Hello to All!
After taking a detour with discussions on dogs, Google gods, and equality, it’s high-time for me to come back to something I started in an earlier post. However, this topic might also be appropriate for discussions about education (yep, everyone’s favorite topic is back!), so consider this to be a “two-birds-with-one-stone” thing as opposed to just a discussion on what I call “Meta-Philosophy”.
Without further ado, here comes the proverbial Act II in this series of posts.
So, one of the things I mentioned in my first post on Meta-Philosophy was a concern over the way things are “set up” in academia today with regards to Philosophy (the whole “publish or perish” deal). Part of this concern, of course, had to do with teaching. Yet there is something about the profession (of teaching) that I cannot seem to figure out, which I have referred to in the title as the teacher-learning paradox.
I’d like to explain what I mean by this, lay out my thoughts, and then open the floor to you guys to see what you think about this, and whether I’m actually seeing something in the wrong light.
Take a teacher — let’s call him “A” for simplicity — and a student — let’s call him “B“. And let us also have A be the teacher of a class in which B is in. Obviously, the goal of a class, and of an education in general, is to learn. Or, at least, the action that should be taken on the part of the student in his/her education should be to learn whatever it is the classes taken are about in such a way so as to have a meaningful (positive) impact in one’s life.
However, this brings up something very weird. I think we can agree that a student, more or less, has the option of whether they want to learn or not learn. Or, at least, whether they want to make the effort to try to learn.
In other words, at the end of the day, the teacher can’t make a student learn — the student has to decide that for himself or herself.
But, we seem to be left in the following quagmire:
1) B doesn’t give a darn, and doesn’t want to learn. He/She could care less;
Result: A, as a teacher, is useless, because, as stated, he cannot make B learn anything;
or, more interestingly,
2) B does give a darn, and wants to learn;
Result: A, as a teacher, is also useless, because a student who actually wants to learn doesn’t really need a teacher to help them — he or she will want to find the knowledge himself/herself, and then (possibly) discuss it with others. A ends up being more of a debate buddy than anything else.
So, what does this mean for Philosophy?
In my eyes, there seem to be two big consequences if this paradox holds, though they might not be as bad as they seem. Firstly, it would appear that only those interested in Philosophy would ever learn anything meaningful with relation to their lives. And it’d also suggest that only these people should even be the ones who major or minor this subject in their undergrad or grad education, as they’d probably be the most successful in their fields compared to others.
That’s probably not as mind-blowing as you were waiting for, wasn’t it? Well, consider this: if the paradox holds, then it also seems to me that the way Philosophy is being taught these days is also, in many respects, useless. Instead of more lecture-like setups, Philosophy classes would have to be more about discussion of what has been said in a given sub-field, with papers and presentations as ways of assessment. The teacher would have to be more of a mediator who engages in the class debates as a guide rather than an authority figure. And he/she would need to be more open to learning from students. Students, by being placed in such a setting, would be at a cross-roads: either they care enough so as to stay in the class and do the heavy-lifting (figuratively speaking, of course), or they realize that they’re not interested and drop the class.
While this might be a harsh way to handle things, it isn’t out-of-line with the fact that Philosophy is not an easy field to major in. And frankly, wouldn’t we agree that it’d be better to have a smaller program with good students than a larger program with a large group of students who don’t care?
Usually, a philosophical paradox spells doom to an argument in which it occurs in. My feeling for this, however, is that the paradox helps to see a way in which philosophy could be taught in a better way, making the paradox less of a paradox and more of a fact of educational method.
What do you guys think???
George (“The Meager Weakling”)