March 5, 2010

Higher and Lower Pleasures

slide from Sandel's lecture

I've been watching/streaming/listening to Michael Sandel's class at Harvard, from which this slide was taken; this class was filmed and put on the web. The title is Justice: What's the Right Thing To Do? and I must say I can see those Harvard students are getting a great education if this class is typical fare.

The episode I listened to this week involved choosing between higher and lower pleasures and included three film clips to illustrate the point: Shakespearean theatre, the intro to Fear Factor and a bit from a Simpson episode. Sandel then asked the lecture hall which they preferred watching. The Simpsons won. Then Sandel asked what was the higher pleasure? Shakespeare. All of this was based on the thinking of John Stuart Mill, a philosopher. But even Mill acknowledged that a person had to be trained to recognize the "higher" pleasure.

I teach at a community college, and it has been--as my friend and I joke, especially this year with all the budget cutbacks--Walmartized. Indeed we are the lowest common denominator on the college scene. But I am also product of the community college system, so I believe in the philosophy behind it. But the exchange of ideas in this streamed episode made me realize how much time I spend talking about the lower pleasure basics: how to write a sentence, how to insert a proper MLA reference, how to avoid misplaced commas, and how little time I spend with my students talking about higher pleasure ideas. True, my English 101 course is designed to teach students how to write better (the original being taught at this same Harvard university in the late 1800s) and not to necessarily discuss ideas. But the last slide really made me think about trying to do this once in a while:

I don't want to leave my classes only with satisfaction gained from a tightly-written paragraph. I want to leave them with a desire to gain more knowledge, to figure out and to find their way to--according to Mill--the higher things that can satisfy.

Click to return to SOLSC.
P.S. to the See's Candy Post. I called Corporate. They remember the "Spudettes," for that's what they were called. I can rest easy now, knowing I've moved the daftness goalposts back a little bit.


  1. In my classroom we had no rules, only two guiding principles: 1)Do the right thing and 2) Treat people right. Two short statements that generated big conversations.

    Thank you for the slice and also for the link to the course. I'm looking forward to checking it out.

  2. I'm with Karren,
    Leave the grammar aside more for the deeper challenges of learning. What can you do to make your students life long learners. That was my guiding mission. And how can I make their learning challenging and fun! Yes, fun!

  3. I am also a product of the community college system and now teach reading at a couple of community colleges.

    "I want to leave them with a desire to gain more knowledge"
    I agree with you! I try to infuse metacognition activities along with my vocabulary and main idea instruction.

    Thank you for sharing the link to the course.

  4. Even my first graders are told that to do the minimum is not where satisfaction comes from. It comes from going beyond...reaching further...discovering something no one else has. I wish more parents understood. They want their little ones to have perfect grades. They don't seem to understand I want their child to apply what they learn in a new way. Thank you for your post. It was affirming.

  5. When my studnets say they think they are done, I always ask them if they are happy with what they have done or if they think they could make it better. I have a boy in my class this year who was always telling me that he thought his work was OK. I finally told him that I didn't want him to be happy with OK anymore. That he shouldn't bring me work if it was just OK. That I didn't want to see his work until he thought it was the very best he could possibly do. I have to remind him now and then, but for the most part I think it has helped him to see that OK isn't enough. That is a hard thing to learn in school sometimes, especially for those who just want to be done. Even as an adult I have completed assignments that I just wanted to finish and never think about again. I think it is hard to lead people to the place where they want to be more than satisfied.

    PS: I am a community college girl too! 2 years there saved me lots of money on my degree.

  6. Thanks for the slice. It is certainly food for thought!