Day one of lesson plan splitting off to a rough start. My morning classes did pretty well discussing philosophical topics such as treason or the individual v. society in a Socratic circle. The afternoon classes were less than enthused about the research paper, which resulted in me being less enthused. One period in particular was a little too rambunctious today. I have yet to formally kick someone out of class, but tomorrow in the library doing research might be the day. Oy.
I never took Justice with Michael Sandel in college, but many of my friends did. I remember after the first lecture many of my friends were upset by the question posed: “If you had to choose between (1) killing one person to save the lives of five others and (2) doing nothing, even though you knew that five people would die right before you eyes if you did nothing – what would you do? What would be the right thing to do?” If I recall, the scenario involved a train switch; a train was careening out of control, and it could switch onto one of two tracks. On one of the tracks one person is tied down; on the other, five people are tied down. What do you do? I presented this scenario to my class to compare to the compatriots of Julius Caesar who ended up killing him for the good of Rome. Most kids said, easily, they’d let the single person die to save the five. However, what if that single person was your child? Suddenly, my kids wanted the five dead to save their kid. It’s a difficult question; I think most students would rather not be involved in the decision-making process at all. What if one of the five people you killed to save your child might have discovered the cure for cancer? What if you child grew up to be Hitler? Was it right to kill Caesar for the good of Rome, even if you weren’t sure what that meant? What I discovered was that my kids are really bad at discussing abstract topics. Interesting discussion nonetheless – I don’t think my student have nearly as many deeply philosophical discussions as I did in college.