Richard John

Sep 2019

I disagree with the previous reviewer who states that RRJ plays favorites and is impatient with students. This is just my subjective experience, but I got the opposite impression: he really wants to see all students succeed, even ones who are struggling. When I was in his class, I was at a very low point in my struggle with mental health issues. This severely interfered with my ability to perform academically, and I covered it (poorly) up by pretending not to care, by pretending I was slacking by choice: bragging about never doing the readings, joking about how lazy I was, putting on the persona of a class clown. But Richard didn't yell at me or hold it against me. He tried to hard all year to reach out to me and encourage me and try to bring out the best in me. And despite my own best efforts, I came away from the class feeling that I'd learned a great deal and grown in my understanding of the texts. That said, my class absolutely was full of the "classic CC kids" and it did get kind of annoying at times. Particularly in the fall semester, I felt this toxic atmosphere of one-uppmanship in which students vied to show off their extensive knowledge and ~profoud intellectual appreciation~ and to me it felt like it was not out of a genuine desire to add to the discourse, but just to show off, suck up to the professor, and flex on each other. One guy in my class even harassed me in the class group chat after I made a point in class that the professor seemed to like, saying my point was the most basic and elementary observation about the CC author in question, and telling me to "read a book" (although to be fair, I did openly admit to seldom doing the readings, so maybe I brought it on myself?) Honestly, if Richard got impatient in class, it was in response to this kind of obnoxious, posturing rambling that took up too much time. (I do wish he'd taken a stronger role in directing the conversation instead of letting the classic CC kids take turns flexing, though). If you're looking for an easy A or a light workload, this class definitely isn't for you. Richard assigned lots of additional readings other classes didn't have; this is probably why our class was composed predominantly of "classic CC kids." But if you can try to ignore the one-uppmanship that dominates class discourse, you'll learn a lot from Richard and come away with a richer appreciation of the CC texts and (as problematic, racist, imperialist, and grossly oversimplified as this term is) the "Western philosophical tradition."

Dec 2018

Richard says he's been teaching for 35 years and that he knows how to teach and what counts as good student work, but honestly he just plays favorites. He has no rubric for grading any essays, he just gives you a grade at the end. On the midterm and final essays, he told some students that all he does is read and if a certain point is compelling he gives you 2 pts until you hit full points. There is no format. If you ask him how to do better on essays, he just tells you to include more historical context and he doesn't help you further develop your argument. He spends way too much time in class on historical context too. We spent an hour and thirty minutes going over the history of the Qur'an. If you read the texts and don't really understand them, you shouldn't expect to be able to understand them after class either (Richard someone expects you to know it though). He also cuts students off all the time and doesn't let them formulate complete thoughts. Once you start to say something he automatically thinks he knows what you're saying he tries to explain it for you but sometimes he's way off. Additionally, if he asks you to explain your discussion post and you have to pull it up because you don't remember what you wrote, he just skips over you and is like okay never mind. When students are talking and presenting their points in class, He gestures with his hands like "ok keep moving, hurry up," and he would talk over students all the time. Despite his impatience, he's horribly inefficient with time. We spent an hour and forty-five minutes introducing ourselves on the first day of class because he kept interrupting the students' introductions and trying to explain them himself. We ended up with only 15 minutes to talk about Plato that day. He does offer extra credit, but he doesn't tell you how much it's worth, AND he gives a lot of these opportunities out during his office hours, so not everyone has a fair chance at doing them. I got to do a couple and present in class, but other students didn't even have a clue that that was an option. Additionally, he keeps telling us to stop stressing out about grades and to just relax, but at the same time, he assigns a ridiculous amount of reading and he says the second semester will be even more reading intensive. We read 40 texts this semester, which is almost 40% more than other classes. Finally, my class was full of variations on the "classic CC kid." People in my class would quote Kant ( a spring semester author) halfway through the fall semester, they would quote Descartes in Latin 5 weeks before we got to him, they would say shit like "his cosmology is complete", they would correct Richard if he misquoted something, and Richard lapped it right up. HE LOVES those kids and would tailor the discussion to best fit them and revolve around them, while a lot of other people had no idea what was going on. There's a very specific type of student who chooses to stay in his CC class, and his class self-weeds out any of the normal kids who aren't philosophy fanatics, usually during the first week. I stayed because I got lazy and didn't want to switch sections, plus i had a great schedule. I took LitHum last year, so I thought this class would be similar, but it's not. I was used to reading a good amount every week, but this class assigned way too much. This professor was just not helpful, and I desperately want to switch out for second semester but all the sections are full. Hopefully they'll open up later so I can get out of this class. I seriously hope some other classic CC kid will be dying to switch with me. Tldr; if you're a "classic CC kid," Richard will love you, and you will love him. If you're looking for a chill semester of reading, Richard is not for you. If you are looking for a professor to explain the texts and clarify, Richard is not for you.

Oct 2017

I can start off by saying that Professor John's CC class is not the place where you go if your goal for CC is to skate by doing as little work as possible. I had him for 2nd semester, and it was a significantly most intensive course than my CC class first semester. With that disclaimer, Prof. John is an engaging, skilled professor who's class was not only fascinating but truly impacted the way that I view the world. Every class truly allows for a comprehensive discussion of the text and leaves everyone with a deeper understanding of the material covered. Prof. John does not shy away from conveying his opinions about the text but leaves room for dissenting students to disagree. The classes tought workload ensures that a large number of the students who stay in are genuinly interested in the subject matter. The net results is that class discussions are sophisticated and infomative. The best part about the course is Prof. John's dedication to teaching it. As he will tell you repeatedly (and he means it) he is always happy to go meet over breakfast to discuss a text that students felt was missing from the course material or to engage in other discussion outside the classroom. In short, if you are looking for the easy A, this is not the class for you. But, if you are looking to get the most out of CC, look no further.

May 2017

Definitely one of the most incredible professors at Columbia. He cares tremendously about the class and the students and it was an absolute pleasure and honor to be in his class. Background: Professor John is a tenured professor at the Columbia Journalism school and his specializations are in communications and in American history. He's honestly an amazingteacher and actually cares about what the students think and what the students get out of the material. That being said, if you're looking for an easy-A professor that assigns minimal reading, Professor John probably isn't who you're looking for. Not that his class is like super hard or anything but if you want a good grade you're gonna have to work for it and actually engage with the material. If you're a student that actually cares about the core and CC and actually learning from these texts -- Professor John is right for you. He's also incredibly accessible outside of class which is not something that is true at all for many of the tenured professors here; he's always willing to have breakfast with students to talk about the texts or sometimes meet at times outside of office hours. We also went as a class to the Met Cloisters during the first semester and the regular Met in the second semester and both times were a ton of fun -- we all went out to dinner after and had a great time talking about what we saw and the course in general. Finally, in reference to the post above this one, I'm not quite sure I agree with the characterization of how different opinions were presented in class. It's true that as a class we did not really focus that much on identity politics or race (although we did read MLK, Du Bois, Fannon, and Amartya Sen), and we focused instead on themes such as political economy, moral philosophy, and liberalism. But that being said Professor John is definitely not a conservative (more of a moderate liberal) and is incredibly tolerant of differing viewpoints. We had people in our class who were very critical about the Core in general and they were able to voice their opinions freely and I was friends with a few of these people and they never felt like they were being penalized by speaking their mind. In conclusion, I highly recommend his class and I only wish there were more teachers here like him.

Jan 2014

Richard John is an enthusiastic teacher. He will get very involved with the material and will provide a lot of energy for the classroom. He is a historian and so will spend a fair amount of time giving historical information to provide context to each of the readings, which does make the readings more interesting. This was his first time teaching the course so he would often ask for student input on how to carry out discussion. Most classes consisted of him talking about the text and asking for student input on each point that he brought up. A few times he split the class into two groups and made them debate a topic from the point of view of two different authors. There were also a few occasions on which he spent the class asking each person in the room to comment on the text (this was the least organized of the three methods). On the whole though this is a section very much led by the professor, which has the advantage of being structured. However, this did mean that John spent more time talking about the aspects of the texts that he found interesting than those brought up by students. John is also strongly opinionated, and tends to give less credence than he should in such a class to arguments he does not agree with. This can be particularly problematic as most students here hold leftist views, while John often leans to the right, so students' views are sometimes unfairly dismissed. Overall, the section is interesting and a decent one to be in.