Tuesday, November 06, 2012

how many of your teachers made you think?

Critical thinking critical to teaching by Damon Young

This article examines teaching from a philosophical perspective. Read the whole thing.

A teacher: "I don't want to think"
Gilbert Ryle, in The Concept of Mind, distinguished between 'knowing that' and 'knowing how'. The first is factual or abstract knowledge. The second is a skilled disposition. For example, one can know that Hume was an empiricist and sceptic, simply by reading a sentence in a first-year textbook. This is very different to knowing how to think empirically and sceptically.

And to develop this disposition, it is not enough to memorise rules about fallacies and syllogisms. "We learn how by practice, schooled indeed by criticism and example," writes Ryle, "but often quite unaided by any lessons in the theory." One must actually read, think, formulate arguments, listen, reply, and so on. It is an achievement developed within a very specific community, and requires as much collaboration as conflict.

A secondary teacher who does not "want to think" will not provide these conditions. Students might know that Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49BC, that mitochondrial DNA is maternal, and that Socrates spoke negatively of the life without examination. But they will not know how to think about these; how to do historiography, biology or philosophy.

And because the teacher is not an exemplar - perhaps the most powerful way to communicate intellectual virtues - the students might never recognise that they missed out. They might graduate without having witnessed critical thinking in teachers or one another. And then the onus is on TAFE, university or the workplace to provide the conditions - sadly, not always a certainty.
At one stage in my life I thought that by promoting philosophical thinking amongst teachers then the quality might improve. Eventually I realised that if government allows input into the profession from those with rather low TER scores, some of whom chose teaching because other "more attractive" career doors in business, engineering law and medicine have closed, then the prospect of philosophy turning things around became incredibly low.

In turn this becomes part of a good argument for scripted lessons, since most teachers as well as not having the time also don't have the inclination or ability to research a subject domain thoroughly and then develop their own high quality curriculum.

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