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Teaching teenagers: a learning experience November 26, 2009

Posted by Andy in Idea History, pedagogics.
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I’ve been spending a large part of the time since completing my PhD teaching teenagers about English and Religion. It’s been a learning experience.

In many ways, preparing to complete a PhD has been a lesson in concentration. I spent one entire year studying someone (Berkeley) who barely got a mention in the final thing. You have to focus in on topics and shut out other concerns.

So going from that to teaching eighteen and nineteen year olds about Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Philosophy and Religious Studies per se in the course of one year, with three lessons per week is something of an experience. Instead of going narrow and deep, you have to go shallow and broad. A couple weeks back, for example, I ran through, in the course of about 50 minutes, the tensions between Mediterranean power blocs and Iranian steppe-based power blocs from 500 BCE to around 700 BCE as a way to go from Buddhism to Islam. I used google map and my time line.

Now I’m teaching Islam, and ploughing my way through the Qu’ran (which is also available for free as a spoken word book), which is frankly exhilerating. Also, given that I am somewhat bearded and foreign, it gets me loads of street cred. Some strangers enthusiastically engage me in conversation, others take steps to avoid me.

My point is, all of us have a series of books that are really basic, but way outside their central field of interest that they’ve never gotten around to reading. Not having read the Qu’ran is a particularly heinous academic sin, but surely most people have similar academic skeletons in the closet. So I would wish every PhD graduate a chance to teach in school for a year or two before they continue their trek towards tenure. I’ve been forced to it (although I do not know if I will even rejoin the trek…) and have already seen how wonderful it is.

Not least because you’ll have an excuse to read Critchley’s hilarious Book of Dead Philosophers.

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