Pictured is professor Andrew Delbanco, who is the Alexander Hamilton Professor of American Studies at Columbia University, in New York City. That is where he teaches literature. Delbanco was recently profiled in The Wall Street Journal, and he seems to be my kind of a teacher. Let me add that he is my wife's kind of a teacher, too, as she immediately informed me after reading about Delbanco. Both my wife and Delbanco prize Herman Melville among all American authors, and particularly revere his masterwork, Moby Dick. In academic circles, Delbanco is known, above all, as a Melville scholar.
What I noted in The Wall Street Journal article wasn't Delbanco's Ahab-like fixation on Melville and the Great White Whale. Instead, what I noticed was that Delbanco describes teaching as "a moral activity." That sounds right to me!
I have this old-fashioned view that the classroom experience can actually give young people a better self-understanding and a greater awareness of the world around them,” he says. When students read great texts together, whether they are wrestling with the difference between love and desire in Shakespeare or considering Hannah Arendt’s analysis of totalitarianism, they ultimately learn how to think and listen to competing points of view. This makes them better able to function in a democracy, he says, “which, as we are often reminded of now, is a hard thing to do.
I teach at the University of California, Santa Cruz - and I most often teach a "Senior Capstone" course that is entitled, "Privacy, Technology, And Freedom." Providing students with the sense that they can face the moral complexities of our modern life - and prevail, and do the right thing, individually and collectively - is just what teachers need to do!
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