"… everyone reacts to injustice: we are outraged by wrongs and we are pleased by rights; we are moved by solidarity and social justice."
Jonas-Sébastien Beaudry, Boulton Research and Teaching Fellow in the Faculty of Law for 2013-2014, is interested in social justice, disability studies, and human rights. He received his DPhil from Oxford University, where he taught two courses: “Human Rights in Latin America” and “Human Rights and Global Justice.” He continued his work on disability ethics as a Visiting Adjunct Professor in the Philosophy Department at San Francisco State University, and this topic is the subject of his teaching at McGill.
How do you make teaching meaningful to students?
I believe that the key to making one’s teaching meaningful to students is to show them that there is value in what is being taught, in the information that’s being learned, and in the skills that are being acquired. For this reason, I’m particularly interested in ethics because everyone reacts to injustice: we are outraged by wrongs and we are pleased by rights; we are moved by solidarity and social justice. In other words, we respond to value. Therefore, I try to be captivating and passionate in my teaching in order to get people to react rationally and emotionally so they can reflect deeply on their assumptions and moral beliefs. If I have their attention, then I have engaged them, and therefore I can make the class meaningful to them.
In terms of engaging subject matter, this might manifest itself in animated discussions about the value of caring for another person or being cared for, the nature of human rights under a dictatorship, the rights of severely mentally disabled people, or whether we owe another species the same considerations we show for other humans. By fostering discussions on important topics like these, I aim to show students the great value of exploring them in depth because I believe that an important part of the learning process occurs when students internalize, endorse and interact with such issues.
So when I develop my lectures, materials and assessments (like essays, quizzes, and class participation), I try to create an environment that will engage students and then lead them to do the kind of work that allows them to derive value from my teaching. And I think that’s one of the highest levels a teacher can aspire to – showing students what is of value, and giving them an opportunity to come up with their own story – their own voice. When they develop, articulate and share their views with me and other students, we can engage in a meaningful dialogue about them. Those views will certainly be challenged, but the students will also have ample opportunity to support and defend them, which contributes significantly to the learning process.