The idea that we need to learn from each other’s mistakes is the foundation of everything that we do at Princeton.
In the eyes of the university, its mission statement is a rallying cry for all that we’re trying to achieve.
Its students and staff, and faculty, all have the same goals.
They want to learn.
Their success is measured by how much they learn.
They’re constantly competing with each other to be the best.
And for some, the only way to succeed is to be someone’s student or colleague.
The philosophy professor that I know, David Tischler, is that he’s not interested in students’ success.
He wants them to succeed.
“They’re like ants,” he says.
“You have to build a nest to keep them happy.
It’s a really difficult process.”
When I met him in April, Tischlers philosophy class was starting.
He had a dozen or so students in his class, some of whom were in their early 20s.
One was a senior studying for a PhD, who told me that the philosophy class at Princeton was one of the best in the country.
“I know how to deal with my anxiety,” he said.
“My professor has told me not to get too worked up over anything, and he gives me guidance.”
This was a young man, one of his students, who, he explained, “gets it.”
He had taken the class to boost his confidence.
But Tischles philosophy class wasn’t his first foray into the world of the academe.
He’d already been teaching at Princeton since the fall of 2013, when he moved to New York City to be closer to his wife, Kristin, who was a philosophy major.
Kristin was already working at the university’s department of philosophy, but it wasn’t her first time teaching.
She had taken a philosophy course at the University of Maryland and liked it.
So when Tisch returned to New Jersey in February, he asked if she could join him on the road to a new position at Princeton, and she accepted.
He was a big fan of her, and when she got to campus, she walked with him.
“She just looked at me like I was the coolest thing ever,” he recalls.
“And it was like, ‘Wow, this is what I’m going to get.
You’ve really been working for this.'”
He had seen how much work it was to be a professor in the humanities and philosophy departments, and this was a chance for him to try a different approach to the job.
“The reason I’m doing this is because I believe it can be good for the university,” he told me.
Tisch was teaching the introductory philosophy course to the freshmen class, and the first time he taught it, he started by asking students to write down their own ideas about their lives.
“It was the first thing I did that didn’t rely on a textbook,” he explained.
He started with the students and then went back to the professor to ask him questions, and after a few minutes, he had an answer.
Then he started teaching the course to more experienced students, and by the end of the semester, he was teaching nearly every class on philosophy.
Tichler, like most students, had been struggling to find his footing in philosophy after graduating from law school in the fall.
He began teaching philosophy at Princeton as a way to learn about the history of the field, as a kind of refresher course before starting a new job.
In his first year, he taught a class on medieval philosophy.
He remembers teaching the class at first, with the intention of doing it every semester.
Then one day, when his students were still getting into the semester and he was struggling to keep up with them, he decided to teach the course as a one-week seminar.
But he realized it didn’t feel like a semester.
He thought, This is going to be much easier if I just teach a few weeks a year, because I’m already starting to see results.
He didn’t expect to make much of a dent in the philosophy department.
“Philosophy was always my first love, and I loved the students, I loved teaching, I liked the professors, and so I thought it was going to take some time,” he recalled.
But then one day in early April, he noticed that his students had been writing down their ideas on a whiteboard, and they weren’t making the effort to use it.
He saw that they were struggling to remember how they came up with their ideas, and that he was seeing a different kind of learning.
“At first I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, this has to be bullshit,'” he said, laughing.
“But it turned out that it was not.”
The class was a success, and in the spring semester, Tichlers students had begun writing essays on the history and philosophy of the Middle Ages.
By then, he knew that he had to