Philosophy professor shares his teaching insights

Beth Hyatt
Copy Editor

Clifford Lee, associate professor of philosophy, has often been described by students as one of the most eccentric professors on Troy’s campus. His relaxed demeanor and lively attitude keep the students engaged and entertained while also making them think.
When asked what got him into teaching, Lee said: “In a way, I just never left college. I had been bitten by the philosophy bug, and I was quite serious about it. I grew up surrounded by teaching and, certainly, that’s an influence. It’s certainly a response to a calling of some sort.”
His hilarious classroom antics, such as starting his class by taking a lap around the room, throwing markers at the ceiling, then sniffing said markers, certainly show his individuality. His demonstrations may seem outlandish to some but to others entertaining.
Faith Karwacki, an ecology and field biology major from Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, spoke fondly of Lee. “I love that the class is discussion-based,” she said. “Hearing one professor’s opinion of a reading isn’t always best. When the entire class gives their interpretation, there are so many different world views that lead them to interpret the reading that particular way.”

The things that make Lee different from the other educators on campus are his teaching methods and his philosophies about teaching and learning. Whereas some educators see their position as an educator-to-student relationship, Lee sees his position as a student-to-student relationship.

“From my perspective, I don’t have an enormous wealth of information that I’m transferring over to the students,” he said. “What I do attempt to do is, instead, by almost any means possible, provoke thought.

“My pedagogical technique is based on an undermining of my position of authority, with some restraints, so I’m not standing in front of the class playing the role of expert but rather put on display my own process of learning in relation to the text.”

Lee does not see himself as a “Colossus” that bestrides the classroom, but merely as a pupil continuing his education. In every class, he goes in with the intent to help the students learn to think for themselves.
His in-class acting is one of his most successful ways of breaking the students out of their shells. For instance, during one of his classes, he proceeded to run around the room five times, jump on a desk in order to turn a projector on, then off, then on again.

But what made Lee choose philosophy? “It’s the only thing I know how to do,” he said. “This is it. And I love it.” His passion for the subject definitely shows in his classes. Except when the weather prohibits it, his introduction to philosophy class meets outside in order to have an open area in which to communicate.

“We would climb up in trees and hang out in trees the whole class period,” said Meg Shackelford, Lee’s teaching assistant and also a Troy graduate. “He is incredibly passionate about what he teaches, and it’s not just teaching for him.

“He lives the philosophical life. My very first semester at Troy, I had a history class that met right after his ethics class, and I would show up half an hour early to class to sit in the hall downstairs in GAB (the General Academic Building, now Patterson Hall) right outside his class just to watch him run around the room.”

There are many things Lee enjoys about teaching, but his favorite one, as he puts it, is: “Learning from the students. The spontaneity of insight, the unpredictability of a classroom, and especially learning from my students.”
Lee explained that, to him, there is little difference between his vocation and his home life. Asking him what his favorite thing about teaching is almost like asking him what he likes the most about himself. The antics that go on in the classroom are not just for show; they show who Lee is.

Lee’s end goal for his students is to teach them how to think for themselves. He does not wish to lord his intellect over them to intimidate them, but to help them see that they can become free thinkers. “To teach is to participate in the mystery of the human condition,” he said.

“It is to become a very active participant in the, sort of, unfolding and coming into being of that which is not yet. And hopefully to facilitate for others the unfolding of the mystery of their own essence or their own existence in such a way that, well, we can say that they learned something. But more importantly, that what they learned is something that changes their own perspective in such a way that the world changes.”

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