James was an understanding instructor. He would admit that he wasn't clear on a certain section of the text, or that scholars didn't agree on the meaning of some part, or even that he could tell we mostly hadn't done the assigned reading. On the other hand, the classes weren't devoid of direction, and he would challenge incorrect remarks. He didn't dictate what we were supposed to think or know, and he'd allow the class discussion to flow, but he'd always be sure to summarise and emphasise the truly important points that were made. He made an effort to show how the authors are relevant to our lives, sometimes to more success, and sometimes to less (although it's not necessarily his fault). Tests were always reasonable.
While James is a funny and caring man, I don't feel like he was very good at teaching CC. I felt like another professor would have been more skilled at encouraging conversation and clearing our understanding of these dense, important books. Instead, it seemed most of the time that he was just as lost as we were. Every class felt a bit like sitting in a room for two hours while people read quotes. I couldn't help but wonder if other CC sections were more interesting.
I have to respectfully disagree with the previous reviewer. I did not find the class discussions so enlightening - if anything, I felt like we talked about what he wanted to discuss, and only a few people in the class talked. Furthermore, I found the reading quizzes annoying - clearly no one is reading everything for their core classes (unless they are taking no other reading classes which is not the majority of people) and sometimes his quizzes picked at details. Honestly, I would have preferred a midterm - there was no review of anything until the final which only made studying for it more annoying. Professor Chappel is definitely approachable and friendly, which is a huge plus, and I am curious to see how he does in his second semester of teaching this course. Hopefully it will be better.
This is CC the way it's supposed to be done: a thirty- or forty-five-minute mini-lecture with background on the reading, followed by an hour and a half of quality discussion among intelligent people (with the occasional pedagogically-useful shouting match). A great class with a good instructor. Prof. Chappel (I always felt vaguely uncomfortable calling him that, since he's not really a member of the faculty) taught CC for the first time this year. He did a lot of homework. He's a historian of 20th-century Catholic thought, so the first semester of CC was not exactly his area of expertise; nevertheless, he usually brought with him critical thoughts on the text from "his friend, the scholar of Plato" or "his colleague, the scholar of Descartes." He also assigns phenomenal essay topics. I enjoyed LitHum, but the papers were excruciating to write; these were an absolute joy. It's also refreshing to get good grades combined with comments like "I disagree fundamentally with the premise of this paper"---he shares his opinions with the class, but doesn't expect you to hold the same ones. And if I have a few unresolved questions about the mind-body problem and the state of nature, I have to cut him some slack---you don't acquire an encyclopedic knowledge of everything on the CC syllabus in one semester. This class was just about everything I wanted it to be, and I'm looking forward to starting it again in the spring.