The first meaning offered by Oxford for the word ‘philosophy’ describes my enthusiasm for teaching: I love learning, and I first learned to teach as a student, by watching wonderful professors who also loved what they did. My goal as an educator is to stimulate and nurture a similar love for learning, to encourage intellectual independence in my students, and to show them the beauty that I have found in my own field, Renaissance Spanish letters.
That field is replete with remarkable, enduring works of art that have inspired readers for centuries. For numerous reasons, thoughtful persons from all walks of life have found joy and inspiration in Don Quijote, La vida es sueño, “El aire se serena” and “La noche oscura del alma.” As they read these works of art, I want students to develop their analytical skills, hone their intellectual instincts, and gain confidence in both. Two specific aspects are critical to an appreciation of the literary art: the beauty of expression, and the ideas. To grasp the first, one must read closely and, as one of my professors described it, listen to the text. Appreciation of how a seemingly mundane tool like language can be used to sublime effect is powerful and edifying. Syntax and lexical choices might not be a stimulus to further study for all, but the art of writing begins there. For the second aspect, the ideas, literature is the most precise representation that human beings have to articulate them, and those who have done so in lasting works of literary art have used the beauty and music of language to transcend time and place. I want students to capture that beauty, understand the power of language as an artistic medium, and take part in the centuries-long intellectual conversation about these works of art. To do that in a meaningful way, it must begin with their own careful reading and honest questioning of the text through their specific lens of experience. I can tell them how it has been read, and I can contextualize it in the period of its creation, but they have to thoughtfully open their own minds to its message.
Two main factors comprise the pragmatics of my class preparation: a systematic, fresh study of the text for each session, and flexibility. Every rereading of a text rewards me with the joy of rediscovery of its beauty. At the same time, new questions raised in my mind will lead me to deeper contextualization of the work in historical and cultural terms. Flexibility is needed to both lead and adapt to the direction each class session will take. Students engage with a text in expected but also, at times, surprisingly new ways. Their active participation enlivens and enriches the overall lesson, while enhancing their ability to engage critically. My ultimate fulfillment as a professor is watching them become more independent in their critiques as a semester progresses.