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Inside Areté Interview Series

Who is Areté?

Justine Parkin, Areté Teacher

How long have you been teaching at Areté? Three years.

What do you teach at Areté? 20th Century History, U.S. History, and Great Ideas.

How did your education make your life better? I went to New Roads for high school. I didn’t have Jim; I started after he left. I had a couple friends that said he was one of the best teachers New Roads had. It was similar to Areté in that it was small and I had the small class environment and close relationships with teachers and my friends. My friends were interested in things in the world and thinking about things beyond the immediate social scene. I was already interested in politics, but school got me more interested in history and theory. 

I went to UC Berkeley and having been in a small school, I wasn’t afraid of professors. It was always easy for me to see that education wasn’t just about doing assignments because I really enjoyed learning. In college, it was incredibly liberating when you understood things at such a deep level and it affected your personal life in such a fundamental way, in good way. I was fascinated by the power of ideas and the new framework made me see things in my life and the world in a new way.

What is your favorite philosopher, philosophical question or thought experiment? My favorite philosopher is Hannah Arendt, but she explicitly said she wasn’t a philosopher. Instead, she said she was a political theorist, and the way she distinguished between the two was that philosophers were interested in “human” in the singular sense and the political theorist is interested in humans as a collective. She was probably the most influential on me.

What was your last or favorite Areté Symposium about? Last year, we did a master class. Seniors had a master topic and the underclassmen chose a topic within the bigger topic. One of the sets of topics was on incels, shorthand for involuntary celibates that feel shunned by women and society. There was also one on gold diggers and the sexism inherent in the history of gold diggers. 

What was that Symposium really about? The project on incels was about how information is shared in the modern internet age. Gold diggers was also about language and how we communicate. The term came about as a play in the 1920s, and since, we’ve taken on images associated with the term. 

What was your favorite moment at Areté? It happened several times — that moment when a student understands a really complex theory or complex philosophical concept and then they’re able to put it in their own words. The level of detail and nuance and depth is so profound and it makes me feel like, “wow, I taught this,” and also they’re really smart and able to become a part of this bigger philosophical tradition.

If you could go back to school, is there anything you’d want to learn? So many things. I wish I could go to school indefinitely. I think I’d learn more languages, like I’ve thought Latin or Greek. But I think just learning languages and being able to read texts in those languages and get more of the nuance and meaning is one of my favorite things.

What do you like to do when you have free time? Read. I read lots of dense political theory books. I love political theory. Right now, I’m reading Politics and Vision. A friend just sent it to me for my birthday.

What is an interesting fact about you? I speak German. My mom is Swiss on her father’s side and Maori on her mother’s side. I studied comparative literature for my master’s focusing on environmental literature and German philosophy. I studied in Berlin in my last semester in college, too. 

How has Areté changed you as a teacher? I’m very different from when I first started here at Areté. I think I’ve become more confident in my teaching, especially coming from grad school where I taught German literature and philosophy. Grad school was rigorous, and here, I learned to have more fun with intellectual work. The students at Areté really help me do that because they’re serious about their academic work but they know how to approach intellectual ideas with a playfulness too.  

What are you looking forward to most? Seeing my nephews and niece makes me really happy. I see them a lot and I always look forward to it. 

What are you passionate about and how do you see your life path? I think I’ve see myself doing some combination of teaching and writing. I’m starting to do more writing now and getting stuff published — essays mostly – about everything from politics to cultural analysis. One was published a few months back in DismantleClick here to read it. It’s part cultural analysis of BBC show Fleabag and part critique of mainstream feminism.

I also have an essay coming out in a book next year on feminist pedagogy. It was hugely inspired by the Great Ideas class I taught last year on feminist theory. It will be in a compilation called Feminism at Work and will be coming out through Cornell University Press.

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