Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why is there no real education in the Harry Potter books?

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I got an energetic response to the Philosophy is Everywhere post pictured above. In it, I suggested that since none of the Hogwarts students get a true liberal-arts education, they won’t grow up to be creative. There were two basic criticisms in response. Some claimed I misrepresented Hogwarts and others argued that I am wrong to suggest that people can’t create art without going to school. The first is a matter of interpretation and less philosophically interesting. My response to that is simply that arthimancy is not math and the history of magic is not world history. Hogwarts students should take all of these subjects, not to mention Composition 101, so they, not the quill, will know how to write. The second criticism however is wonderfully rich and worth exploring. The connection between creativity and education is fascinating.

As with most of the snippets I post, the philosophical issues are simplified and made as stark as possible—public philosophy is often philosophy at a glance. But the substantive questions are still there: what is the purpose of education and what kind of curricula should be prioritized? There are massive debates all over the world about the importance of art, music, theater, and literature in schools. In the U.S. and the UK, they are being pushed aside for STEM courses (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). All of the Hogwarts classes are the wizarding equivalents of STEM, with the possible exception of the history of magic, which everyone but the half-muggle Hermione hates. If we can conceive of a wizarding world in which the arts and humanities are unnecessary, it’s that much easier to justify a real school in which they are unimportant too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My boyfriend wants to have a threesome with another girl, but I want to have one with another guy. What would Plato say? [Ask a philosopher]

Recently, PQED got this email as part of our Ask a philosopher invitation. Thank you anonymous email writer. It made me feel like a real advice columnist!

Dear PQED:
My boyfriend and I have been dating for six months and we talked about having a threesome. He wants a threesome with another girl and I want one with another guy. I think he's homophobic and he says I'm no fun. We are both philosophy majors (he's a junior and I'm a senior), and I told him that Plato would be on my side. Do you think I'm right? And who should we have a threesome with?
Get my boyfriend out of the cave!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Introducing the "Philosophy is Everywhere" project...because, well, philosophy really is everywhere.

When we teach philosophy, we teach the great books and the complicated arguments. But there is so much more philosophy than what we see in college. The Philosophy is Everywhere project aims at highlighting the little bits of philosophy that we encounter every day. The quotes from celebrities, the passages in books, the comments from politicians, the art, music, and day to day conversation that happens while we are busy looking at other things. These are all philosophy, too.

Philosophy is Everywhere is a new Instagram-based project aimed at getting the attention of a younger, more pop-culture aware audience. It speaks to people in their teens and twenties, and to the older folks who have never let go of the excitement of seeing the “thoughtful” in their entertainment.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Is there intelligence in working-class jobs?

This is the monologue for the latest episode of Why? Radio. The topic was “The Intelligence in Everyday Work.” You can listen the whole episode online here.

There is an attitude among men of a certain generation, that real work involves wearing a suit. While Americans have always spoken romantically about laboring with our hands, and politicians running for office fight over who is the most working class, there is still a cultural commitment to the idea of dressing up for a job. Going to an office is seen as somehow better than not doing so, and wearing a suit means being higher on the food chain than those who do physical labor. I have known quite a few people who put off being contractors or artisans until after they retired, and who, even though they may never admit it, were happier making things than they ever were sitting at a desk.

It’s not that we as Americans don’t celebrate manual labor; it’s that we celebrate it in a very narrow way. Whether it’s Andy Dufresne downing a beer after tarring a roof in the Shawshank Redemption, or Peter Gibbons working construction at the end of OfficeSpace, when our heroes do choose a life of physical work, it’s the sunlight and the fresh air that bring them happiness. The movement of their bodies and the fatigue in their arms and legs signify a job well done, not some deeper intellectual commitment to the project at hand. Whatever praise we have for the working classes, none of it involves their minds.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Should white women be permitted to belly dance or twerk? (On cultural appropriation.)

In an article called Why I can’t stand white belly dancers, Randa Jarrar argues that white women who belly dance are “playing at brownness” and dressing in “Arab drag.” Since belly dancing is historically Arab, she explains, and since it is still used as a form of protest in Egypt, white women shouldn’t do it. To those who object to her stance, citing their own love, respect, and commitment to the art, she responds simply, “I’m sure there are people who have been unwittingly racist for 15 years. It’s not too late. Find another form of self-expression. Make sure you’re not appropriating someone else’s.”

It is unclear why cultural appropriation has become the object of such liberal ire, but Jarrar is not alone in her objections. She communicates the same hostility Miley Cyrus faced when she twerked at the MTV Music Awards. Cyrus is white, twerking is a traditionally black dance, and her act was seen as a form of cultural theft. Doing something from someone else’s culture, even with love and respect, is now interpreted as racism.