Richie Kim

It's Not Just About Teaching Philosophy

Inspirational Instructor Richie Kim teaches critical-thinking skills so his students can find truth

When you attend Richie Kim’s Philosophy classes, don’t expect to be memorizing theories on self, thought, id and ego. 

Don’t expect to use the same learning and test-taking habits that got you through high school.

What you should expect is to use your brain. 

 

In my class, we're going to do actual scholarship work.

 


“They're already set up to hear me lecture on what they need to read—their assigned readings—but what they need to rethink is their learning,” Richie says of incoming freshmen. “I say things very bluntly. ‘Remember all the things you learned from your English teacher, forget it all. Just let it go. We're going to do some work.’ My students don’t need to have their formulaic training wheels. In my class, we're going to do actual scholarship work.”

And this is the learning credo that Richie has used since 2012, when he started teaching at UC Berkeley’s Philosophy department as a GSI. His enigmatic teaching style attracted the attention of our Fall Program for Freshmen staff just two years later and he’s been an in-demand instructor ever since. 

“Professor Kim was absolutely incredible,” enthuses a former student. “He was so knowledgeable, and the course material was so engaging. He was adamant about helping students and truly cared about seeing everyone in class succeed. He was so enthusiastic, funny and sharp, making an already enjoyable class even better.”

So it’s no wonder that Richie is one of our 2020 Inspirational Instructors. 

Why FPF Instructor Richie Kim Was Named a 2020 Inspirational Instructor

 

 

 

Studying philosophy is dedicated toward enhancing your mind, your mental capacities to the greatest extent.

 

What is it about philosophy that drives you to not only study but also teach?

Every once in a while I get the question—sometimes as a veiled snub—“What good is philosophy?” Why, why, why would you take it. What do you do with it? 


And I think that's a completely erroneous perspective to have. I often respond, “Tell me what occupation wouldn't benefit from enhancing your critical-thinking skills, enhancing your cognitive abilities, your analytic abilities, your ability to identify problems and identify ways to address these issues?!”


It is tantamount to asking, “What good is it to exercise your brain?” Studying philosophy is dedicated toward enhancing your mind, your mental capacities to the greatest extent.


My duty as a citizen of the world is to teach philosophy, and I am a philosopher. I’m a very curious person and I’m always trying to seek out the truth. And that’s not about what you might call “my truth” or “your truth.” These labels can be  dangerous misnomers because truth is not owned. The truth is sometimes constructed, often a matter of discovery, but never an invention or property.


I don't think one can live earnestly and authentically without caring about these basic things and engaging in genuine inquiry or seeking truth. I think this is woefully lacking in society today, and I make sure my students know that genuine inquiry is what we're going to do in my class—or our class, if you so choose to be authentic.


My students get a crash course on logic, because logic is the language of not only philosophy, but of truth. Sound logical reasoning allows us to arrive at and communicate truths, as opposed to merely stumbling upon them.


How do you translate finding truth into teaching incoming freshmen who have not had this type of teaching before.

First, I make clear that we are literally a team trying to get a better understanding of the questions. We’re doing this together. 


Second, we must have respect for one another and each person’s education. Whenever we come together in class, having the utmost respect for everyone and our education is always in play. 


I set a high level of expectation of mutual respect and in intellectual engagement. 

 

I love teaching in FPF. I like how it's a smaller community; it feels like a small liberal-arts college.

 


You also teach at USF and Stanford. What makes FPF so special?

No matter where I teach, I keep the discourse high. Maybe it's self-indulgent, but I can't do philosophy unless I'm doing it as rigorously as possible. 


I love teaching in FPF. I like how it's a smaller community; it feels like a small liberal-arts college.


It feels like a nice community where we all respect and trust one another to do the important task of getting freshmen comfortable and in a position to succeed for the rest of their careers. It's an extraordinary honor.


I feel that if you're in a position to do good in the world by influencing the type of person and type of scholar someone is going to be before they get out into the professional world, you better take up that duty. 


How do you keep that high level of discourse in a remote learning environment?

I think I'm doing it. Well, I use various devices:

  1. A big desktop screen where I can see all 50 students
  2. A side screen that displays what my students are seeing on their screens
  3. My laptop to the side with the readings
  4. An iPad Pro to command the lecture slides
  5. An iPhone/Watch to change the slides if I’m standing or pacing around a bit


But I'm a walk-around-the-classroom kind of person. Sometimes I'll just sit down in one of the seats and keep talking.


But we're going to find the best parts of this remote learning and enjoy it.


So I understand that you are in the process of earning your Ph.D.

I still need to turn it in. I started it in 2002 and it’s funny that David Hills is my adviser. He started his Ph.D. almost 35 years ago and finally turned it in several years ago!


But right now I'm making some alterations to satisfy myself. But I’ll be turning it in shortly. Really, any day now. It took a pandemic, but it’s happening. Sometimes the best virtue of a project is that it is finished.


And while Richie continues to tinker with his dissertation, his students are getting an exceptional education—not just in the thought of Philosophy, but in developing critical-thinking skills that will last a lifetime.


“Not only did this course increase my ability to think analytically, it showed me how to evaluate my own life,” another student raves. “The course was reasonably challenging but incredibly rewarding. I would absolutely recommend this instructor to others—period.”