Consistent with my scholarly interest in civic education, I see my role as a teacher primarily in drawing out the political ideas students bring to the classroom and getting them to critically assess their normative assumptions and understandings. I therefore emphasize participation, self-reflection and critical engagement, tools I consider essential for any citizen.
On the first day of class, my goal is to make the core questions of the courses I teach relevant to students’ personal and political lives. In teaching “Ancient Political Thought“, I usually begin by asking the students to answer by a show of hands: “How many of you live in a just society?” I would then call on students to justify their vote, explaining what type of evidence they use to decide whether their society is just. I would follow up with a more personal question: “How many of you believe you are a good person?” These questions typically elicit wide participation and give the class materials for a twenty minute conversation exploring how we reach conclusions about justice and goodness. Because students are forced to examine their beliefs about themselves and their political societies, they turn their critical attention inward from the beginning of the class. My goal throughout the course, starting with the first moment of class, is to help these young people become insightful contributors to these ongoing normative conversations rather than historians of the distant past.
With my training in economics and statistics, I also consistently build bridges between normative theorizing and empirical political science. I particularly enjoy teaching interdisciplinary courses such as “Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE)” that allow students access to an interdisciplinary tool set for thinking about politics. My unique background in both normative and empirical political science allows me to guide students through discussions of the economic indicators used by the US Federal Reserve as well as conversations about the normative grounds for insulating central banks from the democratic decision-making processes. In my experience, students are surprised to learn that normative claims in politics can have rigorous standards of evidence analogous to those used in statistical analysis or historical research. By subjecting American political discourse and particular policy proposals to a variety of methodological approaches, I believe students become more critical and engaged members of the electorate.
I have taught at two institutions with a diverse student body – Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany and Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. My classes included many international students with experience of different political systems, as well as local students whose lived experiences of the same political institutions in Germany or the US differed widely. I therefore offer courses that allow students to take advantage of these different perspectives. My course Politics and Economics, for example, combined an investigation of normative perspectives on political economy with applied discussions about democracy and market economies in Eastern and Western Europe, China, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and North America. My response to a diverse student body is to choose a range of topics that allow students to switch roles from learner to teacher. I always seek to complement exegesis and exposition with honest and reflective discussion.
Given my research focus and my experience, I would be able to offer both introductory-level courses in the history of political thought and more advanced graduate seminars. For introductory courses, I would draw on my extensive training in political science and political economy to engage not only students who would specialize in political theory or philosophy, but also students interested in comparative politics, economics and other social sciences. For more advanced undergraduates, I would offer smaller seminars focusing on specific historical periods, such as ancient Greek and/or Roman political thought, social contract theory, French political thought and 20th century thought. For graduate teaching and mentoring, I would develop in-depth seminars on specific thinkers such as Locke, Rousseau or Adam Smith.
I have constantly sought out ways to improve my teaching. I have guest-lectured in both Political Science and Philosophy, shadowed a professor at Meredith College, undertaken training in pedagogy through the Certificate in College Teaching and visited a range of different teaching institutions through the Preparing Future Faculty Program, including community colleges, small liberal arts colleges and large public universities. By engaging fellow graduate students and faculty members from a variety of institutions and disciplines in conversations about pedagogy, I have come to appreciate the effectiveness of different tools in reaching diverse learners. For example, my introductory classes now often include short lectures that model critical thinking about a particular argument or normative perspective followed by small group exercises applying the concepts discussed or evaluating a particular argument.
I am constantly watching other teachers, comparing notes and improving my methods. In doing so, I have learned to include diverse communication methods. My classes include pre-discussion writing exercises that allow students to gather their thoughts before sharing with the group, small group exercises that can make shyer students more comfortable, as well as an online forum where students are asked to make weekly written contributions.
During the past year, I have also been involved in teaching a Bass Connections civic engagement class for Duke undergraduate students called “The Citizenship Lab: Civic Participation of Refugee Youth in Durham”. I worked with 7 Duke undergraduate students and two faculty members in Sociology to develop civic and community building skills in 20 young refugees aged 13 through 19 recently relocated to North Carolina. I used my knowledge of Durham local politics to engage this group in multiple types of activities, everything from casting youth ballots in the Durham local elections to meeting with one of the councilmen. Because some of our students struggled with basic literacy, we turned from text to photography to help them communicate their experiences. Helping these young people communicate through photographs what a community is and can be for them has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my teaching career so far.