One day last fall, as I schlepped across three states and four universities in order to teach 8 college courses to make ends meet as an underpaid philosophy professor, I thought to myself that there had to be a better way. Why couldn’t I just teach students face to face on video, instead of having to travel such long distances to see them? Why couldn’t I reach out to my blog readers and Facebook friends in order to find self-motivated learners who are out of school or who want to supplement their current formal education with some edifying learning for its own sake? Why couldn’t I see if such people would be willing to pay me directly, at a fraction of the rate of a college course, to teach them and to lead them in rich philosophical discussions, tailored to their specific ideas and interests?
So, I reached out on Facebook and on my blog and on two of my friends’ blogs to see what interest there was. I put up a survey for people to use in order to register for information and to guide me in scheduling courses people wanted and could fit into their lives. (You can fill out the new survey to help me arrange summer and fall courses here). And now half a year later I have been simply blown away by what has happened.
I have found an extraordinary group of students who I love spending hours with every week talking about philosophy. A couple of the courses have discussions that are so engrossing for all involved that we regularly decide on the spot to do an extra hour or two long session rather than stop. One of the groups gets along so well that a couple of times when class has already gone over time and been declared finished, we have still just decided to hang around continuing to talk on and on about non-course topics. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend four hours in philosophical discussion over dinner with another student when he happened to come through New York. Another student has been one of my favorite regular contributors to the “Forward Thinking” series Libby Anne and I run on our blogs. I really believe that I have made some potentially enduring friendships here.
With all four of the classes I teach online, I have had discussions that have ended with my mind racing with ideas. I have routinely felt so proud of what we had accomplished in our time together that I wished it were recorded for others to learn from. I have been so pleased, in fact, that I have decided to offer each of my students the opportunity to guest post in the future here at Camels With Hammers.
In short, I have found both an incredibly gratifying and edifying new medium and source of students for teaching, in addition to becoming just a little less dependent on an exploitative academic system for my income.
And I am eager to continue this experiment this summer and on through the fall.
And I want you to be a part of it.
I would like you to learn philosophy with me in a small enough setting that I can give highly specialized attention to your interests, questions, and ideas. I would like you to be a part of one of my small groups of insightful students from a variety of walks of life, who bring relevant knowledge from any number of sources from outside of philosophy. There is no prior philosophical knowledge required. All classes are tailored to meet all students wherever they are at philosophically.
I have put together a survey for you if are at all interested in this experience. Fill it out even if you are unsure you can afford to take a course, as I have been blown away to discover that there are some students generous enough to be willing to anonymously pay part of other people’s tuitions. So, there may be someone willing to help you out.
Depending on people’s scheduling needs, I am willing to work out different kinds of arrangements. We can schedule something a variety of different times of the day and the week. We can do weekly sessions that stretch from the summer to the early fall. Or we might do bi-weekly sessions and cover a whole course from June through August. Alternatively, there may be room to do a half-course, crash-course style, over one weekend. Or perhaps a full crash course over two? Fill out the survey to tell me which arrangements might work for you! (And if you have filled it out in the past, please fill it out again if any of your availabilities have changed since then, so that I know.)
What would we talk about specifically in these classes? There are essentially five main ways I am so far approaching teaching people online.
1. You can study Nietzsche with me, reading allowed and analyzing numerous key texts from his writings, selected based on my perception of their importance and your perception of their value to you. I wrote my dissertation on Nietzsche and so I have a ton of stored up ideas about his writings that I can never get enough of discussing with others.
2. Or you can study moral philosophy with me. There are three basic course designs. We could dig in hard to the technical philosophical questions about whether (or in what ways) morality is “real” or “unreal”, subjective or objective, a human construct or a part of nature, etc. Or we could focus on practical systems for determining the best ethical choices in life and for working out what a virtuous and happy life consists of. Or we could do a course that combines both that technical theoretical approach to ethics and the practical one.
3. Another thing you can do is join my historical philosophy course in progress. We started in February on Plato and we have had such a rich time spring-boarding off of his writings into philosophical discussions of our own that we are still working through his work at present. If you let me know in time for two weeks from now, you can catch up with us at Aristotle and explore the whole rest of the highlights of the history of philosophy with us throughout the rest of the spring, the summer, and possibly into the fall. Or we can start at the beginning in a new class that starts with Plato and goes through the history of philosophy either in a summer or for a summer and a fall, depending on just how much detail interests you.
4. You can take a “Philosophy for Atheists” course with me. This is a course for free ranging discussions about issues in philosophy that are relevant to atheists in particular. Based on students’ interests, this course can go a number of ways. It can be very focused on introducing key topics in philosophy. Also (or instead), it can involve forays into historical philosophy to contextualize where both theistic and atheistic arguments have their philosophical roots, how they evolved, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. Finally, we can spend as much time as is wanted doing counter-apologetics, i.e. working out replies to familiar challenges from theists and studying and criticizing work in the philosophy of religion.
5. Finally, if you would like one on one attention from me, there are ways to hire me by the hour without committing to an entire course. You can hire me to discuss any philosophical topics in which I am qualified. Or you can avail yourself of my services as a philosophical counselor. As a PhD in philosophy and an APPA (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor, I can help you confidentially sort out the kinds of problems and questions in your life that are not due to psychological maladies but rather are due to
(a) your religious doubts
(b) your personal philosophical transition to atheism
(c) your existential anxieties
(d) specific ethical dilemmas in your life
(e) your struggles with important decisions and value priorities
(f) your problems with relationships in your life
(g) your search for general meaning, value, and purpose in life
(h) your simple desire to construct a coherent and integrated worldview for yourself
With philosophical counseling, we can meet as many or as few times as are fruitful for you, with no preset commitment.
If you are interested in any one or several of these classes or services, please fill out the survey so I know all the fine grained details about what exactly interests you and how much and so I know all about when and for how long you would be available so I can build a class around you. If you have another idea for how I could meet your philosophical needs that I haven’t thought of, let me know that too!
In mid-May, I will use the survey data to schedule potential classes and contact everyone who signs up to give them the opportunity to sign up first, before announcing the course options to my general blog readership.