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Those who insist upon only telling, when they are teaching, are neither teaching, nor doing, philosophy.They have lost sight of the foundational aim of the discipline: to promote self-examination through dialectic.Importantly, no one gains new skills by listening passively to a description.
How does one find the motivation to complete a reading assignment, when the terminology is inscrutable?
Where do respectful listeners find the courage to raise objections?
There are two inquirers working together, neither one knowing for sure where the inquiry will lead.
To do philosophy, then, is to learn from others and ourselves.
When we teach, there is certainly some “telling” students about what Socrates did, about what de Beauvoir meant, or about what Descartes was trying to do.
But there is more emphasis on the instruction of essential philosophical skills.There is a difference between teaching philosophy and doing philosophy. In a recent anthology of essays on teaching, , David Concepción recalls his experiences as a young teacher: “One day midway through graduate school, a well-meaning professor told me that the faculty had just finished their review of the graduate students to determine who would receive teaching assistantships in the upcoming year. But teaching isn’t telling, not anymore and not if it’s done right.Exposing what I take to be a harmful belief that dominated (and still dominates) graduate programs, he confidently advised me to do something to lower my student evaluations, because the faculty interpreted students’ satisfaction with my courses as evidence that I wasn’t spending enough time on research.” Every graduate student in philosophy receives the memo: doing philosophy is not teaching philosophy. Socrates famously claimed that he was not a teacher, but only because teachers were supposed to have truths to tell, and he didn’t have any.Beliefs that were supported by authority but not by reason were to be discarded, no matter how sacred.Was Socrates doing philosophy or, against his best efforts, teaching philosophy? He was teaching his students how to reason, so they could check power without violence.We take from Socrates the idea that what is most valuable is the development of certain critical skills and dispositions: intellectual humility, self-examination, the willingness to see things from another’s point of view, the openness and persistence to follow an argument where it leads –- the ability to listen to the logos.Philosophy so understood cannot be done in isolation. What was once the scholarly project of preparing meticulously supported, fully typed, 90-minute lectures in one’s area of expertise, to read verbatim to a rapt audience of well-prepared undergraduates, is now the task of planning gamey, 20-minute, in-class activities for a distracted band of seat-warmers, none of whom can understand the dense, antiquated, and often translated texts of philosophy.Though we complain that none of our students can write, because their overcrowded high schools teach to the test, we now do the very same thing, teaching to our assessment rubrics and desired learning outcomes, all the while pledging false allegiance to the latest education-speak: flipped classrooms, scaffolded papers, learning styles, team-based learning, high-impact practices. If teaching is telling, then, sure, teaching is easy.After recalling what it was like to be a new philosophy student, we develop lessons to answer these questions.Some of us are teaching our students to be self-examiners, sending our students out among their friends and family to engage in Socratic dialogue.