Glenn Moots on Virtual Teaching and Philosophical Responses to COVID-19
JMC faculty partner Glenn Moots has recently written articles for both Law & Liberty and Public Discourse addressing philosophical approaches to coronavirus, as well as the pandemic’s effect on virtual teaching and higher education.
“The End of Campus Education? Virtually Impossible”
By Glenn Moots
Prompted by student petitions, government orders, and recommendations of epidemiologists, America launched its largest-ever simultaneous educational experiment in March: it took K–12 and postsecondary education online. Though many hoped the “virtual” semester would be a one-off, round two may be on the horizon. Boston University was the first to announce it might not resume classes until 2021, and other colleges and universities have likewise announced contingency plans to keep some or all classes online. But no university wants to be the first to put its semester online again. One university president even tried to preempt the stigma of an online semester with the euphemism “remote teaching.”
Two semesters of “academe” online will surely delight many critics—particularly voices on the political right who are calling for an end to higher education as we know it. Economist Richard Vedder, a columnist at Forbes, has called for “Armageddon.” Social distancing, Vedder hopes, will bar colleges from “getting back into a business they don’t belong in”: housing students. When universities first began going online in March, Tucker Carlson prognosticated, in a popular opening of his prime-time show, that the shuttering of campuses would be “a life-changing moment.” Social distancing will teach the entire nation, Carlson asserted, that it is unnecessary to pay for room and board to get an education. Carlson and Vedder have become cynics who, as Oscar Wilde’s Lord Darlington said, know the cost of everything but the value of nothing…
“COVID-19, Circumstance, and Groundhog Day“
By Glenn Moots
In the comedy film Groundhog Day, Phil asks his drinking companions Gus and Ralph, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?” Ralph replies, “That about sums it up for me.” In the current unpleasantness of shelter-at-home, those of us working or learning at home, out of the path of contagion, can feel like Phil and Ralph. While many will stream Groundhog Day to stave off ennui, they should have the remote in one hand and Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in the other. With an eye to both, we can navigate the temptation of unhappiness with our circumstance…
“Faith and Our Future: Lessons from C.S. Lewis in Time of Pandemic”
By Glenn Moots
President Trump’s self-identification as a wartime president invited controversy, though many had already drawn comparisons to 9/11 or World War II when personal and economic sacrifice became necessary. We were temporarily living in the Los Angeles area when COVID-19 first struck there. My neighbor, incredulous that we had not bugged out sooner, tried to make polite small talk through a cracked door. She told me that they had cancelled their trip to the Grand Canyon. “I don’t think,” she somberly explained, “we should be taking a vacation during a national emergency.”
Wartime certainly puts a damper on things, though many are beginning to tally the trade-offs. Do the blunter utilitarian calculations mean that ethics professors like me can boast, “I told you Jeremy Bentham matters,” and deploy new case studies in the years to come? (Do students even know what a trolley car is anyway?) Or should we admit that much of what passes for ethics hasn’t really prepared us for these dilemmas—this “real world” that educators and students are so fond of referencing. Our students, members of generations Y and Z, certainly shamed us in the early weeks. Over spring break, many readily broadcast #boomerremover in memes and social media while flouting the Torah’s command to respect their elders. Maybe we should be teaching more Moses and less Bentham…
Glenn Moots is Professor and Chair of Political Science and Philosophy at Northwood University. He is the author of Politics Reformed: The Anglo-American Legacy of Covenant Theology (University of Missouri Press, 2010) and co-editor (with Phil Hamilton) of Justifying Revolution: Law, Virtue, and Violence in the American War of Independence (University of Oklahoma Press, 2018). He has also been published in American Political Thought, Locke Studies, and Perspectives on Political Science, and in edited collections on religion and politics.
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