Teaching

At the University of Mississippi, I currently teach two classes in the Public Policy Leadership department. Below I have included course descriptions, outcomes, and learning objectives. Full syllabi are available upon request.

 

PPL 212: Critical Thinking, Communication, and Public Policy

Course Description:

We all spend a significant amount of time thinking about issues and policies that are important to us. Few of us, however, spend time thinking about how to think about those things. If we do not think critically and rationally about policy issues, we may not be creating or supporting the best policies for ourselves or for society. Yet critical thinking is only one component of effective communication. The best arguments will fail if they are not communicated well, so in addition to helping students improve their skills in thinking critically, this course is designed to help students improve their skills in reading, writing, and communicating orally through written work and through individual presentations.

Students will learn the nature of arguments, a variety of types of reasoning, the fundamentals of public speaking, and some rhetoric. Along the way, students will learn the nature of both good and bad reasoning. Students will also learn to apply these critical thinking skills in analyzing, criticizing, and strengthening arguments pertaining to contemporary issues in public policy.

 

Course Objectives and Student Learning Outcomes:

This course is designed to:

  • Improve students’ abilities in reading and evaluating public policy issues and the arguments on which they rely
  • Introduce students to various kinds of evidence for claims and improve students’ abilities to assess and employ evidence well to establish their conclusions
  • Improve students’ abilities to assess media messages, especially as they pertain to politics and public policy
  • Develop or improve students’ skills in effective communication, including expository and persuasive writing skills and giving a variety of types of oral presentations for different purposes
  • Help students understand how to provide constructive criticism

 

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Identify and classify types of arguments
  • Evaluate claims and support their evaluation with evidence or a counterexample
  • Analyze and evaluate arguments to determine whether they are strong, valid, sound, or cogent
  • Infer and critique implicit premises and assumptions in arguments
  • Create, develop, and defend their own arguments for novel claims regarding public policy
  • Charitably interpret and critique the claims and arguments of others
  • Identify heuristics and reasoning errors and explain when and why they are problematic
  • Communicate more effectively and confidently
  • Synthesize the skills above to create persuasive presentations

 

 

PPL 300: Public Policy and Ethics

Course Description:

In a democracy, reasonable citizens may disagree about what is right and wrong, and consequently about what policies should be in place. One way to try to adjudicate these disputes and determine whether policies are ethical is by appealing to various moral considerations (e.g. consequences, rights, duties, virtues), highlighted by competing moral theories. In this course, we will explore several of these moral considerations and their corresponding moral theories, with an eye toward how to determine whether some policy is ethical and thus resolving moral disputes about public policy issues. In the first third of the course, we will explore theoretical moral foundations, and in the remainder of the course we will apply these foundations to various timely public policy issues, such as abortion, punishment, immigration, and health care. By exploring some of these controversial policy topics, we can see (1) how moral theories underlie the disagreements, (2) how to effectively argue for good public policy, and (3) how to create public policies that are ethical and that respect the diversity of our American democracy.

      A note on success in this course: This course will be different from most of your other PPL courses in that it focuses on more abstract and sometimes intractable concepts. We will examine many challenging issues, and I ask that you approach each topic with an open mind. My hope is that after this course, you will realize how much more complicated these moral issues are than you originally thought, and that you may consequently be less confident in your views than you originally were. That is, I hope that you will be able to empathize with those who hold contradictory views to your own, even if you don’t agree with them. This will allow all of us to compromise and hopefully make progress toward better public policies.

 

Course Objectives and Student Learning Outcomes:

This course is designed to:

  • Help students better understand several of the major moral theories in ethics
  • Develop or improve students’ critical thinking skills
  • Show students how to apply moral reasoning and critical thinking to moral issues in public policy
  • Help students to understand, appreciate, and respect views and arguments that are substantially different from their own
  • Develop or improve students’ skills in effective communication, including expository and persuasive writing skills and in presenting information

 

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • Classify arguments as moral or non-moral
  • Compare and contrast various moral considerations within moral theories
  • Apply and synthesize moral considerations within public reason to determine whether some policy or action is moral or immoral
  • Evaluate moral claims and principles using evidence or a counterexample
  • Analyze and evaluate moral arguments
  • Create, develop, and defend their own arguments for a variety of moral issues in public policy
  • Charitably interpret and critique the moral claims and arguments of others
  • Communicate more effectively and confidently about moral issues
  • Synthesize the skills above to create cooperative persuasive presentations

 

 

I have also taught a variety of courses at Florida State University and the University of Florida:

  • Philosophy of Mind (FSU, Summer 2015)
  • Reasoning and Critical Thinking (FSU, Fall 2014 & Fall 2012)
  • Introduction to Philosophy (FSU, Summer 2014, Summer 2011)
  • Ethical Issues and Life Choices (FSU, Spring 2014, Summer 2013)
  • Contemporary Moral Issues (UF, Summer 2010)