UK professor acts as ringmaster in circus and philosophy course

Circus and philosophy students practice making a human tower.

McKenna Horsley

For one UK professor, juggling a few objects and theories of philosophy go hand in hand.

Meg Wallace, an associate professor in UK’s philosophy department, leads a class called “Circus and Philosophy.” She created the class and has taught it for only one semester.

The first class had 27 students. In the course, students learn about philosophy one day a week and practice a physical activity, such as juggling or aerial arts, another day. Wallace said she finds that the course challenges students both mentally and physically. She said that this was her first class in which no students dropped or failed.

Wallace said the class came around “as a bit of a joke.” The idea for the class was first discussed after Wallace talked to some of her colleagues about her interest in aerial arts and ways to make philosophy classes more engaging. She noticed in her circus arts classes that students were motivated to learn a physical act, compared to her lecture-style classes that she taught.

“The attitude of the circus classes was always one of just enjoying the activity for what it was, never caring for a grade or what it was good for… Because that’s not why you take it. You take it because it’s fun and enjoyable,” she said.

That pure enjoyment is what Wallace wanted for her philosophy classes. She said that she first thought no one would take the idea of combining circus and philosophy together seriously, but many of her colleagues at UK have found it to be a great idea.

Wallace began learning aerial arts after her husband bought a spot in a class for her at Sora Aerial Arts, a studio in Lexington. Since then, Wallace said that she has taught some classes at that studio and in Louisville. Once she started, she thought it was something she “wanted to do every day.” She has been performing for about four years.

Wallace started out practicing three days a week and five days a week during the summer when UK was not in session. She said for those wishing to start, practice schedules can be different for everyone.

As for her passion for philosophy, she decided to pursue the field after graduating with an undergraduate degree in Russian history and a professor encouraged her to pursue graduate school for philosophy. She ultimately got her Ph.D. at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. She started her current position at UK in 2010.

Wallace said this class is the first of its kind at UK and perhaps even in the nation in that it combines a physical activity and an intellectual subject. She said she hopes that other professors and instructors can apply a similar method to their own teaching after hearing about the class.

Wallace maintained a blog during previous sections of the course. The course will be offered in Fall 2018 and is called PHI 300-002. Wallace said fall class sessions will be in Holmes Hall “in an effort to connect with those in the Creative Arts Living Learning Program.” The class will be open to all undergraduate students.