They really shouldn’t be used for hiring and promotion. They’re biased in many ways– including gender, race, and difficulty of topic. And they often contain abuse.
Great Teaching Resource: The Deviant Philosopher
There’s a wonderful new teaching resource out– The Deviant Philosopher!
We at The Deviant Philosopher decided that it was time to do something to about the difficulties associated with diversifying our curriculum, recognizing that there is great value in the end goal. We think we can make it a little bit easier and a little bit less hazardous by collecting and sharing some new teaching resources. And so, we created The Deviant Philosopher. Our mission is:
- To create quality teaching resources on diverse non-canonical philosophical traditions and perspectives
- To promote meaningful engagement with the philosophical traditions and perspectives we’re representing
The Deviant Philosopher provides users with four kinds of materials: area primers, unit plans, lesson plans, and class activities. Primers are toolkits designed to help an instructor who is new to a subject area get acquainted with it. Unit plans, lesson plans, and class activities are teaching plans suitable for various time periods within a course, ranging from a single discussion to full units of study. Instructors can draw from these to suit their own time constraints and emphases. Each item contains suggestions about how to integrate the material into a variety of philosophy courses.
The Deviant Philosopher development team is Wayne Riggs, Amy Olberding, Kelly Epley, and Seth Robinson.
Check it out and get deviating!
Syllabi and Diversity
Luvell Anderson and Verena Erlenbusch have a really useful article, “Modeling Inclusive Pedagogy: Five Approaches,” appearing in the Journal of Social Philosophy. In it, they canvass five conceptually distinct approaches to making syllabi, and thereby course content, more diverse. Their taxonomy of approaches clarifies the advantages and disadvantages of each, but also illuminates the metaphilosophical aspects of diversifying courses. E.g., are diverse practitioners principally being employed as critics of the standard fare and approaches? Is the conceptual architecture itself reflective of diverse philosophical concerns or are diverse voices being brought to bear on a traditional core set of questions?
The essay as a whole does much to clarify what sorts of embedded assumptions or concerns can render diversifying a syllabus challenging. Anderson and Erlenbusch don’t provide any quick or easy resolution to these challenges, but that’s sort of the point. This is one of those cases where simply mapping out the landscape of possibilities and naming the rough terrain in each helps a lot. Do check it out!
Implicit Bias and the Teaching Excellence Framework
The UK government has decided to hastily throw together a framework for assessing teaching quality, which will be linked to funding. One key feature will be a heavy reliance on existing measures of student satisfaction like the National Student Satisfaction survey. Jules Holroyd and I have an article about this out in the Guardian today, drawing attention to worries about implicit bias in student satisfaction scores (though also noting other problems with these measures!).
Dealing with gender/topic biases in teaching evaluations
A reader solicits practical strategies for facilitating the sensible institutional interpretation of student evaluations of teaching, given the empirically well-founded worry (as was noted on this blog recently) that such evaluations express a substantial bias against women instructors.
Hello wonderful community of feminist philosophers, I’m hoping that you can help me with a problem that is not just mine but is one that so many of us share. This is the problem of teaching evaluations. Teaching evaluations as a method of assessing teaching leave much to be desired. However, their use becomes even more problematic or worrisome when (as in my case) they are used as one of three main criteria for annual departmental evaluations and promotion.
There is good evidence to show that anonymous course/teaching evaluations are biased against women and a number of other underrepresented groups. Most recently, there is this study. But in addition to evaluations being generally biased against women, I’m facing the additional issue: namely, in all of my courses I include a good deal of feminist and critical race theory. Having recently read my course evaluations, I noticed that a good number of my students reacted negatively to this material. For example, there were many comments that spoke to the “problem” of so much feminist philosophy, about how I’m trying to “indoctrinate them,” and about how if they didn’t simply agree with my (feminist) positions then I would give them low grades. Of course, all of these claims are false but nonetheless I am worried about their presence. It seems that on the basis of the content of my courses (in addition to the gender bias), my evaluations are importantly lower than those of others (and for reasons that have nothing to do with my actual teaching abilities).
So I’m wondering whether and how people in other departments have dealt with this problem. I’m pretty certain that my institution (big, public university) is committed to keeping them, so abolition is not on the table at this point. Still, I wonder if there is any way to take into account these known biases so that certain groups of people are not systematically disadvantaged. Have any departments tried other methods of assessing teaching either instead of or in addition to the required ones? Even though my university probably isn’t going to stop using teaching evaluations any time soon, it is possible that my department might be persuaded to use a different method of assessing teaching when it comes to departmental annual merit reviews (or at the very least, supplementing the university required teaching evaluations with some other methods).
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this matter.
Trigger Warnings and our “incapacity to unexperience”
I just want to draw readers attention to a really interesting piece by Leigh Johnson over at her blog
A few weeks ago in my Philosophy and Film course, we screened Werner Hertzog‘s film Grizzly Man for our “documentary” week. Grizzly Man tells the story of Timothy Treadwell, who spent thirteen summers in the Alaskan wilderness living with grizzly bears– all the while filming his trans-species communion– before being tragically attacked and killed by a bear in 2003. Treadwell was filming on the day that he died, though he did not have time to remove the lens caps from his camera before being attacked, so there remains only an audio recording of his (and his girlfriend, Anna Huguenard’s) gruesome death. Hertzog does not include that audio in his documentary. In fact, there is a scene in the film where we see Hertzog listening to the recording for the first time and then, afterwards, remarking to Treadwell’s friend: “You must never listen to this.” What is more, in a gesture practicallyverboten for documentary filmmakers, Hertzog instructs Treadwell’s friend to destroy the tape.
You can literally hear the regret in Hertzog’s voice, his longing to unring the bell, as he instructs Treadwell’s friend to destroy the recording. For cinephiles like myself, this is an especially powerful injunction, coming as it does from Hertzog, a man who was once shot during an interview and responded only with the calmly stoic remark: “it was not a significant bullet.”
. . . I’m still unsure if we should have listened to the recording in class or not. If we had–which, again, we did not–this would have constituted (for me, anyway) an unequivocal case for a trigger warning. That this is an “unequivocal” case is important, as I’ve found myself increasingly ambivalent about the merits and demerits of trigger warnings over the last year or so.
Dean Adam Scales tackles sexist student evaluations
The school in question is Rutgers Law – Camden, and Vice Dean Adam F. Scales is the man who took his students to task for their chauvinist commentary. He begins his email by mentioning that throughout his years of teaching, his look ranged from “Impoverished Graduate Student” to “British Diplomat,” but noted that no one would ever have known that just by reading his student evaluations for one reason, and one reason only — he’s a man. Scales then gallantly continues his onslaught against sexism:
It has come to my attention that a student submitted an evaluation that explored, in some detail, the fashion stylings of one of your professors. It will surprise no one possessing the slightest familiarity with student evaluations that this professor is a woman. Women are frequently targets of evaluative commentary that, in addition to being wildly inappropriate and adolescent, is almost never directed at men. Believe me, I am about the last person on this faculty for whom the “sexism” label falls readily to hand, but after a lifetime of hearing these stories, I know it when I see it. Anyone who doubts this would find it instructive to stop by and ask any one of our female professors about this and similar dynamics.
MA in White Power
Readers may be interested to see the proposal for MA studies in White Power (critical white studies), lead by Nathaniel
Coleman, which is being considered as an addition to the UCL curriculum. Details of the proposal are available here, and feedback can be given. This feedback may make an important contribution in determinations of whether this MA program will be incorporated into the curriculum. Do take a look and leave a comment if you see fit!
Resources for more inclusive philosophy classrooms
An excellent new site, Best Practices for the Inclusive Philosophy Classroom, offers a host of resources for philosophy teachers who want to make their classes more inclusive and mitigate the effects of biases. The site includes suggestions for syllabi and readings, advice on grading methods, ways to manage discussion and participation, and links to empirical research underpinning all this. The authors are associated with Minorities And Philosophy (MAP), a graduate student-led organisation that exists to “address issues of minority participation in academic philosophy”. They welcome contributions of additional resources, suggestions, and so on for the best practice website — drop them a line if you know a good one not yet included.
A brilliant performance poem about objectification
Performance poet Hollie McNish has done a brilliant performance poem about sexual objectification. The poem is designed as a commentary to the music video for the pop song ‘Blow My Whistle’ by Flo Rida – you play the poem alongside the muted song video. It’s very witty and clever and comical – in fact, you should probably listen to it before reading my two pennies worth (nothing spoils literature like hearing a second-hand description of it first!).
I recently used this video in a third-year philosophy lecture to introduce Martha Nussbaum’s excellent paper ‘Objectification‘, and it worked really well. Part of what Nussbaum does in that paper is to make a case for the existence of a positive form of sexual objectification – a temporary object-like treatment of a person that enhances a mutual and otherwise respectful sexual relationship. It struck me that this is very much in line with the position McNish takes in the poem. Interestingly, whilst McNish does critique the objectification of women in the music video, she reserves her real scorn for Flo Rida’s self-objectification. If he really must compare his penis to a musical instrument, she wonders, why choose a whistle – irritating, shrill, and easy for anyone to get a noise out of? Why not, McNish asks, a saxophone – something that requires skill, but which, when played well, can produce beautiful music? In other words, the problem with the penis/whistle (and consequent oral sex/blowing) metaphor is not the fact that it objectifies Flo Rida per se, but that it objectifies him in a way that completely fails to open up any fulfilling or exciting sexual possibilities – something that sexual objectification, if carried out with more imagination, might be able to do.
The video sparked a great discussion* between students about objectification in its own right, and it also, I believe, helped the students to grasp what Nussbaum had to say about positive objectification when I went on to explain her argument. The connection between the poem and Nussbaum’s paper is really very striking. This made me wonder about other pieces of media, art, or literature that could work the same way. Has anyone else found something that captures a philosophical claim really accurately like this, and used it in their teaching? What was it, and how did it go?
*One particularly important point that was raised was whether the poem endorses a harmful ‘bigger is better’ attitude to penises. Now, I do think that there’s room to read the remarks about size as pointing out the irony of Flo Rida implying (via the whistle metaphor) that he has a small penis, when that probably isn’t what he intended to convey. However, the poem doesn’t do much to distance itself from the more harmful reading, which is a bit of a shame.