Thursday, December 12, 2013

Tools of the Trade

In A Primer for Philosophy & Education, Samuel Rocha links two fields of human endeavor that may, to the contemporary mind, have little to do with each other.  We all know what education is, right?  But philosophy, isn't that something for the uber-nerdy?  Don't you have to be some kind of, well, Plato to engage in philosophy?

As its Greek etymology shows, philosophy is nothing more, and nothing less, than the love of wisdom.  Because of this, Rocha encourages us that "Erudition is not necessary for original philosophy.  [Y]ou will not need encyclopedic stores of authors and titles of books you most likely haven't read.  You will need only a clear, curious mind and a heart that is passionate and wild enough to sustain and feed a lively, probing imagination.  (pp. 14, 15)

Thinking philosophically is the heart of the work required to master the craft ofeducation.  You do not need any tools beyond what Rocha has laid out, but allow me to offer a few additional words of advice.

Nurture your own childlike sense of wonder.  I have been engaged in the study of Latin and Classical Studies for thirty years, but I continue to be amazed at a turn of phrase in Ovid or Vergil.  My students ask questions that I have never considered, and suddenly I want to know, too.  A text I have read countless times takes on a new meaning and relevance because I am reading it this day with this group of people as opposed to yesterday with someone else.  Rocha observes, "The ordinary, when attended to closely and with care, is extraordinary all on its own -- and we are educated by it."  (p.16)

Ask provocative questions of your colleagues.  Ask them off-the-wall things.  Don't merely start discussions, provoke them.  See what happens.  I have been blessed to enjoy some of the most thoughtful colleagues where I teach.  I have had scintillating conversations during passing periods, at the copy machine, and in the hall after school with colleagues in the Social Studies, English, Science, and Math departments.

Don't let the details get you down.  I was a good student growing up, and getting my homework done was just a part of who I was.  I had a revelatory moment, though, as a freshman at Indiana University.  I was sitting in Prof. Betty Rose Nagle's class on Cicero and thinking, "I wish this class would end so I could get back to my room and work on an assignment for this class."  The absurdity hit me with a flash.  The assignment was meant to complement the class.  The class was the thing, not the assignment.  I was letting the details get in the way.  Your grading will get done.  Copies will get made for the quiz.  If there is a good, deep, philosophical discussion going on, jump in with both feet.  This is part of the work you must do to develop your craft.

At the end of the day, ask what it is your students really need from you.  Anyone can make cutouts and handouts and PowerPoint presentations.  What do they need that only you can offer?  You must discover this, and it can only be done through philosophical reflection and exploration, which, fortunately, is open to anyone with a curious mind, a passionate heart, and a probing imagination.

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