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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Teaching Philosophy: Theoretical Reflections and Practical Suggestions by Tziporah Kasachkoff (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers) (Paperback) The practical approach to teaching philosophy can mean the difference between an engaging class and an excruciating one. In this expanded edition of In the Socratic Tradition (1997) Kasachkoff adds new sections on teaching philosophy with computers, teaching philosophical explanation, and teaching philosophy of gender. Chapters in the collection share the pedagogical insights of more than two dozen distinguished philosophers, offering practical suggestions on how to motivate students, construct syllabi and creative examinations for specific courses, and teach complex philo­sophical concepts. Like its predecessor, Teaching Philosophy will be an indispensable resource for teachers of all levels and in all fields of philos­ophy, and will be particularly helpful and inspiring to graduate students and professors teaching courses outside of their specialty areas.

Philosophy continues as an academic discipline because philoso­phers earn their living, for the most part, by being teachers of philosophy. And yet the nature of what we do in the classroom has, until recently, rarely been perceived as an issue worthy of philosophical discussion. Even today, philosophers are much more willing to share their philosophical views and have others read their`philosophical papers than they are either to talk about how they teach philosophy or have others observe them teach.

In the first edition of this book (titled In the Socratic Tradition: Essays on Teaching Philosophy) I attributed our reticence to talk about our classroom performance to the low status accorded phi­losophers working in "applied philosophy." I noted that as late as only three decades ago many philosophers saw engagement in applied philosophy as a departure—indeed, an illegitimate depar­ture—from the only task that some in our recent philosophic past saw as an appropriate philosophical task, namely, "pure" analysis, with only issues abstracted from culture and time deemed worthy of philosophical reflection. On this view, the point of philosophical reflection was only intellectual clarification, not normative elucidation, the analysis of concepts and not the giving of normative answers. Philosophy could, of course, concern itself with the elucidation of what it means for something to be a normative rule, but, so it was argued, it was not within its province to determine and specify the norms we ought to endorse.

We have seen enormous changes over the past few years. One has only to note the appearance of the myriad articles and the proliferation of courses in such subjects as bioethics, legal ethics, police ethics, the ethics of journalism, environmental ethics, the ethics of computer use, and feminist ethics, to realize just how far academic philosophy has come in conferring legitimacy to topics that were hitherto considered beyond its purview. This has, of course, been good for discussions concerning the teaching of phi­losophy, for teaching philosophy and discussions about how to teach philosophy are unabashedly not value-free enterprises: how we teach what we teach, the range of issues we deem appropriate to include in our syllabi and to emphasize, the pedagogic methods we adopt, the notion we have of what constitutes progress and sophistication in philosophy, and our view of how best to foster and to test for these—all reflect our notion of what philoso­phy itself is and so manifest a normative perspective concerning the nature of philosophy. Our believing that certain ways of teaching philosophy would not be to teach philosophy at all reflects our view that teachers of philosophy are not value-neutral pedagogic technicians trying to impart predesigned packages of information and skills but shapers of an educational process and representatives of certain values (not all of them intellectual). We have come to recognize that in helping to set the goals of philo­sophical education, as well as in having a hand in implementing them, we do not merely carry out programs that cater to interests already Jpresent. Rather, we take it as our task to create interests and`to fulfill (what we believe to be) laudable aims. There is thus an undeniable normative dimension to our teaching, our peda­gogic choices reflecting our view of the character of philosophy and being those we believe necessary for that character to be pre-served. Thus, in talking about the teaching of philosophy, no less than when we do applied philosophy, we are`not engaged in the value-free reasoning that, according to some philosophers, should set our work apart from—some might even say "above"—the messy affair of making actual practical choices.

Furthermore, just as the writing about, and teaching of, ap­plied philosophy has now gained popularity despite the once loudly-voiced objection that since we do not all "do" applied philosophy against the background of the same theoretical frame-work, the field is devoid of the theoretical credentials that could confer upon it philosophical respectability, so too, writing about and discussing the teaching of philosophy has gained popularity despite the fact that there is no single—and perhaps not even any—educational or pedagogic theory from which all of our views about how best to teach our subject invariably emanate.

But one source of resistance to viewing discussions concerning the teaching of philosophy as not worth philosophers' attention is unique to it and has not abated with philosophical acceptance of applied philosophy as worthy`of philosophical reflection. Though almost all of us teach our subject, it is only "doing" philosophy for which our`university education and training prepares us. As a result, our expertise (and confidence) as philosophers does not signify our talent and ease as teachers of the subject. Notwith­standing the fact that some of our best-known philoso­phers—Socrates, Plato, and Kant, for example—were also good teachers of their subject and had much to say about good teach­ing, good philosophy and good philosophy teaching are not natu­ral corollaries. It was precisely the recognition of this fact that, early on, led Michael Scriven, Steven M. Cahn, Terrell Ward Bynum, and Martin Benjamin to begin exhorting their teaching colleagues to find ways to make particular philosophical issues comprehensible and interesting to our students, to construct good`philosophy exams, and to improve our course syllabi. This recog­nition also led the American Philosophical Association, in the early 1970s, to begin to give emphasis to two-year-college teach­ing in philosophy; to include a session titled "Workshop on the Teaching of Philosophy" in its annual divisional meetings; to begin publication in 1974 of the Newsletter on Teaching Philosophy; and to establish in 1977 a standing Committee on the Teaching of Philosophy. It also led (in 1971) to the regular inclusion in Metaphilosophy of a section titled "The Philosopher as Teacher"; to the founding (in 1972) of Aitia, a magazine devoted in part to articles on the teaching of philosophy; to the establishment (in 1975) of the journal Teaching Philosophy; and to the publication (in 1979) of Thinking, a journal devoted to articles on the teaching of philosophy to children. All of these developments served to spur the growing interest in the promotion and improvement of teach­ing philosophy that in the late 1970s spawned the American Association of Philosophy Teachers, an organization devoted exclusively to the advancement and improvement of philosophy teaching.

This history makes clear that, despite the reluctance of many philosophers to publicly address their role as teachers of philoso­phy, there has been a growing recognition both that the teaching of philosophy requires separate attention and that the problems of teaching philosophy are an appropriate concern for philosophers themselves. This recognition is reflected in the fact that there are at present two universities that require their doctoral students in philosophy to take a course or seminar in teaching philosophy and some other universities that offer a course in teaching philos­ophy as a recommended option for students who are planning a career in teaching the subject. (The syllabus for one such course, offered by Martin Benjamin, is included in this volume.)

In the present collection of papers—six of which are new addi­tions to the anthology—the reader will find suggestions for good teaching that are distilled from the practical and personal experi­ence of their authors. They include: how to teach and what to cover regarding specific philosophical topics (such as continental philosophy, existentialism, Kant's critique of pure reason, Aesthe­tics, and Hegel); methods to help students hone their ability to think critically; advice on both what to cover and what not to convey in a professional ethics course; how to structure and the topics best covered in a Philosophy of Religion course; how to use specific examples and exercises`to help students come to under-stand and evaluate 'inference to the best philosophical explanation' arguments; suggestions concerning the various ways in which one might construct an introductory course in philosophy; advice on how to sequence and what bibliographical sources to use in a course on the history of philosophy; pedagogical strate­gies one might use and bibliographical sources one might draw upon for a course on philosophy of gender; the ways in which one might use the computer as an aid to teaching and the computer software programs that might be especially helpful in the teaching of logic and of ethics, exercises one might use to guide students in their reading of original philosophical texts; ways in which one might use essay examinations to help students learn more and write better; a writing assignment that can be used despite the inability of the instructor to comment personally on each stu­dent's paper; and finally, suggestions for encouraging students to reflect on both teaching in general and teaching philosophy in par­ticular.

With one exception, each of the chapters in this volume began as an informal paper, contributed to the APA Newsletter on Teach­ing Philosophy, for the purpose of sharing with like-minded col-leagues ways to better the teaching of our subject. Most have been revised (some quite extensively) for this volume. The spirit in which they are offered here remains the same—as an invitation and, perhaps, as an incentive to help us become better teachers of philosophy and our students better learners of the subject.

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