beforehand, in my latest blog post I wrote: “how I like to teach philosophy: as a series of ways to stimulate and improve the reflective potential that is already here – in actual students who enter class – with all their different backgrounds, vulnerabilities and talents.” in hope that “they can learn not only from the materials offered, but also from each other, and from themselves, as they go through the step by step transformations that life asks from us, and that philosophical studies speed up.” It is to the students to decide if my hopes for them worked out. They certainly entered the process together and with me earnestly and committedly.

A valuable bonus was the initiative, by one of the students, to do an outing after the papers were written, in the spirit of diversifying our outlook and opening our minds. Even though, with cold november rains and other obligations not many could join on that day, our visit to the exhibition on Surinam (in precolonial times, during colonization by the Dutch and after independence) in Amsterdam was a very nice conclusion. I may add an outing to the official program, next year!

Below two of the students and the author in the room representing dress styles of Surinam’s different peoples.

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