Welcome to Thinking Pop Culture!

“There is a yearning in the human heart that is nourished only by real philosophy.”

-Jacob Needleman

Welcome readers and thank you for visiting! Have you ever asked yourself, “Does morality exist in a zombie apocalypse?” Or perhaps,  “How does one fight the corruption of Gotham without becoming corrupted? What can one learn about the Socratic Method from Dr. Gregory House? Would a jedi knight have more in common with a Taoist sage or a Buddhist monk?”  If you have, you’ve come to the right place!

My name is James Rourke and I have been a history teacher at the Norwich Free Academy in Norwich, CT for 23 years and a writer for 12. Regardless if I am writing or teaching I am always seeking ways to make big ideas relevant to both my students and my readers. I believe in the importance of philosophy and that wrestling with philosophic concepts can sharpen our reason and deepen our compassion. Big ideas are the gateway to shared humanity. I also have the conviction that those big ideas, unless rooted in, or at least touching, the small stories of our lives, lose some of their power.

At some point in my teaching career philosophy and psychology became inextricably linked with my approach to history. This convergence reached an apex three years ago when I introduced the course “P3: Philosophy, Psychology, and Pop Culture” to NFA’s curriculum. The impetus for this course can be summed up by the modern philosopher Jacob Needleman. “There is a yearning in the human heart that is nourished only by real philosophy…But this part of the human psyche is not known or honored in our culture…it is not cared for, it is crushed…When this happens man becomes a thing” (1). Professor Needleman wrote those words in 1982. They would likely have been true in 1882 and, unfortunately, will likely resonate in 2082.

I have felt this yearning Needleman references. It can be difficult to follow and even harder to quantify. I am thankful for the rocky path that this yearning demands because I know this: philosophy is not about memorizing quotations or becoming the keeper of arcane knowledge. Philosophy, at times, feels more like poetry for the mind that can both scar and heal the soul. It has helped me navigate rough waters, enjoy quiet times, grow more effectively self-reflective, and become increasingly aware of  everyday moments where appreciation can be expressed. It has made a profound difference for me and I thought it might make a difference for my students.

As stated, three years ago I brought “P3” to NFA. As I planned the course it became clear to me that I wanted the students to feel the power of philosophy in my room. This lead to the decision to use pop culture as the vehicle through which the students could gain a better appreciation and understanding of the philosophy we covered. We are story telling creatures and it is through stories that we can find both diversity of creativity and the unity of common goals and dreams.

In having the ebb and flow of the weeks and months together the students and I face the greatest challenge of all: seeking humanity that, throughout history, has seemed so elusive to people. The seeking of our common humanity has been the undercurrent of the class since the beginning. What does it mean to be an authentically mature person? Is there, as Aunt May teaches, “…a hero in all of us..a hero in all of us?” What makes a person worthy to hoist Mjolnir or to wield Anduril?

The great Stephen Biko once wrote, “We have set out on a quest for true humanity, and somewhere  on the distant horizon we can see the glittering prize” (2). Biko wrote while engaged in the bitter struggle against apartheid in South Africa. I would posit that this idea, of seeking true humanity, is a quest worth universalizing. What if that was a goal people put into their hearts? What if just an hour a day were dedicated to this challenge? That’s a big thought, perhaps even a tad idealistic. But if one is going to be inspired by an idea why not make it a big one!

Alas, I am a teacher. A small person in a limited profession. I am also human and can be moved by true greatness. I can also, on a good day, act as a corridor and bring  great people and fascinating ideas to life for my students. I strive to accomplish this everyday and  I am grateful to all my past “P3ers,” as well as to those in my US History and Psychology classes, for their efforts and I hope to continue to serve my students well.

It is, in many ways, my classroom experiences that have led to this website. Perhaps that which I do for my students will be well received beyond the confines of my classroom. Perhaps it may even be found useful or, at the least, an entertaining lens to gaze through from time to time.  So, once again, thanks for stopping by and I sincerely hope to make every visit worthy of your time!

(1) Needleman, J. (1982) The Heart of Philosophy. New York, New York: Penguin.

(2) Biko, S. (2002). I Write What I Like. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press. This is the University of Chicago Press edition. The book first appeared in 1978.