Friday, 7 October 2011

The goal of a sabbatical is to have a chance to step back from the daily routine of university life and explore new directions. We've started going down that route as a family, thanks to Uncle Crabby and the Jedi Queen recommending to us. It's a course in justice and philosophy taught at Harvard by Michael Sandel, with the lectures from 2009 produced by PBS and available online. Really, all I can say is "wow" both to the content and Sandel's lecturing. I consider myself a pretty good and popular lecturer in my courses, but it's definitely nothing compared to Sandel's masterful control of the course and the class.

The course covers so many philosophical underpinnings of our society and uses real-life examples to bring them to life. Importantly, Sandel or the course doesn't seek to prove any point or even to settle any debate, but forces the students and the viewers to address their thoughts and ideas and explore them for themselves. We've been watching episodes together as a family over dinner and discussing the issues together. Even Zachary and Jacob could instantly recognize a great teacher.

The opening of the first lecture instantly grips you at the same time as unsettling you. You're the driver of a runaway train barrelling down towards 5 workers who'll surely be killed. You see another track you can veer to where there's only 1 worker on the track who'll surely then be killed. What do you do? Within 10 min of discussion, Sandel has the majority of the 1000 students completely switching their decision as he digs into the philosophy.

With Sandel's (who looks like John McEnroe with Star Trek's "Data" mannerisms!) lecturing, what awed me the most was that he could get the audience so engaged into a thoughtful debate about such charged topics, yet keep control of the class and have the debate be respectful without descending into blinkered or partisan lines shouting at each other from their entrenched views - a great example for politicians and much of society really!