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My Teaching Philosophy


My approach to higher education is better represented by a model of joint inquiry than one of mental transfer.  The distinction between these approaches is analogous to the distinction between open source and proprietary software.  While I assign textual material, neither do I go directly over that material in class nor do I test your absorption of that material.  I assume that you can read whatever has been written.  You don’t need me to read it for you, or at least you shouldn’t.  The mental transfer approach presumes a faculty expert who owns the course material, and who transfers it onto the minds of the students.  This transfer is attempted through lectures and texts, and the success of that transfer is judged by examinations.  This approach is analogous to the use of proprietary software. 

            The joint inquiry approach is one where the course substance emerges out of interaction among course participants.  My position as instructor is a form of first-among-equals, where I have both the privilege of setting the initial course agenda and the obligation of assigning grades when the course is over.  This privilege and obligation aside, I regard a graduate classroom as a setting where all participants are probing their understanding of a subject of mutual interest.  The focus of these probes, moreover, is to locate potential targets for further professional development.  A good understanding of the economic literature that has been created to date, which you get by reading, is instrumental in the generation of the new scholarship that I hold as the primary objective of graduate education.  What is most important in this respect is that you come to think of yourselves as participants in the generation of the economic literature of the future.  My classes thus place heavy emphasis on writing and on oral participation, recognizing that class size can supply pragmatic limits.  Both in my assignments and in the conduct of my classes, I seek to cultivate an orientation toward the articulation of what has not yet been articulated.  The way I conduct my classes is easy to see if you keep this orientation in mind.

            Some of you might have seen the television show on Bravo, Inside the Actors Studio, hosted by James Lipton.  Toward the end of the show, Lipton asks each guest the same few questions.  One of the questions runs something like “what word or sound do you hate.”  Another question runs something like “what word or sound do you love.”  If I were asked what sound I hate, I would answer “the sound of a student asking ‘will this be on the exam?’”  If I were asked what sound I love, I would answer “the sound of a student asking ‘here’s an idea I think I might be able to do something with, what do you think?’”