Excellent article in the Times Sunday about a fabulous Philosophy Professor at Auburn University, an article I think has implications for teaching in all subjects.
Professor Jolley tells us in the article that “philosophy can’t be taught or learned like other academic subjects.” (I quibble– I think most other academic subject should be taught more like his alternate approach for philosophy teaching!). “Jolley says he thinks of his relationships with his students less as teacher-student than as master-apprentice. His goal, as he sees it, isn’t to teach students about philosophy; it is to show them what it means to think philosophically, to actually be a philosopher.”
A student says of Jolley that he is “more of a collaborator than a professor; rather than answer his questions, , Jolley tried to work through philosophical problems with him.” Again, this should not be the exception, and this should not be limited to philosophy teaching– this should be the mode for all good instruction.
Jolley’s courses are famous for their challenging curriculum and rigor– with a long reading list of primary texts. He is unwavering in his commitment to cultivate a richer habit of mind in his students. He also appreciates that philosophy teaching is about more than the subject– it is about mindfulness. “He says that philosophy requires a certain rare and innate ability — the ability to step outside yourself and observe your own mind in the act of thinking.” That may be so, that it requires that ability– but it that practice shouldn’t be limited to philosophy classes– we need to remember as teachers that our students will better learn to learn if we guide them in every subject to “observe their own mind in the act of thinking.”
To conclude, I want to connect the article to the International Baccalaureate, and its philosophy curriculum in particular. As I have been referencing regularly, I have the zeal of a new convert for IB, and one of the things that strikes me about this Times article is its resonance with the general IB emphasis on “doing the subject.” Don’t study chemistry, be a chemist. Just last week, visiting a high school in San Francisco, a chemistry teacher compared IB and AP chemistry, having taught both, and he told me that in IB there are many more labs, labs the students need to design themselves, that they really need to do the work.
In July I had the delight of spending a week with seven other philosophy teachers at United World College in New Mexico, training in IB philosophy instruction. The workshop was led by a terrific high school philosophy teacher in Colorado, Nick Droege. First, let me say, as much I admire Professor Jolley from the report in this article, he ain’t got nothing on Nick– who struck me as doing a terrific job teaching his students to “do” philosophy. Second, the IB demands this of kids– doing the subject. The IB course requires students to write their own philosophical treatment of an artifact of their choosing, demanding they not just regurgitate but really apply, in an original fashion, their philosophical chops. The IB exam has no philosophy multiple choice questions (21. Immanuel Kant was born in: A. England. B. Scotland. C. France D. Germany. E. Russia). Instead, broad and conceptual philosophical questions are asked and students write hour-long essays on question.