Revisiting My Teaching Philosophy Statement – Part 2

In my first post, I shared the first section of my teaching philosophy statement. In section 2 (below), I focus more on the how of teaching. Here you go:

Only a tiny fraction of students who attend FSU will go on to become scholars. The majority of undergraduates in my classroom will not go on to take advanced classes in philosophy. A handful may become majors, but for many of the students I teach, my class will be the only philosophy course they every take. As such, I adopt a Kantian approach to teaching (see Ladd, 1982). The goal of teaching undergraduates is neither to fill a student with knowledge, as if she is simply an empty vessel, nor is it to create scholars. The goal of teaching philosophy is enlightenment. The value of philosophy as a part of a liberal arts education lies not in the production of right thinking or correct views, but in its ability to help question the world around us, to develop our own world views and to have the courage to use our own minds. Thus, it is a mistake to focus on making someone a scholar before we teach them how to use their understanding and their reasoning.  

How do we help our students develop understanding? Teaching philosophy presents unique challenges because so few of our students have had any formal exposure to philosophy before college. I think that it is important, therefore, for students to begin by acquiring the necessary skills and background information to succeed in the course. This is a fundamental step and the achievement of my other goals depends in large part on the success of this goal. In my classes, the necessary skills include basic tools of logic, reading comprehension, and analytic writing. When it comes to basic tools of logic, I often post a logic primer and other resources for students on the course site. In my experience, posting information is not sufficient to guarantee that students will make use of it. Therefore, I try to model the activities for the students. I use course readings to introduce and reinforce argument structure and evaluation. For example, I sometimes ask students to work backwards from the author’s conclusion to her reasons. Then I ask the students to share their reconstructions and work together to figure out the relationship between the premises and the conclusion.

Another basic tool that students need to be successful is reading comprehension. Students soon realize that reading philosophy is unlike most of the reading they have done previously. I address reading philosophy on my syllabus and post guidelines on the course website. I also use assignments, especially early in the semester, to reinforce reading comprehension. For example, in some classes I have the students break up into small groups and assign each group an excerpt from a related reading. The groups are then required to write a brief précis and share it with the class. I have also had students complete reflection papers on assigned readings before the readings are covered in class.

Sometimes even experienced students can be overwhelmed by difficult reading assignments. In my upper division classes, I post guided reading questions to help students identify important information and prepare for class discussions and lectures. In smaller classes, such as honors sections, I often assign each student a different reading to outline, which helps students learn to pick out the central parts of a paper, as well as summarize main points. The outlines are posted class website and shared with the rest of the class.

References

Ladd, J. (1982). Kant as teacher. Teaching Philosophy, (5)1, 1–9.

Published by Tracie Mahaffey

Senior Teaching Faculty and Director of Undergraduate Studies Department of Philosophy Florida State University

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