I've been watching/streaming/listening to Michael Sandel's class at Harvard, from which this slide was taken; this class was filmed and put on the web. The title is Justice: What's the Right Thing To Do? and I must say I can see those Harvard students are getting a great education if this class is typical fare.
The episode I listened to this week involved choosing between higher and lower pleasures and included three film clips to illustrate the point: Shakespearean theatre, the intro to Fear Factor and a bit from a Simpson episode. Sandel then asked the lecture hall which they preferred watching. The Simpsons won. Then Sandel asked what was the higher pleasure? Shakespeare. All of this was based on the thinking of John Stuart Mill, a philosopher. But even Mill acknowledged that a person had to be trained to recognize the "higher" pleasure.
I teach at a community college, and it has been--as my friend and I joke, especially this year with all the budget cutbacks--Walmartized. Indeed we are the lowest common denominator on the college scene. But I am also product of the community college system, so I believe in the philosophy behind it. But the exchange of ideas in this streamed episode made me realize how much time I spend talking about the lower pleasure basics: how to write a sentence, how to insert a proper MLA reference, how to avoid misplaced commas, and how little time I spend with my students talking about higher pleasure ideas. True, my English 101 course is designed to teach students how to write better (the original being taught at this same Harvard university in the late 1800s) and not to necessarily discuss ideas. But the last slide really made me think about trying to do this once in a while:
I don't want to leave my classes only with satisfaction gained from a tightly-written paragraph. I want to leave them with a desire to gain more knowledge, to figure out and to find their way to--according to Mill--the higher things that can satisfy.