Monday, July 7, 2014

Sara Bareilles on the Benefits and Expectations of Being in a Philosophy Course

One of the most common things I’ve heard from students who are curious about the grade they received on a paper concerns vague, ambiguous, or mis-worded sentences/phrases they have used. Typically the conversation runs as follows:

               Teacher: “I wasn’t sure what you meant by phrase (or word) ‘x’?”
               Inquiring Student: “Oh, well, what I meant by ‘x’ was ‘y.’”

Usually I am tempted to respond: “Then why didn’t you just say ‘y’…?” However, as I still tend to face these struggles myself, I have to remember that it can be really hard to “say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out.”

In one of her newer songs Sara Bareilles gives a clear explanation of the value of being clear and concise with your wording. Or, as she puts it, an explanation of the value of saying what you want to say and sharing your ideas (and thereby yourself) with people!

This song also does a nice job of articulating what is expected, and appreciated or valued, by teaching assistants, instructors, and professors of philosophy courses. Part of developing critical thinking skills requires you to share your ideas and have them challenged. In order to best justify your opinions, views, or ideas, you have to be able to respond to criticisms they may face. It usually takes some practice and exposure before having your opinions, views, and ideas challenged becomes fun, but in order to develop good critical thinking skills you have to be able to understand what your opponents are saying and what criticisms your opinions, views, and ideas face.

All of that being said, in order to receive and understand criticism, you have to share your ideas! That means putting yourself and your views on the line and making yourself vulnerable by being willing to have them challenged. Saying what you mean is difficult, and it takes a lot of courage. This, however, is one of the many benefits of taking a philosophy course. You are encouraged to say things clearly and concisely! These courses help you to develop critical thinking skills and give you the tools necessary to defend your opinions, views, and ideas. It can be frightening, but the better you are at standing up against criticisms, the more confident you can be in your opinions, views, and ideas! And, since saying what you want to say takes courage, and philosophy courses encourage you to say what you want to say, then taking philosophy course helps you to become brave!

It seems appropriate to share one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received from one of my philosophy professors: “If you can use either a one syllable word or a ten syllable word, for the love of God, use the one syllable word!” So, follow Sara’s advice and “say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out.” As she so happily puts it, “Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live. Maybe one of these days you can let the light in, and show me how big your brave is.”


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