Statement of Richard H. Toenjes, Philosophy Department
March 7, 1994
I attended today Marc's class POLS 3174 "Democracy" in Winningham 206 from 11:00 to 12:20. I had audited his class "Politics and Reason" five or six years ago, and hence have some perspective over time of Marc's teaching. In summary, the strengths he exhibited long ago have developed and improved. The weaknesses then have been addressed and removed. I come away with the opinion that Mac is a good teacher, a teaching peer in this University of good teachers.
The meeting began with a flurry of handouts, and a good bit of cool quiet waiting on the part of the 25 students. Marc began discussion of his first main point (about judgments of relative wealth, social satisfaction, and attitudes toward governmental activity) with an overhead graphic showing income levels in the US. He engaged student interest by referring to an actual survey of their own expectations they had done previously. Soon the class as whole was warmed to the issue, obviously thinking along with Marc's points and raising spontaneous comments themselves, as well as answering his questions.
Marc has always had an easy, casual, open minded way about himself in front of classes. This has grown to a real strength today. He gains student interest and active involvement in the class by his use of mild humor, contemporary examples form TV and the news, a quick wit and sensitivity to all the comments and quips coming from the class. Yet there is always evident the underlying depth of understanding and seriousness of purpose in discussing the issues. In a word, Marc is himself in front of the class, and students respond with interest and enthusiasm to him and what he is doing.
What he is doing is always academically solid, original, at time brilliant. In this class, as in the many I saw years ago, he is constructing for students parts of the arguments which he compiles in his papers, books and articles. The person with whom students are engaging is in fact doing political philosophy before their eyes, and with them in interaction with the ideas.
In the class years ago a problem of organization was evident, and I feared perhaps it still existed what at the beginning of the period Marc distributed a half-dozen or so handouts. However, it soon became clear that Marc's lecture was organized around overhead transparencies which had also been duplicated in a course-pack which each student had. It is quite evident that Marc has successfully organized the complex material he teaches into very well-done visual charts and diagrams. When moving from the first point of the class to the second, an introduction to a new unit, he presented a couple of overheads comparing two conceptions of democracy. These were brilliant in design and execution as well as content. Students easily shifted attention from the first to the second topic, and with copies of the overheads in their notes they have a way to recall and review the material in their study.
Marc' teaching probably appeals most to the better student. And even for this group, I'm sure much of the material goes over their heads. But then, it's "heady" stuff. The solution is do what Marc has done: you don't water the material down, rather you organize it so well that it is in fact there for the dedicated student to work on. Then you invite students to the material through the use of real-life examples and genuine interest in them and the material in pleasant class discussion. I observed Marc doing all of this with excellence on April.
If I can provide further information, please call.
Richard H. Toenjes
Department of Philosophy
Charlotte, NC 28223547-2161