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Ancient Democracy Made Young

Paul Woodruff has a good deal of faith in debate and voting to determine what is best for everyone in a society. He should: he’s studied and taught classical philosophy for forty years here at UT Austin. This semester, he asked the first-year students in his “Discovery of Freedom” Signature Course to determine what would be most important in a new ideal society by using democratic processes developed in ancient Greece.

“Discovery of Freedom” addresses how freedom may be shaped by good leaders in order to survive, and how tyranny can be spotted and put to flight. Students spent much of the semester visiting the “cradle of democracy” through great works of ancient Greek theater and philosophy, then formed committees to propose 45 “freedoms.” After debating, class members voted on a Bill of Freedoms that would be part of the constitution of an idealized space colony. Six freedoms made the final cut. Here they are, with the group leader or leaders who championed the freedom.

Representation
a proposal to populate decision-making bodies in a more representative way than is allowed by the United States’ model of elections
Group leader: Andrew Krohn
Due Process Group leader: Micah Inman
Drug Legalization Group leader: Mitchell Lax
Freedom of Culture Group Leader: Fahad Nadeem
Reproductive Rights
a woman’s right to have as many or as few children as she wishes
Group Leader: Hailey Driscoll
Right to Protest Group leaders: Emily Seltzer & Art Whitman

Woodruff pointed out that nearly all of his students were in their first years at the university and did a good job researching and presenting the proposals, which included research, oral presentation, writing, debate, and committee work.

Mitchell Lax, leader of the group who argued for drug legalization being included, commented that “the most rewarding part of the course was just having the opportunity to be taught by someone as intelligent and with the unique experiences of Professor Woodruff…for anyone interested in intelligent, drawn out discussion sessions about what were often broad and abstract topics, Woodruff is the professor for you.”

About Paul Woodruff

Woodruff began teaching at The University of Texas at Austin in 1973 with a specialty in ancient Greek philosophy. He is well known for his articles on Socrates and Plato, his widely used translations, and his books on theater and ancient Greek values written for a non-academic audience. Woodruff spent three years as chairman of the Department of Philosophy, became director of the Plan II honors program in 1991, and served on Powers’ Task Force on Curricular Reform in 2004-05. In 2006, he was named the inaugural dean of Undergraduate Studies. He completed his six-year term as dean in August 2012 and has returned to teaching full time.

About Signature Courses

The Signature Course (UGS 302 and 303) introduces every first-year student at UT Austin to the university’s academic community. The courses aim to broaden students’ horizons, introduce college-level thinking and learning, and create a common intellectual experience for all first-year students.

Dr. Woodruff modeled Discovery of Freedom on The Art of Giving, a previous Signature Course he designed. Here, he speaks about the experience of teaching that course.

Written by: 
Julia Moskow Ferguson