Did We Do Anything In The Classes I Missed?

Frequently students who miss a bunch of class assure me they've "kept up with the readings" and wonder "if they've missed anything." Since my classes are humanities classes, they're discussion and inquiry-based. So, I finally wrote a longer reply explaining what it means to miss philosophy classes. Here it is:

Dear Student-who-has-missed-many-classes:

Regarding the work you need to make up, I don’t suppose there's much I need you to do. The class is really about the activity of philosophy. It's about the conversation and critical thinking, together. Our readings are typically short and the exams are pretty straightforward. Most of what happens in a class of mine happens in class.

Imagine for a moment that you joined the tennis team, and then you missed a bunch of practices. The question “Did I miss anything?” is, in a way, absurd because what you missed is the experience of playing tennis and getting better at tennis. You've missed interaction with others and the growth that comes from that. You've not been playing tennis; thus, you've missed everything.

In short, what you have missed in our class has been the experience of discussing philosophy and getting better at thinking philosophically. It's not a question of information or “content”. It's a question of what the class is really meant to do for your education. 

So the simple answer to your question is “no”-- there is no work to make up, and I simply need documentation to make sure the attendance part of your grade doesn't suffer.  The longer answer your question is that you’ve basically been missing the most important part of the class, though it's not one which, for this class, will have a significant impact on your grade. 

I guess it all comes down to what is ultimately important to you beyond the grade.


1 comment:

Lisette BC Abbott said...

Well said. This also applies to literature classes, especially when those of us who teach literature do so from an interdisciplinary approach that integrates all sorts of questioning and thinking and general brain-stretching fun stuff.