Monday, September 22, 2008

"The Thinker"--Commending Philosophy Today

What sparks interest in philosophy? How can an obscure campus excel in this ancient discipline against the odds? In "The Thinker," The New York Times Magazine looks at the unlikely ascent of Auburn University's philosophy department, due largely to the philosophy of doing philosophy of one man, Professor Kelly Jolley.

Consider three salient factors to his approach.

1. He is a demanding teacher who requires immersion in primary sources. It is Aristocratic, not democratic.
2. His commitment is to the discipline of philosophy first. This chimes in with Roger Scruton's claim in Culture Counts that knowledge needs students, the traditions must be handed down. This cuts against the "student-centered learning" craze of recent years, an approach that too-often results in pedagogical fads and technological diversions.
3. He fostered a culture of philosophy at Auburn, as opposed to merely offering classes in philosophy.
4. He emphasized the mentor-apprentice model, more than the teacher-student model. This, of course, fits better the biblical understanding of teaching and learning--personal, not impersonal; embodied, not digitized.

All this makes me ponder how my own philosophy department might better commend itself and generate interest in this perennial tradition.


Paul D. Adams said...

On your 2nd point:
When teaching at a CC for three years with almost a full load each semester, I was inundated by faculty and staff on how important Dewey's constructivism was in pedagogy. Take the instructor out of the center of the hub and make the discipline the center, they heralded. Students don't gain knowledge by listening to lectures from those who are learned in their discipline, they learn by "constructing" their own ideas around the subject, so goes the mantra.

My response? Nonsense! Imagine giving a 4-yr old a checkbook and tell them to construct an idea on how to balance it without first teaching addition and subtraction. Instead, I taught with engaging lectures asking questions along the way but ensured they know the the fundamentals of philosophy and religion, giving them the necessary tools to think about the discipline, rather than pooling their ignorance.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

Quite so. We are selling knowledge for a mess of pseudo-pedagogical pottage. Repentance is in order!