I became interested in teaching long before I could articulate anything resembling a “teaching philosophy.” As early as junior high school, I sensed the exhilaration that a successful class could bestow upon teachers as well as students, and wondered who could be so lucky to end up in a job that at its best seemed less like work than like an elevated form of play. Though only mildly rebellious as a youth, my rebellion took the form of reimagining, in the company of friends, the un-ideal school in which we found ourselves, purging it of Trunchbulls and curmudgeons and exchanging them for Gandalfs and Miss Honeys and other literary pedagogues who recognize that wisdom needs a conduit and that youth is essential to the pursuit of truth.
The naïveté behind this vision did not make it through Haverford College, but my sense of teaching as a rewarding and rejuvenating profession sharpened in the company of professors who were accomplished scholars, and who were at once friendly and professional, encouraging and demanding, committed to students and yet doggedly engaged in their own work. With the door to graduate school barred by a lackluster college career, I taught high school for five years, before finding myself starved for the critical engagement that I had come to appreciate too late at Haverford. I resolved to claw myself into graduate school. Once there I discovered in John Dewey’s and Jane Addams’ pragmatism, William James’ and Montaigne’s skepticism, and Mill’s utilitarianism a vision of education and the examined life that seemed altogether in keeping with my own largely inchoate educational philosophy. The rest is history.
Over the years, my research has generated courses designed to meet the interests of students coming of age in a dynamic, volatile world. My teaching emphasizes the essential theme of my scholarship, namely, that for students of U.S. history there is no choosing between issues “foreign” and “domestic.” In Social Studies, in the Harvard history department, in the Freshman Seminar Program, and more recently at Harvard Law School, I have led seminars on justice and reconciliation after mass violence, American civic identity, race and ethnicity, U.S. imperialism, justice and law in U.S. history, PTSD in American wars, and negotiation. I have also taught the modern U.S. survey and a course on the American Civil War.