The Many Journeys of Instructor Michael Morales

Musician, stand-up comedian, and City College philosophy instructor Michael Morales, outside the Rosenberg Library at Ocean Campus on Monday Nov. 16, 2015. (By Shannon Cole/The Guardsman)
Musician, stand-up comedian, and City College philosophy instructor Michael Morales, outside the Rosenberg Library at Ocean Campus on Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. (By Shannon Cole/The Guardsman)

By Shannon Cole/Staff Writer

Philosophy Instructor Michael Morales Believes All is Possible  

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said at a recent Republican debate, “Welders make more money than philosophers; we need more welders and less philosophers.”

But can welders make music, do stand-up comedy or teach a philosophy class?

According to City College philosophy instructor Michael Morales, they probably can.

“Anybody can do anything, they just have to learn it,” Morales said. He has been teaching at City College since the fall 2011 semester. A native of El Paso, Texas, Morales is proud to now call San Francisco home for the last eight years.

The humble Morales currently teaches a course titled Knowledge. He also prefers that his students refer to him as an instructor, not professor.

I don’t have a Ph.D.,” Morales clarifies. “Some people prefer that, using that terminology but I don’t. I feel like it implies a certain amount of work that I haven’t done yet.”

On The Road

What Morales does have is plenty of life experience. He’s been a hardworking college student, starting his first job as a mover in the busy military town of El Paso just days after graduating high school. It was that job that helped him pay for his first year of art studies at University of Texas at El Paso.

But it was music that ignited an interest in philosophy, the subject that he would eventually earn both a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree.

“My buddy Ernie was like, ‘Hey, have you ever heard Bad Religion?’ and I was like, ‘No’. And he started playing me some and it caught me right away, it’s very intelligent lyrics,”  Morales said.  “Punk rock and philosophy for me just always went hand in hand.”

Morales found inspiration through the lyrics of Greg Graffin.

“I started to be introduced to all these sociopolitical concepts that I didn’t find in some of these other bands,” he said.

Doctor Gaffin’s own return to school to pursue a doctorate at the height of his band’s success also served as inspiration to Morales.

“As my interest in school started waning … I dropped out after a year and a half and went full throttle playing in bands, going on tour for the better part of 20 years,” he said.

“Anybody can do anything, they just have to learn it.”

Michael Morales

So Morales combined school with touring the country with bands, Not So Happy, Siva and Apache among them, picking up a semester here and there until he finished. He still makes music, started doing stand-up comedy a few years ago and is now a dedicated father to a young daughter.

“I have ‘dad brain,’” Morales said, referring to the inhibited cognitive function parents of young children tend to develop. He said he can really sympathize with students that try to balance raising a family with an education, as well as ones who work to pay for school themselves, because he’s been there.

“I know what you’re going through right now,” he said.

Stand-up Classes

It’s that sort of relatable life experience that makes students feel so comfortable with Morales in the classroom. He assumes an informal rather than authoritative posture in front of the class, choosing to lean on the desk with an arm casually propped against the lectern instead of positioning himself at the center. He speaks with his students, not at them.

“It’s not that I know more than you. I’ve just read a lot more dry, boring philosophy papers than you guys,” he joked to the class.

His classes are rapid-fire discussions peppered with questions and explanations from Morales and are far from the dry, pretentious lectures often associated with a philosophy class.

Scanning the room, Morales is quick to notice when waves of confusion wash over the faces in the classroom and offers clarification so everyone can participate in the discussion.

Students appreciate his casual, informal nature and engage deeply with the subject at hand. Even those who don’t like to speak up in class enjoy listening and learning from what’s being said.

“I like learning about things I’ve never thought of before,” Morales’ student Emwanki Mangkia said.

Trying and doing things you’ve never done before is what Morales is all about. Though he’s only been doing comedy for a few years, he’s been hosting an open mic event in the Mission District for fledgling and established comedians to try out their new material.

As one such comedian found out, Morales doesn’t stop teaching when he starts doing comedy. When the new comedian took a little too long to set up a joke, Morales heckled the very comedian he introduced moments before from the back of the room.

“You have to be faster!” he warned after picking the comedian’s low-hanging fruit of a punchline.

Morales is also trying his hand at a new musical endeavour titled “The Prix”, in addition to teaching two philosophy courses in the spring 2016 semester.

So, Sen. Rubio, do you still think we need fewer philosophy majors? You could learn a lot from them.

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