Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Monday, September 15, 2014

A DECISION

After thinking about the matter and talking with some folks, I have decided not to record my Marx lectures next Spring.  It simply seems to me to be an instrusion into the protected space of the classroom, and I cannot think of any way to be sure that it would have no chilling effect whatsoever on any of the students.  So if you want to hear the lectures, you have to make your way to Caldwell Hall on the UNC Chapel Hill campus each Wednesday from 1:00 to 3:30 p.m.

17 comments:

Jerry Fresia said...

Do you rehearse your lectures before class?

Tony Couture said...

Does education belong in a cage? The walls of the classroom are needed to keep out noise, to allow a community of thinkers the leisure to recreate arguments and listen deeply. Muzak must be kept at bay while the Grosse Fuge is being played. So yes you need structure but not necessarily the protection of the TV spy Maxwell Smart's Cone of Silence. I know that there are other ways to access your arguments about Marx, and they are already visible to anyone interested but this "chilling effect" does not apply to a generation for which "selfies," Facebook, announcing everything on Twitter (the virtual generation). Or at least it should not be applied A priori style to your yet to be constituted group, maybe they would want technological assistance, an electronic record of class discussions when they were too busy engaged in actual arguments to take notes, or too slow, or sick that day and missed the best argument. What if one of the students asks to record the class (perhaps a blind student!)? What if one of the most promising students gets a pimple on her nose and does not want to be seen in public on a Wednesday?

I know that there are many possible misuses that the prof cannot control, particularly if this is an experiment. And it is probably not the same for a seminar style class with students reading short papers and engaging with each other, with the usual academic competition for scholarships, glory and jobs in the background. In the courtroom (which probably is better described as a cage), video or recording may improve justice in the sense of improving the chances of reasonable judicial review, even if humans always behave different in front of a camera or recorder. What is normal for us today is to record Oscar Pistorius retching into a bucket in South Africa (humans at their worst), instead of people struggling their best to do philosophy, imperfectly perhaps, but in a way that shows humans beings in action, practicing the pursuit of truth independently, warmly, explosively, and in a way that we should feel is valuable to record and share online despite the risks of human mis-use, government spying, or intimacy. Without recording technology, Donald Sterling would still own the LA Clippers, so this is certainly a technology that is turning the order of ownership and control in America upside down. While it may be a professor's duty never to experiment with students without their informed consent, it is also a duty to provide the best resources and springboard for an educational leap in awareness.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Jerry, Good God no! What a thought. I do make lecture notes, sometimes quite elaborate, sometimes sketchy, and often I simply wing it, which, after sixty years of teaching, is mnot as daring as it sounds.

Tony, those are all good reasons to record the lectures, but they do not, in my mind, outweigh the possibility that one student feel constrained in what he or she says in class by the prospect of being recorded. The simple truth is that my commitment to my students in my mind outweighs all of those other factors.

Tony Couture said...

I am arguing for posterity's sake,that some of your wisdom on Marx be projected in this anarchist way, into the electronic wilderness. Finally, (in a tone like Lieutenant Columbo), just one more thing, when an American Griot's voice falls in the forest, and hardly anyone is there listening, does the world hear any music or is it all lost in the city of noise? Human memory is a fragile organ, collective memory now has a virtual component, and these tools will be part of professional arguing in the future.

Chris said...

:(

Sean said...

How sad! I shall just have to settle for finally reading UNDERSTANDING MARX.

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

I guess that we'll have to settle for an arid and abstract syllabus and late night walks, muttering to ourselves in our ill-fitting and tattered blue coats....

decessero said...

for all that I too would very much have wanted a recording of your forthcoming Marx lectures, Professor Wolff, I deeply admire the unwavering integrity you display in putting each individual student's potential sense of privacy above all arguments. How rare, how nearly quixotic in these days of the ubiquitous social media exposure! How fortunate are your students to have such a commitment from you!

Tony Couture said...

(And Lieutenant Colombo pops his dreary head back in, and says, again, just one more thing)...."Privacy" is a red herring here because there is nothing private about 20 persons arguing out loud with each other. Recording the audio only protects the "privacy" someone needs to scratch their bum in class (you can't see it, and hopefully would not know the sound if it was loud enough to be recorded). Student marks are not announced aloud in class, student medical excuses or other dealings with prof are not recorded, and if someone does not want to be recorded, that person could communicate with the prof by email, etc. What rational being, offered a choice between rushing to take notes imperfectly and being able to hear everything said once again or take note from a helpful recording, would rush? What if a disabled (blind) student requests that the lecture be recorded, but a shy student requests that it not be recorded? I accept that the prof has to make a judgment call and is in the best position to understand the situation and the particular persons involved--but this is not the FBI recording, it is the radicals doing it to improve their radicality!

Robert Paul Wolff said...

But you see, Tony, suppose one of the students is not a radicaly trying to improve his radicality, but a student who would like, in a safe plade, to explore something he has always heard disparaged? That is a precious opportunity. Now, to be sure, most of the students may care about nothing more world shattering than their grade. But if there is one, just one, who can be coaxed by a safe place into opening his or her mind to something seriously new, then I want to protect thqat student more than I want to give the radicals a chance to "improve their radicality." All my life, that has been my commitment. Perhaps I am a teacher before I am a radical. So be it.

Tony Couture said...

Lieutenant Columbo having thought more about his crimes, popped his head in and said, just one more thing: Some people think there is safety in recording, and danger in trusting to human memory alone. It is a matter of perception: it could be seen as using the persons present to teach distant others, using persons in this moment to teach the same persons and others later--or it could be absolutely useless. It could be seen as saving paper by a Green student; it could be seen as a form of bondage where your words (say a joke that turned badly) are frozen in time so that you may then be properly pilloried. It could be seen as liberating the students from some tasks (note taking as the ideas are fired back and forth with increasing emotion) so that they say more, or as their space too, in which words are so valuable that we save them. It is true that it changes the classroom but so do "active learning," group work, field trips and many other experiments. As a final cigar, I would suggest that the harder or more difficult the philosopher, book or course [Marx being a 10 out of 10, most difficult for American students], then the more probable that the class would excel in learning as it could check an accurate record, repeat a lesson until it took hold, and find the layers of meaning through rumination. I know that others can be informed of what is happened in your class through The Philosopher's Stone, so there is no need to worry. With a final sigh, Columbo realized his cigar was beginning to taste like a thing in itself, pondered whether that experience was valuable in itself, coughed, and decided that he might have to arrest himself to end this show.

Andrew Lionel Blais said...

In a course on Marx, the point then is to open his or her mind to the possibility of being radicals? Doesn't seeing how that is done make radicals better radicals? Not sure that it is necessary to choose here.

Ludwig Richter said...

"Professor Wolff, I deeply admire the unwavering integrity you display in putting each individual student's potential sense of privacy above all arguments. How rare, how nearly quixotic in these days of the ubiquitous social media exposure! How fortunate are your students to have such a commitment from you!" Well said, decessero.

Professor Wolff, I would love it if, in a future post, you would talk about what kind of teaching you do in the protected space of your classroom. You lecture, of course, but I take it that you lead discussions and encourage students to offer their interpretations of texts, and so on. Maybe you could write about that some time?

jeremie jenkins said...

The practical way to deal with this issue is to simply record the lectures on your iphone without telling the students that you're doing so. If you never want to publish them, you don't have to. If you want to publish them 10 years from now, you can. Or you stash them in your archives. But nothing's missed. Imagine what those of us who were born in the 80's might have learned from Sidney Morgenbesser had he recorded his lectures. But instead, all we're left with are anecdotes.

Magpie said...

Prof. Wolff

May I suggest you ask your students if they have any objection to your recording the classes?

Chris said...

My offer stands, If you want to record yourself talking on your cell phone, then send me the recordings, I'm more than happy to edit out everything the students say. That way all that's saved for prosperity is your voice and lecture, and the students will forever remain anonymous. I can even go so far as to record myself doing this so there's definitive evidence that I've deleted their voices from history.

I'm not saying this to pressure you into recording - you can make up on your own mind on the issue, just know that my offer still stands.

Daniel said...

I know this would require double work, but would it be possible to record you giving the lecture in an empty classroom?
Or spend a day recording the entire thing (students who missed any of the previous lectures could be invited?

This probably sound a bit too much, but I think a great many of us were looking forward to hearing your lectures.