Philosophy, Star Wars, and Student Success: Meet eCore Instructor J. Edward Hackett

Dr. J. Edward Hackett
Dr. J. Edward Hackett
Savannah State University
eCore PHIL 2010 Intro to Philosophy

Recently, I was included on an email chain from Dr. J. Edward Hackett regarding a grade change for one of his students. In addition to the procedural formalities, Dr. Hackett added in his message that it was a "total comeback. If you do see her, then tell her I am immensely proud of her." As adult students, life can sometimes get in the way of academics. Families grow, job responsibilities change, unexpected events pop up, etc., etc. In these situations, we understand that the support and encouragement of a caring online instructor can make the difference between success and failure for the student. 

Take a minute to learn a little more about Dr. Hackett, one of those caring online instructors that believes in his students even when they don't believe in themselves. 

Where did you complete your degrees? 
I completed my BA in Philosophy and Political Science at a public university called Slippery Rock University. I did my MA in Philosophy in Vancouver, Canada at Simon Fraser University and my doctorate in Philosophy at Southern Illinois University. 

What is your field of expertise and what drew you to it? 
Oh dear. You asked the “Why Philosophy” question. How do I answer why I love philosophy? I never know how to answer this question per se. What drew me to philosophy is the insatiable curiosity to wonder about the world. Philosophy starts where science, art, common sense and faith stop. In my introduction to philosophy class when I was a student [what student’s now call “back in the day”], the question that got me was: What is love? A material reductionist answer to that question seemed very insufficient at the time, so I quit majoring in Art Education and signed up for philosophy. I often tell many that I stopped majoring in Art because I wanted to get a job, and philosophy seemed more relevant to me for that very reason. People think I’m joking. I’m not. That’s the funny thing. 

If you’re wondering about my exact field of expertise, my research is in ethics, American pragmatism, and phenomenology, and applying these frameworks to a variety of philosophical and contemporary problems.

Most recently, I have been engaged in two projects. First, I am engaged in trying to tease out the relationship between Edgar Sheffield Brightman’s personalism, and what effect – if any – Brightman had on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s outlook. King came to Boston University to study with Brightman who was his first dissertation supervisor, and I’ve been enamored with Brightman, Boston Personalism, and King ethics and political thought. These may be all extensions of personalism in some way. 

Next, I have been working out various conceptions of what it means to value and think about the metaphysics of nature given longstanding interests in environmental ethics. This Summer I attended a conference with and engaged the work of Robert Corrington’s view of ecstatic naturalism, and since I have been working on various accounts of the divine in theism, pantheism, and panentheism and various ontologies of value in ethics, it’s been a larger outgrowth of those philosophical concerns to think about nature in this regard. Just last week, this has led to conversations to see if I can develop a course on Thinking and Valuing Nature and bring Savannah State University students to British Columbia, Canada. Again, these are only talks with some schools up there. I’d love to develop philosophy courses and teach students about these concerns when I am actively engaged in researching these very same philosophical questions

How long have you taught online classes? 
I started last year. My first year at Savannah State University…Spring 2018

Why did you choose to become a college instructor? 
Umm because it’s awesome. But seriously, we all become enamored with professors and their love of a subject they’ve devoted their lives to. I’m known different in this regard. I’m a professional philosophy nerd, and I absolutely love philosophy. I can’t imagine doing anything else, and my students pick up on that in the classroom. It becomes infectious. 

What do you like most about teaching online? 
Since I teach mostly Critical Thinking at SSU, I enjoy getting into some philosophy with students in the USG system. 

What was your most challenging subject in school, and how did you get through it?
Freshman year…it was art. Art was hard for me because of the studio time commitment it required to major in it. My freshman friends were having fun, and I was drawing this stuffed duck in a pail on the weekends. 

What do you like to do in your free time? 
I’ve written a novel about a wizard and am getting it published with a small publishing house. I’m plotting the second part of it now. I write all the time both creatively and in a more scholarly capacity and I live at several cafes here in Savannah. My wife and I are learning about Savannah. We enjoy long walks on the beach, so I am often out at Tybee Island. So I exist as a sincere cliché. I also do some landscape photography. Someday, I’ll get to teach a Philosophy of Art class again that I taught in my Ph.D. 

What’s your favorite movie of all time? 
It’s corny but Star Wars. I teach in an arsenal of graphic Star Wars t-shirts that I’m now famous for on campus. I also have a variety of comic book graphic tees as well. I don’t think that was relevant to what you just asked, but the delete button is on the other side of the keyboard. 

If you had to choose a different profession, what would it be? 
Full-time sci-fi/fantasy writer…I guess. Since I am a Philosophy professor, I can’t honestly imagine doing anything else, though. Even in my fiction writing, writing fantasy is a way to also question our world philosophically. 

If you won the lottery, what would you do with your winnings? 
Endow my own research chair in Philosophy. Someplace nice…By the beach no doubt! 

What is something interesting about you that your students would be surprised to know? 
My prized possession is a correspondence I had with Ursula K. Le Guin. I also have a signed copy of a Wizard of Earthsea because I met her at a book festival in Vancouver. Nobody knows that. 

I am completely open with my students about my geek habits. SSU students already know this, but my current eCore section doesn’t. I’m in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign once a week since moving to Savannah, and I also am the gamemaster for a tabletop Star Wars RPG. 

What advice do you have for students taking online classes for the first time? 
The most successful students are those that take ownership of their own learning. I wish I can etch this on the soul of every student before they start university. In a way, it’s a type of pedagogical existentialism. When a student is in need of help, they need to ask for it. When a student doesn’t know, they need to ask. When a student finds something ambiguous, they should ask. This requires extreme honesty with oneself, and it’s hard to be that honest with oneself. Part of first-year pedagogy in the classroom is trying to get students to think in this way…to be in charge of their own learning and to be honest with themselves. 

I also tell my students that I believe in you even when it’s clear they do not believe in themselves. This is where the mentoring starts and where the growing pains kick in. All teachers must be demanding of the potential of their students. Professors sometimes see into the faults of students more clearly because we’ve been students for years. But when we see a student for whom they are being—though we professors know they’re capable of more—students should know this is the only way they will grow. The best professors in my learning demanded more of me, and with patience and care, I do the same with my students in every course. It doesn’t matter that they’re 200 miles from me or right in front of me in Payne Hall here at Savannah State University. 

Dr. Hackett's Published Works: