The Welder and the Philosopher

“We need more welders and less philosophers.” – Marc Rubio

Why? Because, at least in Marc Rubio’s world, welders make more money than philosophers. Marc Rubio’s incredibly inaccurate statement sent shockwaves through the philosophical community, and this is significant because a philosopher’s feathers are not easily ruffled. Those who major in philosophy or, god forbid, pursue it as a career, are the accustomed recipients of the glassy-eyed, blank stares of slack-jawed friends and relatives who ask: “What can you do with a degree in philosophy?” This a question that any philosopher or person majoring in philosophy has fielded more times than they care to remember.

To be the object of derision in a presidential debate, however, raises the stakes. Luckily, the good folks at ETS (the Educational Testing Service, for all the welders in the audience) have simplified my explanation. If you turn your attention to the graph below, you can see that a degree in philosophy is THE BEST degree to have if you want to do well on the GRE.

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Welder: Is doing well on the GRE important?

Philosopher: Well, it’s essential if you want to get into a good graduate program.

Welder: Is getting into a good graduate program important?

Philosopher: It is, if you want to have a rewarding career and excel in your chosen field.

Welder: Ah, I see. So studying philosophy, which is one of the humanities, is extremely important.

Philosopher: Yes. Yes, it is.

 

 

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3/22 – Critical Pedagogy

pointing+hand+vintage+image+graphicsfairy2Paulo Freire distinguishes between the banking education and problem-education. He says:

“Banking education … attempts, by mythicizing reality, to conceal certain facts which explain the way human beings exist in the world; problem-posing education sets itself the task of demythologizing. Banking education resists dialogue; problem-posing education regards dialogue as indispensable to the act of cognition which unveils reality. Banking education treats students as objects of assistance; problem-posing education makes them critical thinkers. Banking education inhibits creativity and domesticates (although it cannot completely destroy) the intentionality of consciousness by isolating consciousness from the world, thereby denying people their ontological and historical vocation of becoming more fully human. Problem-posing education bases itself on creativity and stimulates true reflection and action upon reality, thereby responding to the vocation of persons as beings only when engaged in inquiry and creative transformation. In sum: banking theory and practice, as immobilizing and fixating forces, fail to acknowledge men and women as historical beings; problem-posing theory and practice take the people’s historicity as their starting point.”

Freire is relentlessly critical of banking education, and this is problematic. Allow me to explain. Imagine a young child, a toddler. A toddler, as the name implies, is learning how to perambulate, how to make their way in the world. At around the same age, they are also learning how to talk. One might wonder: what form of education is most conducive to language acquisition? Those that have served their time in the toddler trenches know that language acquisition is largely the result of training. “This is red.” “That is a tree.” “No, that is a leaf, not a tree.” “This is a tree.” These god-like proclamations are often accompanied by an ostension, that is, pointing a finger at the christened object. Training is necessary because as everyone knows, ostensive definition is inherently ambiguous; for how can the child know that “red” refers to the color of the object and not the shape or the name of the object itself? It is only by training that a child comes to distinguish colors from shapes and both of these properties from objects.

What type of education does this more closely resemble: banking or problem-posing? Despite my sincere admiration for Freire’s polemic, I would have to say, banking; and contrary to what Freire argues, this isn’t a bad thing! Without language, the world would be, to quote William James, just a “blooming, buzzing, confusion.” In more academically rigorous jargon, nothing would be phenomenologically available. Without language, without the ability to distinguish one thing from another, we simply don’t have anything resembling a word. However, when parents decide to teach their offspring how to speak, they are indoctrinating them. Even before they are born, as Althusser has observed, they are interpolated, that is, named. Moreover, it is through language that we conceptualize the world – change the language and you change the world. Problem-posing education is extremely valuable for the creation of critical humans, however, it’s important to recognize that this kind of learning is logically contingent and ancillary to banking education.

Heidegger once noted that we don’t speak language, language speaks us. Consider what would transpire, if parents suddenly ceased to train their children to use language? When we acquire a language, we, by and large, acquire a conceptual apparatus that we never question. Indeed, critical inquiry stops here.

pointing+hand+vintage+image+graphicsfairy1

 

 

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2/15 Engaging the Imagination

In “Four Things Lecture is Good For,” Robert Talbert argues that for all things there is a season; a time to lecture and a time to not lecture. Although I agree with his list of suitable occasions, I would argue that there are many opportunities to use lecture-like strategies and tactics without becoming a sage on the stage.

For Example, I teach philosophy, and philosophy is difficult to understand. It is conceptually dense, rigorously argumentative, and by and large, a subject that follows lines of reasoning that are very foreign to most individuals. That being said, lecture, at least at the introductory level, is crucial for learning. Thus, I might lecture for ten or fifteen minutes and then take a break to discuss the material with my students. During this break, questions are asked and clarifications are made. It is also an opportunity for students to engage with other students, either to argue against or affirm the author’s or another classmate’s perspective. Towards the end of the semester, when the students become more accustomed to the oddity that is philosophy, the need to lecture, even for short periods of time, diminishes.

Thus, I think that there is a middle ground where lecturing is definitely utilized, but utilized sparingly, so as to more effectively engage the students.

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2/8 ASSESSMENT

“Grading for learning is like bombing for peace.”

This phrase really got my attention. It got my attention because the analogy it draws is so striking. Obviously, learning and peace are desirable outcomes. What might not be entirely obvious, except for those in the pedagogical know, is that grading hinders learning in the same way that bombing hinders peace. The analogy might even be saying something stronger, for in the same way that peace antithetical to war, grading is antithetical to learning.

I find this reasoning to be entirely rational. When the focus is on grading, as Alfie Kohn argues, the learning becomes ancillary; the important thing, as far as students are concerned, is to get a good grade. Like most problems in education, this is not something that can be easily addressed by individual educators. This is a systemic problem that requires a systemic solution. The correlation between grades and achievement is so deeply woven into the fabric of educational system that it would be fair to call this a cultural epidemic. Of course, there are many things that individual teachers can do to mitigate the damage, different forms of assessment, but unless the entire system is rethought, the gains will be minimal at best.

As an undergraduate, I didn’t receive grades. The school that I went to was modeled on the Oxford system where written evaluations took the place of grades. This kind of assessment made learning more exciting, and thus, incentivized the learning process. Granted, this kind of assessment is no practical, especially with the large classes that we are expected to teach. But there’s no doubt in my mind that this kind of assessment is to learning, what flower power is to peace.

flower_power_by_bernie_boston

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2/1 MINDFUL LEARNING

In Mindful Learning, Ellen Langer champions what she refers to as “sideways learning.” This type of mindful learning revolves around five different psychological states: “(1) openness to novelty; (2) alertness to distinction; (3) sensitivity to different contexts; (4) implicit, if not explicit awareness of multiple perspectives; and (5) orientation in the present.” The nemesis of sideways leaning is overlearning. Overlearning, or the rote performance of habitual behavior is closed, inattentive, insensitive, prejudiced, and hopelessly lost in the past. Sideways leaning recognizes the unique abilities of every learner, abilities that preclude the possibility of a right way to do something. If we, as educators, can foster and promulgate this kind of attitude in the classroom, we can maximize the potential that unfortunately languishes dormant in most students.

 

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1/25 NETWORKED LEARNING

In “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning,” Gardner Campbell argues that networked learning is a form of experiential learning that has been overlooked by those who champion experiential learning. I agree with Campbell’s assessment of the value of networked learning and appreciate his statement about how the metaphor of the network has replaced more traditional ones that utilize ladders and trees. He says, “With networks replacing ladders and trees as a primary metaphor to describe the structures of knowledge, digitally networked learning becomes marvelously recursive as a site of integration: the very experience deepens learners’ understanding of the condition of learning itself within a strongly social context that can mobilize communities of practice quickly and effectively.” The difference between these kinds of metaphors is addressed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari in the introduction of A Thousand Plateaus. Deleuze and Guattari discuss how the history of Western thought has been dominated by a certain kind of logic, a binary logic that relies on tree and root metaphors. Such a logic is unable to account for and more often than not, distorts the workings of complex systems. In place of this tree logic, they put forth a rhizomatic logic that is based on the conception of a network. Like Gardner, they believe that networked learning is at the heart of education in an increasingly complex and saturated world.

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