Now that’s a meaningful course evaluation!

The following is from Jessica Gordon-Roth, Assistant Professor at CUNY-Lehman. The emphasis was added by me, because it is splendid:

I asked my ‘Modern’ students how studying women philosophers shaped their understanding of the early modern period. To my surprise many took the opportunity to express how studying these women affected their understanding of philosophy more generally.

“Reading female philosophers helped me not only understand and appreciate the role of women in philosophy…it also expanded and challenged my understanding of many philosophers. For example Catharine Trotter Cockburn’s defense of Locke expanded on some vague points Locke made (which could be what Locke meant to say). So it opened my eyes to the possible implications of Locke’s arguments. Princess Elisabeth presented faults and questions about Descartes’ work which I would have never thought of myself and so it helped and inspired me to dig into Descartes’ arguments and all subsequent arguments in the class…which gave me a deeper understanding of the early modern period as a whole.”

“Reading female philosophers from the early modern period has shown me that there actually were female philosophers around that time and they just aren’t discussed as much…”

“Reading the works of…women philosophers…really changed my impression of…philosophy as a whole. All I had ever read prior to this course were male philosophers and it made the impression on me that those were the only people thinking philosophically at that time. Now I feel I have a fuller understanding of philosophy. I enjoyed seeing that women philosophers were just as intelligent and cunning as the men were. For example, Descartes, the philosopher most people know, had no valid response for Elisabeth’s objections to his arguments….”

“I feel I have learned many things from this course. First of all, I learned that it has not only been men asking the difficult questions throughout history, but many women have as well. Women have just not been given the spotlight…men have….”

“Prior to this class Martha Nussbaum and Judith Butler were among the few I knew…”

“In general, reading female philosophers in this class provided me with a well-rounded understanding of the sort of writing and thinking that emerged from the modern period. It was encouraging to know that not only did the philosophy written by the famous men of the period reach women, but women actually engaged in it and affected those very men….Being able to understand how the social, political and religious environment affect the content of philosophy from a particular period, and to see how often philosophers respond to, refute, or praise the questions and arguments raised by others, showed me how philosophy is more of a network of conversation, rather than a collection of independent unrelated works…”

“There was a lot I did not know about female philosophers…especially not how they interacted with famous male philosophers. It also made me question why it took so long for me to learn about them as a philosophy major and senior. Why aren’t these other great philosophers taught in lower level courses?…”

12 thoughts on “Now that’s a meaningful course evaluation!

  1. The comments also lead me to think J G-R is a very good teacher. Her students are clearly engaged with philosophy and have a well developed sense of relevance, among other things. This sort of thing speaks to the excellence of the class.

  2. This is fascinating but what made me sad was the student who wrote that until Jessica’ s course, the only names of women philosophers the student knew were Martha Nussbaum and Judith Butler. All of the rest of us living women philosophers are currently lost.

  3. I would also be interested in seeing her syllabus. I just finished a class on the british empiricists in which in addition to Locke, Berkeley, Hume, we covered Princess Elizabeth correspondence with Descartes, Cockburn, and Shepherd from the Atherton anthology. I am guessing that Prof. Gordon-Roth also used this anthology?

  4. Thanks Anne for the kind words. This was a great group (and that had little to do with me!). Jane and Kris: I would be happy to share my syllabus but it is very much a work in progress. (Please contact me: jgordonroth (at) gmail (dot) com.) I do use Margaret Atherton’s anthology and am indebted to her (for that text and much more!). I also share Margaret’s worry about lost women philosophers.

  5. On a somewhat broader point, I have found (several times) that asking students specific questions about texts, approaches, or assignments that I have tried in classes has resulted in useful feed-back. Of course, not everyone always has nice (or helpful) things to say, but I find that when I tailor my questions in the way that seems to have been done here, I’m much more likely to get useful feedback of the sort that was received in this case. I’d recommend it.

  6. Reblogged this on Feminist History of Philosophy and commented:
    Some very heartening and compelling thoughts from students about why we should insist on teaching early modern women! And that applies to other periods of the history of philosophy, of course.

  7. Just curious: the students whose comments are posted here, are they male or female? (Or other) I would of course hope that the impact of studying female philosophers would be similar on male and female students, but I wonder if there is a difference in the ‘lessons learned’ for each group.

  8. I am so glad to see this — congrats to Jessica G-R. Many of my modern students this spring have written final papers on Sophie de Grouchy or Mary Wollstonecraft. Very heartening.

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