Few things are harder to dislodge than the hazy, ill-begotten philosophical certitudes of an adolescent. I was fifteen years old, and as unsure as I was about politics, or international affairs, or the best way to impress a girl, I held on to one belief unshakably: free will is an illusion. In a world that could be ultimately reduced to the cue-ball ricochets of atoms and the ironclad logic of cause and effect, nothing was accidental. Everything was preordained. To suggest otherwise was to peddle in a self-congratulatory myth, a myth that gratuitously comforted the successful and the prosperous, and that unfairly multiplied the degradations of the poor.
Peter, my dad’s best friend, is a Londoner, a psychiatrist, and a hugely successful scholar. He is a brilliant man. He is also kind, gracious and gentle. Since the early nineties, he has made frequent visits to the states, staying at my parent’s house as often as his schedule allowed. When I was growing up, Peter would always give a hearing to my latest idiosyncratic notions. Inevitably, our discussions turned to the subject of free will. And Peter would listen, and question, and probe. He would locate a seam in my belief system, a loose thread that I hadn’t quite considered or secured. And gently, he would pull. What followed was a gradual unraveling of my certitude, an opening up to the mysteries of freedom and moral responsibility and choice. I wouldn’t say I have a firmer grasp of those concepts today than I did when I was fifteen. But my understanding has become infinitely more nuanced, more variegated, and more rich.
Why am I telling this story? Is it to demonstrate that young minds can in fact be cured of their philosophical errors? Possibly. But mainly, I wanted to illustrate an example of what I consider to be the ideal form of mentorship. Peter didn’t command, or cajole, or coerce. He didn’t dictate or declare from on high. Instead, he treated me like an intellectual equal, even though, of course, I was far from matching him wit for wit.
His is an example that I keep before me today whenever I have a lesson to teach, or a concept to explain, or a problem to collaboratively solve. I believe that teaching, in its ideal form, is a meeting of the minds. It works best when the teacher and the student are engaged in a shared enterprise, a partnership. When I teach, I like to think that my student and I are, however briefly, occupying the same mind-space. Being successful requires a sympathetic understanding of the student’s faculty to understand. You have to know where a student is coming from to help them get where they’re going.
I received my bachelor’s in English from Macalester College, and my Master’s in political science from The University of Chicago. I plan to pursue a PhD in political science starting next fall, in the hope of eventually becoming a professor. I love politics, which is, after all, nothing more or less than the space or arena where we contest basic moral values. I love writing, and philosophy, and I’m fairly good at math. I love art and music and movies and make sure to spare some time for a good TV show once in a while. I’m plenty mature, but I have to admit I have a soft spot for cartoons. Learning and teaching are my lifelong passions, and it is this passion that I hope to impart to my students; I want to infect my students with the intellectual enthusiasm that has brought so many rewards to my own life.
Macalester College - Bachelors, English
University of Chicago - Masters, Political Science
ACT Math: 33
ACT Reading: 36
ACT Science: 28
SAT Math: 720
SAT Writing: 700
GRE Quantitative: 164
GRE Verbal: 169
High School English
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