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Derrida: American students keep asking ‘could you elaborate?’

August 11, 2019

SOURCE: Jacques Derrida (1930-2004).  “Jacques Derrida on American Attitude,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2j578jTBCY (accessed 2019/8/10)

SETTING: Derrida was a central figure in the Deconstructionist movement in philosophy. He was based mainly in France at École Normal Supérieure, but he also spent several years at UC Irvine, even teaching a few classes in Irvine. In the extract below he gives some thoughts on American university students.


During my office hours, [American students] just come and say, ‘Could you tell me more about this or that? Could you elaborate on this?’ This doesn’t happen in France. You don’t just say, “Could you elaborate?”


There is some truth to this, but in my experience European students ask a lot less of the professor in general. Weaker students in American ask “could you elaborate?” and weaker students in Europe say nothing. Not sure which is worse.

What is true, which Derrida surely also knows, is that the more dedicated students, both American and European, process a lot on their own and their questions arise from concerted self effort to break down conceptual or technical barriers that the material they have in hand plus their backgrounds enable them to recognize but may not enable them to resolve in a reasonable amount of time. That’s how students learn best, and that’s when the more experienced professor is of maximal help for a learning student.


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