A philosophy class for students who want most of all to avoid actually doing and discussing philosophy. If this sounds like you--if you are taking CC purely because you have to and would normally avoid philosophy like the plague--then by all means enroll in Dr. Ramsey's section. If not, then read on. As far as I can tell, there are couple reasons why students might enjoy Dr. Ramsey’s CC. She really is a nice person and is approachable. It’s not hard to sense that she is genuinely concerned about the success and welfare of her students. Other commenters have noted her frequent digressions about binge drinking or partying to be strange, but to my ears it comes off more as genuine good-will than anything else. Dr. Ramsey is a perfectly fine person, but she builds her class around such hopelessly misguided pedagogy that I began to dread Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. What about her teaching style is misguided? The biggest issue: this class allows for next-to-zero critical engagement with the philosophers on the syllabus, preferring summary. Class discussion works in the following way. Ramsey will ask the class a question about the text with a right and wrong answer, usually asking for the definition of a key term. Sometimes the class will be silent either because nobody did the reading or nobody wants to answer a dead-end question. Other times someone will answer and, regardless of whether they’re right or wrong, Ramsey will nod and move on to the next question. There are times when students respond to one another, but the problem is that the question being ‘debated’ is often just a definition to be found explicitly in the text, so that the discussion quickly revolves around flipping to different parts of the book to find any occassion when the author is reiterating a point already made just to speak in class and pick up some participation points. I understand that the CC curriculum moves very quickly so that there might be little time to do anything other than summarize doctrine, but even History of Philosophy courses (and other CC sections!) with equally packed syllabi manage to set aside some time for substantive discussion, so there’s no excuse. When discussion doesn’t take that form, it’s when Dr. Ramsey decides we should be having a ‘fishbowl’ or ‘Socratic circle’ style conversation. This consists of Ramsey separating the class into groups of four to discuss four questions (again, these are not discussion questions in any recognizable way, instead they’re just asking for summaries of the text). Then, one member from each group is selected as a representative for one of the questions to meet with all the representatives from other groups and discuss their shared question in front of the rest of the class. This is repeated until every question has been discussed. If all that sounds confusing that’s because it is confusing (it took our section some practice before we all understood what we were meant to be doing), and once you do understand what this fishbowl is supposed to look like, it’s clear that it is an awfully ineffective way of generating debate. Why? Because while the five or so representatives of a question are carrying out their discussion, the rest of the class sits silently and researches their own question so that they can prepare a few answers to recite during their discussion in front of the rest of the class. It’s clear that Dr. Ramsey expects everyone to participate, so everyone spends these fishbowl sessions deciding ahead of time what to say instead of listening to other students or engaging with their ideas. And really I like to think of these fishbowl conversations as a good metaphor for the way Dr. Ramsey’s class works in general: you are forced to wade through seas of confusing bureaucracy and contrived ivory-tower ~pedagogical methods~ just to avoid meaningful engagement with the ideas you encounter. That principle applies to writing as well. Almost all of the writing done in this class consists of merely summarizing arguments, and much of the work comes from navigating Ramsey’s bizarre expectations. There were a total of five writing assignments (one of those was split into multiple parts, involving group work and google form submission) plus twice-a-week discussion board posts and an in-class oral presentation on a thinker of your choice. This has turned into a rant, but all this is to say that this is a CC section which manages to be difficult but not rewarding. If you enroll in this section you will learn the bare basics of important philosophical doctrines laid out in the past couple thousand years. But nowadays this is something you can get from scanning wikipedia. If you have even marginal interest in developing skills such as learning how to engage in rigorous philosophical discussion or how to write argumentatively or how to read critically, I do not recommend enrolling in this section.
I really liked Dr. Ramsey for a few reasons: first, her class is very clearly structured: she posts discussions questions for each reading to respond to on Courseworks, and that's what you spend a good portion of the class talking about the next day. She also comes up with pretty cool activities to go with each reading. She definitely helped me understand the books a lot better. Also, she is definitely one of the nicest teachers I've had at Columbia: she's really funny, cares about her students, and actually spends the money that the Core office earmarks for us on a game night, outings, and museum trips. The grading as far as I know, isn't too bad. It's more than possible to get A's on the papers. She also gave us a curve on our midterm which isn't too bad. Also, if you don't do well on your papers then she actually provides a lot of feedback that can help you improve. Her feedback is actually really helpful and will help you get a better grade if you follow it.
So my class called her Dr. Ramsey, and I definitely do not agree with the review below. She told us a few days ago that she won't continue teaching CC next semester (Spring 2014) because she admittedly could not put in the same time and effort in that she wanted to, given her newborn child and other things on her plate (she's a recent PhD graduate from Teachers College). Completely understandable because our class LOVES her stories about her family. But, we were all noticeably sad to hear the news. Dr. Ramsey is incredibly intelligent and so humorous, and it's possible that it was because of the students and not the teacher, but we never had dull or awkward discussions. Many of our discussions ended in either laughs or serious individual contemplation over the topic at hand. It is very evident that she is passionate about Fall semester CC texts and that passion translated to the discussions. She does this thing where when the discussion starts rolling and people start raising their hands, she writes down the names in order on the board (so that you can put your hand down) and erases them one by one as each person finishes their point. It's a good feeling when you have 10+ names on the board because everyone has something to say and everyone else wants to hear it. At some point, the discussion has to get cut off so she closes with a final comment and then we move onto a different topic. I genuinely enjoyed what she had to say and the way she directed discussions.
She was assigned to teach the CC section I was in last semester. Her class was a very average experience, if not a sort of bizarre one too. Even though she was perfectly normal when people talked to her individually, the class-teacher relationship was very odd (silent, awkward, not knowing when to laugh). Like one time she told us she was going to play a song that related to the text, which everyone got really excited about. But then she just played it for the whole class on her iPhone, which made it pretty difficult to hear, and we all just sat there silently listening. Then we moved on to the next topic. It felt like a weird tribal ritual. Some of her other "activities" were just as questionable, including randomly having us write a tweet by one of the philosophers (the connection to twitter was not explained), or use markers and posterboard to summarize the reading. It felt like fifth grade. I think "Ms. Ramsey" (she asks you to call her that) means very well and genuinely cares about the students in her class...sometimes a little too much. Two times during the course, she related a philosopher's ideas to the perils of drunk driving, and urged us not to do it. No one really knew how to respond to it. Then again, the part about Epicureanism she related to drunk driving is one of the things I remember most from the course, so maybe it's just her method. The biggest flaw in the class is that 40% of your grade is based on in-class participation, which at first stimulated a lot of good discussion about the material, but then seemed to only incite banal, pointless comments for the sake of commenting. She would agree with everything everyone said, even if it was flat out 100% wrong. The final and the midterm were the easiest two tests I've taken at Columbia. You had to identify and write about quotes like "I think, therefore I am" and "Life is nasty, brutish and short." There was also a "human interest" question along the lines of "Which of the philosophers do you most identify with?" I might have been able to pass the test without knowing anything except the most quoted lines from the books. I think it's great that she repeatedly told us she wanted to take her time grading our essays because she wanted to give us helpful comments. Strangely enough, however, I would usually only receive two or three comments in the whole paper and then perhaps a one sentence recap about one thing she didn't like. I got the same grade on every paper even though I gradually spent less and less effort on each one.