Sunday, March 21, 2010

Teaching philosophy in China to non-philosophy students

For the past year or so teaching in Ningbo I've tried to introduce some basic philosophical topics into my "social clubs", which are basically lecture classes whose content is entirely up to me. I think I've been getting better at making the ideas accessible and interesting. So far the students have been most interested in ethics and the good life.

My students come from a range of backgrounds. Some are professionals, some are university and high school students, and some are, as it were, full time students at Web who hope to find a job once they've improved their English. I have yet to meet one who has studied philosophy, and if I were to they would have mostly studied Marxist philosophy, taught as unquestionable truth. So this stuff, as far as I know, is completely new to all of them.

A few of the students have taken a particularly keen interest, and always have a lot to say. And what they say, while not as clever as what you'd hear in a philosophy class at Macalester, is often more insightful.

More and more I think philosophy in the west has gotten way off track. It ought to be a discussion of basic values and concepts that anyone can participate in. It's gotten so loaded with unnecessary jargon that one has to take hundreds of hours of courses and write hundred of pages before you are are seen as being able to converse in it intelligently. But a lot of this stuff is really not that hard, if you try to make it clear, rather than tossing in as many clauses and obscure references as possible.

In China the culture seems ready for honest, open discussion about social values. There's already a lot of it going on, especially online. This makes it an interesting place to be an amateur philosopher.