Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Is Philosophy Only For Philosophers?

No one in my philosophy class last semester enjoyed the class as much as I did. There were a few interested students, but for the most part the class was appalled by ideas, and confounded by theories. This was in introductory course, so the material was not difficult and the students were all very intelligent and capable of processing what they learned. But for some reason, thinking about things is too much for some students, or perhaps just not up their alley.

What bothered me most about the students' distaste with the course was that the most outspokenly disgruntled students were the education majors. I have nothing against our future teachers, but I could not help but wonder how it is that the people who wish to impart knowledge to very young children could not care to know anything about

A) How we acquire knowledge

B) How we process and organize knowledge

C) Whether what we "know" has anything to do with the way the world really is

Granted, these students are probably bombarded with many physiological and psychological theories about knowledge and language acquisition, developmental milestones, etc. But aren't the above questions important to ask from a philosophical perspective as well as a scientific one?

Knowing how many words a child's head can hold at five years or how high he should be able to count, and filling him with these facts accordingly, is not the same as teaching a child to ask questions. I am not saying children should be instructed in the Socratic method in pre-school, but their teachers might be able to approach them with more insight and impart more than just mere facts by keeping the major aims of philosophy in mind.

By major aims, I don't simply mean those questions outlined above, about epistemology and ontology (two useful words given to us by philosophers who love their jargon). I mean that teachers should think about why they teach children in one way or another, whether it is the best method, what children should be taught or learn from other sources... I am not a future schoolteacher so I can't go into all the ways that philosophy -- specifically questioning or "living the examined life" -- can apply to teaching. But I am sure there are many applications. I think being able to question methods is more important in teaching, and the consequences of not doing so are more far-reaching, than in a widget factory for instance.

I have to be a bit understanding about this as someone who would be totally bored in, say, a business class that would enthrall a more ambitious career-charter. But I feel like it's a shame that these future educators have no interest in an art that seeks the meaning of knowledge and expounds its virtues (except in the case of the skeptics).

My plans are for working in education in the post-secondary system. My lofty goal, as a first generation college student (I'm breakin' the trailer park cycle!), is to do my Ph.D. and eventually teach English at a small liberal arts college. I have made Philosophy my minor, because I believe it is inextricably bound up with language, all kinds of writing, literature, and of course, rhetoric. More importantly, it has given me a framework on which I can build my own ontology, or theory of the way things are. I can now see what is really important to me, make wiser decisions, and sort of plug in all my own theories, knowledge, and beliefs into this framework to make better sense of the world around me.

Future educators should keep in mind the historic effects that schools of thought have had on schooling, and employ philosophical methods and ideas when teaching our children how to think.

Plato: "It's up there!"

Aristotle: "I tell you it's down here!"

Ah, the arguments they must have had.

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