What Are The Odds? Revisiting First-Year Philosophy

Now, this is the kind of post that I’d usually write and submit to The Odds Must be Crazy, but I don’t think if it’s what they’re looking for. Do check out their site, however.

It’s 2012. Back in the 1990s, I was here, exactly as my students are now: waiting to attend a lecture in Introduction to Philosophy. Nearly two decades years later, I am going to teach the same course that first led me to major in Philosophy – same institution, same building.

Now, while I’ll even be teaching the very same course that I once attended as a student, it’s a slightly different course content. The fashion standards appear to have stayed with us over time (there’s a student nearby with an I ♥ Italia t-shirt and I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that’s vintage).

I see a “Nicola”, bent over her iPod and untangling earphones – back in the 1990s, she had a CD Walkman and a bright blue streak in her hair.

I spy a “Lucinda”, tucking her long hair behind her ears; she goes through her notes, before putting them neatly into her designer bag. I spot “Brad” over on the steps, looking bored out of his mind and probably thinking of how he danced on the bar while on exchange in America and wishing he was back there. And finally, there’s a “Simon”, still effortlessly unwrinkled despite attending classes all day – he’s picking through a paper bag of pastries taken from his 1950s–style satchel.

Nicola was into Blur, Pulp and any other permutation of four-letter band names, as long as they were Cool Britannia. Lucinda will fall in love with the worst guy in campus and end up moving to Tasmania to follow him – and hopefully find someone nicer in a Hobart creative anachronisms club. Simon will take up designing window displays for Bed, Bath and Table; I still have his lighter in the bottom of filing cabinet somewhere. It features a sprig of gladioli. Brad disappears into legend, myth, moth – is possibly working for the FBI. Or the KGB. Somewhere where there’s a bar.

We file into the now-empty lecture hall. This used to be the library when the college first opened; then it was a general purpose lecture hall. Here is where I auditioned to be in the improvisation drama club. Here is where I did my last exam as an undergraduate, in fact. They’ve sealed off one of the walls that led to an additional room; it now holds the student administration office.

Damn it. The Lecturer has spotted me in the corner typing this. I thought I was well disguised as a student. He’s borrowed my book of exercises to show to the class, so they know what to purchase for the course. I thought he was coming over to tell me off for putting my feet up on an additional chair.

So much for dying my hair a different colour. I must be more conspicuous than I thought.

What would I have thought of myself as a tutor? I would wonder how someone ended up teaching Philosophy. I would be looking at my shoes and wondering where I got them from. I wouldn’t have said two words to me-the-tutor, outside of asking about the course and handing in a second attempt at the first essay I tried, to see where I went wrong. I would have wondered how I managed to successfully control that hair.

I’m looking around for me, as a student in 2012 – I will be somewhere near, but not in, the front rows. I will have my specially-decorated notebook ready to use just for this course and a new pen. I’ll be near Nicola and Jacinta, who will roll their eyes at inappropriate moments for my amusement. I’ll be seated away from Brad who audibly sighs at any technical term with more than three syllables and probably next to Simon who will dig through my bag for gum, another pen, the course reader and spare change for the parking meter.

This class is far more active than the one I attended. They are fairly independent in offering ideas as to what a Philosophy 100 course should involve; the seeking of knowledge, alternative understandings of the world, the getting of wisdom. We had a whiteboard and the basic makings of an audio-visual booth that played VHS tapes. These students have not one but two powerpoint screens surrounding the lectern and most of them have iPads or laptops for note-making. Maybe they’re Googling the answer for “what is Philosophy”? I wouldn’t have dared, I might have been spotted doing so.

Also, the technology didn’t exist back then.

Oh dear god, he’s making the same Monty Python references that my professor did.

I wish Nicola was here. Mind, she’d be a lot older now and denying that she ever wore t-shirts that featured jokes like “Quo-asis”.

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