Teaching & Mentoring

My teaching philosophy: question authority!

On the first day of teaching a new class, I start by showing my students Raphael’s The School of Athens. I tell my students that we will conduct our class, and our learning journey together, in the spirit of The School of Athens, by extending to each other the invitation to ask big questions and by creating a public place to propose tentative answers to then have them bolstered or refuted.

I then direct their attention to the poorly clad old man laying nonchalantly on the steps of the school, blocking the way of Plato and Aristotle who are approaching from the background. Rumor has it that this is Diogenes of Sinope, the “father of cynicism”.  Ancient sources describe him as a frustrating individual devoted to a life of boastful simplicity and unhindered defiance of social norms. He’s a pain, an uncomfortable pebble in the shoe of all who have taken on an intellectual journey with passion and honesty. However, the stories say that “Still he was loved by the Athenians”. I urge my students to join the Athenians in loving the spirit of Diogenes: while seeking for knowledge, I encourage them to love the uncomfortable questioning of authority: my authority as a teacher, the authority of their textbooks, and the hardest of all authorities to question – that of their own entrenched assumptions about the world.

My teaching goals:

Create a comfortable space for discussion and questioning

 In The School of Athens, Diogenes is not a peripheral character but occupies a central place: with the collaboration of my students, I aim to create a space like that, where questioning and critical thinking are at the core of our activity.

Reflect on how we got the answers

The most important way of questioning authority is understanding and critically analyzing how we obtained knowledge. Although I’ve used textbooks with my students and find them useful for providing a topical overview, I like to return to the source.

Value diversity of perspective and expression

Questioning authority and fostering innovation also means finding the courage to perceive or express something in a new way and in turn to allow yourself to appreciate and honor a variety of vantage points, experiences and forms of expression.

Teach for making a difference

For me, the motivation for guiding someone’s pursuit of knowledge is ultimately the belief that together we can change the world. There are many challenges awaiting outside the class, and I’m particularly alert to those coming from technological development.