Saturday, November 14, 2009

Russell Frank and the 4/40 Program

One semester when I was in grad school at Penn State I was assigned to teach a course called "Media Ethics."  I had no idea how to teach such a course, so I called up Dr. Russell Frank to ask him for a textbook recommendation.

Frank wrote a weekly column for the Centre Daily Times.  At the time, he was an untenured professor in the Department of Communications at Penn State.  Even though he did not know me, and surely had many demands on his time, Frank offered to meet me for coffee.

We met for three hours that day, during which I took pages of notes and basically wrote my syllabus for the course.  He also gave me a stack of textbooks from his office, offered to guest-lecture in my class (which he later did, several times) and then, to top it all off, he paid for the coffee.

I protested that I was getting all the benefit from this and that I should pay.  He replied, "My rule is this: the student never pays."  Instead of paying him back, he said, I could "pay it forward" to some of my students.

So I began what I now call The 4/40 program.  Whenever I meet students for a meal or coffee, I explain this to them: during their four years of undergraduate study with me (and if they visit me while they're in grad school) I pay.  If they want, then they can visit me sometime in the next forty years and take me out for a meal or, better yet, they can use the next forty years to take someone else out for a meal.

I find these meals are always worthwhile.  Much of the best learning in college happens outside the classroom, in informal conversations, often while breaking bread together.  I teach because I love teaching, and these meals or coffees have provided me with some of my favorite classrooms: coffee shops, restaurants, the dining room table or kitchen in our home.

So to any of my students who may be reading this: don't thank me, thank Russell Frank (you can find his email at the link above or right here if you want).  And if you benefited from the coffee, or the meal, pay it forward to someone else.  

And come back and visit sometime.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Philosophy and Empty Deceit

From today's Lectionary, a reading from Colossians 2:

"See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ."

Good advice and sound.  Of course, one of the best ways to make sure no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit is to study philosophy yourself so you can learn to distinguish bad thinking from good.  At any rate, I am not aware of anyone ever successfully and consistently avoiding bad thinking by avoiding thinking altogether.