Teaching, Tax, and Philosophy

I keep asking myself that… who would’ve thought that of all the subjects under the sun, I’d teach tax? It wasn’t a subject I particularly liked in school, so why on earth am I teaching it now? Part of the answer, of course, lies in practical stuff – they needed someone to teach tax and I was willing to do it. But I’ve also discovered it can be fun – like most things in the world – if you decide to do what you like with it.

Does that sound a little impossible? What can you do with tax teaching to make you like it? Well, there’s the everlasting dilemma of doctrine v. technique – which do you teach? Tax is usually boring because it’s all technique and so little doctrine. And while we get used to ‘technical’ subjects, we do like having ethical and theoretical questions posed sometimes! If only because those are things that we can think about without having to ‘learn’ anything specific. So reading about Rawls and Nozick in tax class makes some people sit up and think about taxes in terms of ethics, while it makes others think of Rawls and Nozick as ‘practical’ people!

But the technical stuff is really important too – it’s the first level, the level that’s used the most! And then, teaching technical stuff doesn’t have to be boring either. Asking people to figure things out, rather than giving them the answers, helps. Plus, it’s a great way of not needing to have an answer to everything – “what do you think?”

So why do I teach tax? Because it is intricate like crossword puzzles are intricate, because it challenges my notions of justice, because reconciling a curve on graph paper with the experience of filing a so-called Saral return and the government’s so called ‘gender budgeting’ is challenging. Because it gives me the chance to teach Jurisprudence and Constitutional Law and Economics and Political Science and Interpretation of Statutes and Civil Procedure and Administrative Law all at the same time! Beat that one if you can…


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