Harvard University Philosophy Professor – Most Influential Foreign Figure of the Year in China’s Newsweek

Dear Commons Community,

Tom Friedman in his NY Times column today describes the work of Michael. J. Sandel, a political philosophy professor at Harvard who was just named “Most Influential Foreign Figure of the Year” in China’s Newsweek.  Sandel’s lectures are available on the Internet and have become incredibly popular in Asia especially China and Japan.

What makes Sandel so compelling is his teaching style and the way he uses real-life examples to illustrate the philosophies of the likes of Aristotle, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill.

“Sandel will start by tossing out a question, like, “Is it fair that David Letterman makes 700 times more than a schoolteacher?” or “Are we morally responsible for righting the wrongs of our grandparents’ generation?”  Students offer competing answers, challenge one another across the hall, debate with the philosophers — and learn the art of reasoned moral argument along the way.”

Friedman concludes that:

“Sandel’s popularity in Asia reflects the intersection of three trends. One is the growth of online education, where students anywhere now can gain access to the best professors from everywhere. Another is the craving in Asia for a more creative, discussion-based style of teaching in order to produce more creative, innovative students. And the last is the hunger of young people to engage in moral reasoning and debates, rather than having their education confined to the dry technical aspects of economics, business or engineering.”

In my own visits to China, I too saw a desire on the part of college students to engage in discussion and debate about significant issues.  This style of teaching and engagement is not common in college classrooms there.  to the contrary, it is much more of a one-way lecture style of teaching with minimal faculty to student interaction.

Congratulations to Professor Sandel.  It is a  well deserved recognition.



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