My Teaching Philosophy, or Philosophy of Education
I AM COMMITTED TO USING THE CLASSROOM . . .
and other parts of the college environment as a safe haven in which students are given a very wide range of opportunities and strategies for developing cognitive skills that enhance the nature of their lived experience as reflective, intrinsically valuable social beings. As a member of a democratic society in which full participation requires the development of such skills, I view my role as an educator chiefly as that of a facilitator of self- and other-understanding. This gives me the great privilege of creatively structuring my classroom time in such a way that students are assisted in the difficult project of finding and expressing their own voice while learning how to listen to the voices of others. Reading, writing, listening, and speaking are all integral to this central human project.
As a philosopher, it would be unusual for me not to identify strongly with the utilization of argumentation in accomplishing the kinds of ends described above. However, I do so only with the qualification that in our society argumentation has unfortunately become associated with the metaphor of war. From popular political talk shows hosted by Ph.D.s to the general warp and woof of some of our most celebrated and vocal literary and oral traditions, the mis-identification of argumentation with war, violence, and competition has obscured the possibility of a very different conception of argumentation, which is the engagement in particular sorts of conversations that may equally take as their ends the goods of understanding, cooperation, and the coordination of desires, interests, and aspirations.
In other words, I choose to view argumentation as a particular sort of dialog far more closely related to dance than to war or competition. I stress this in my classroom, and I strive throughout my courses to use rhetoric that reflects a sensitivity to difference and voice as aspects of coordinating individual interests in a cooperative fashion. In an effort to heighten an awareness of individual interests and voice, early in many courses I have students engage in an activity in which they move to different parts of the room based on their identification with specific ethnic heritages, religions, majors, age categories, food preferences, sex, marital status, musical preferences, literary tastes, television show preferences, and political leanings. Before the exercise is completed, virtually every student has found herself or himself in some group visited by every other member of the class. Consequently, students are inevitably left feeling both that they have something in common with each student in the classroom, but also that their multiple group identification demonstrates their uniqueness. Since this is always so in life, it is both pleasant and instructive for students to see for themselves that this is so even in the microcosm of our classroom. Once this exercise is complete, students are assigned to classroom groups that are used to enhance the dialogical process I emphasize.
As a pragmatist, I always identify real-life applications for virtually everything I communicate in the classroom. I facilitate and encourage students to identify, illustrate and discuss the psychological and social advantages of understanding how to approach life's problems and challenges from a philosophical point of view. As a philosopher, I find the Socratic method irreplaceable as the most desirable and effective way of enabling students to come alive to the possibility of genuine understanding as opposed to continuing to conceive of education as involving principally the collection of facts and information. The challenge of helping students recognize this possibility, and the rewards associated with bearing witness to what at times represents a genuine transformation of the self-conception in the lives of those in the classroom, is not only the greatest joy associated with teaching, but also represents and reinforces the great hope of an informed citizenry consisting of autonomous individuals who actively participate in the construction of a social fabric that is increasingly decent, durable, desirable and desired.
-Lawrence Udell Fike, Jr.