Shelley Kagan reading quotes from course evals is a hoot

It’s virtually impossible, if you are a conscientious professor, not to feel bad about course evaluations. While you know full well not everybody is going to like you, it can be discouraging to discover that, no matter how hard you tried to arrange the material, some students still didn’t see the organization, etc.

It is also very hard not to listen to the one petty, mean-spirited remark even if you had 50+ glowing comments. For instance, I am still stinging about a whiney remark made about my class on planning ethics when a student complained that I had “called students out for not reading, and [she] just didn’t understand what the point of that shaming was.”

Well, the point of SHAMING IS TO PRODUCE SHAME, SO THAT YOU READ NEXT TIME. For a small, discussion-based seminar on ethics, reading is important. Without reading the material, the class is a bullshitting session, which we can do in a bar over drinks and shouldn’t cost you the gross amount of tuition money you are paying to sit in my class and get half of what you would if you read the material.

Shelley Kagan is a well-regarded philosopher who put his course on “Death” into the Yale Open Courses system. He’s a very entertaining speaker, and while you may, or may not, be interested in death, his first lecture introducing the class and trying to help students figure out if they are going to enjoy the class  is masterful. It’s very clear that Kagan has a nice healthy ego, in addition to being brilliant, and it all rolls off him. I found it inspiring. 

The party begins at about 39:11, so you might want to slide through the rest of the introductory stuff. Viz: 

Kagan says something that I’m pretty sure all professors feel at some point. “I don’t know who this person is, but this person is an idiot.” It made my heart sing to see a professor just confront students on the first day of class with the bottom line: why in heaven’s name would you work so hard to get into Yale, and spend all of this money, only to try to skate through doing as a little as possible?