Hodgson, Instructor in RelPhil, Shares Knowledge with Students, On and Off the Court

As a high school student, Thomas Hodgson, Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies, defined himself as an athlete. But after discovering a deep-rooted interest in philosophy, Hodgson now also spends hours practicing on another field, as he wrestles with philosophical ideas amid the stacks of books on ethics in his office.

Hodgson has been teaching and coaching at Andover for over three decades, after joining the Andover community as a Summer Session Teaching Assistant in 1976.

Hodgson grew up with four half-siblings, multiple stepfathers and held a clear vision of becoming a serious athlete.

Hodgson recalled spending his free time after school playing baseball, football and dodgeball until it got dark outside. He idolized Mickey Mantle and Knute Rockne.

His interests shifted from a focus in sports to a focus in philosophy after he matriculated to Williams College.

“When I got [to Williams], I was just blown away by how much there was to learn, how smart the professors were and how much I wanted to be able to think like them,” said Hodgson.

The turning point emerged after Hodgson took philosophy his freshman year and was asked the following year to serve as a teaching assistant for an introduction to philosophy course.

“Almost anything you learn has something to do with answering a philosophical question, like ‘What can I know?’ ‘What can I hope?’ ‘How shall I act?’ There’s no limit to the relevance of things you can learn,” said Hodgson.

Nathaniel Lawrence, a former professor who became Hodgson’s lifelong friend, ultimately inspired Hodgson to pursue a career in philosophy and religion.

“I used to chase [Lawrence] around campus like a puppy dog. I wouldn’t leave him alone,” Hogdson said.

Hodgson spent his college years as a self-described “philosophy nerd.” Instead of becoming a serious athlete, he participated minimally in sports, trying freshman basketball and occasionally hardball squash.

He spent nearly all of his free time reading philosophy texts on the 11th floor of the campus library, under a “dangling light” with no one else around.

After Williams, Hodgson went on to graduate school at Yale University, majoring in philosophy and religion. Though his interests lay mainly in philosophical inquiry, he had to study religion to fully participate in theological studies outside the United States.

While taking a break from pursuing his master’s degree and writing his dissertation, Hodgson decided to apply for a Teaching Fellow position at Andover in 1976. His father-in-law, an instructor at Exeter, introduced Hodgson to the boarding school environment.

Hodgson arrived at Andover just as the Philosophy and Religious Studies (RelPhil) Department split from the school chaplaincy. Hodgson, Vincent Avery and Evan Gitler, former Instructors in RelPhil, were tasked with redefining the department.

Hodgson recalled that the department was faced with the issues of course quality and popularity.

At the time, there were fewer academic requirements and students selected their courses through a lottery process called Arena Day. In Borden Gym, students drew numbers and those with lower numbers had higher priority in course selection.

“We had to establish [the RelPhil Department] in that [Arena Day] context,” Hodgson said. “We had to be popular enough to get sign-ups, but we also wanted to be rigorous enough as a department to make the education the students were receiving on par with the other academic departments.”

Noticing the absence of logic classes, Hodgson founded the Proof and Persuasion course and has taught the course ever since.

Outside of the classroom, Hodgson has coached basketball, tennis and squash at the Varsity and JV levels for both boys and girls. He said he enjoys coaching because it enables him to guide students’ intellectual and emotional growth.

“I had a girl who was the number four seed player on the squash team, and she was also in my class. She wasn’t great, but she was happy and a hard worker,” said Hodgson.

“During a tournament at Groton, a huge crowd was gathering and I wondered why. It turned out she was playing with such joy, win or lose, that the exuberance bubbled up and was shared by everybody. It’s a kind of thing you hope for as a teacher [and] coach.”

Hodgson recalled another student who impressed him. “He did okay [in the class and] some things on his papers were sloppy.” During Senior year at Andover, that student wasn’t accepted into his first-choice college, so he decided to transfer after one year.

However, he ended up winning a national soccer championship and decided to remain at his current school, despite being given the permission to transfer. Hodgson said, “He turned it on, pushed himself and then made something special.”

The student eventually became a Rhodes Scholar and is currently studying politics at the Kennedy Center.

“Watching students develop, struggle, change, engage in discussion and look at things in new ways is a constant joy for me,” Hodgson said. “I never get bored.”