Teaching Philosophy

“If we could say we (but have I not already said it?), we might perhaps ask ourselves: where are we? And who are we in the university where apparently we are? What do we represent? Whom do we represent? Are we responsible? For what and to whom?”[1]

Banking theory and practice, as immobilizing and fixating forces, fail to acknowledge men and women as historical beings; problem-posing theory and practice take the people’s historicity as their starting point.”[2]

My teaching philosophy can be called  ’emancipatory education.’ It is a synthesis of two education theories – Jacques Derrida’s conception of Deconstruction and Paulo Freire’s theory of problem-posing education or ‘participatory education’ as opposed to ‘Banking Education’ (a passive pedagogic process of depositing information in students.)

Deconstructing education acknowledges the existence of current educational systems while challenging the idea that education “is what it says it is.” Deconstruction of education does not destroy education as such; “it simply tries to resituate it.”[3] My approach to the project of deconstruction as a whole calls for re-reading, re-interpreting, and re-investigating Western philosophy, which is established by the principle of reason[4] and based on superiority of  Western over non-Western, male over female, centered over marginalized and reason over non-reason . Applying deconstruction to the teaching of philosophy moves the whole bundle of questions on the subject of education from the plane of techniques and methods to a level which is profoundly concerned with the ethics  and responsibility.

Deconstruction is, therefore, a method to advance the teaching of philosophy from as it is to as it must be. Derrida says, “deconstruction in principle always concerned the apparatus and function of teaching in general, the apparatus and function of philosophy in particular and par excellence.”[5]

Participatory education, or what Freire calls problem-posing education, is a state in which the teacher provides a creative learning circumstance and process that fosters students’ independence and critical curiosity.  Banking education eschews dialogue, while participatory education, by taking into account ‘the epistemological status of curiosity’, considers dialogue essential to the act of cognition which discloses reality. While banking education treats students as objects of assistance, participatory education enables them to be critical thinkers.

Integrating Freire’s theory of ‘participatory education’ and Derridas’s conception of deconstruction combines on the one hand possibility, reality, and practicality (Freire) and on the other hand impossibility, outlook, and utopian perspective (in what Derrida terms a Ricouerian, positive sense of utopia[6]). This dialectical back and forth between reality and utopia creates a synthesis which itself is neither Derridian nor Freirian.

My approach to emancipatory education moves beyond the possibility of reality and the impossibility of utopia to look for possibilizing the impossibilities. To do this, it is necessary to actively engage the ‘other’ in constructive dialogue.  This approach positions me to keep faithful to an insight of utopia, dreaming possible and reachable dreams, and to stay open to new developments related to teaching, philosophy and university. As a teacher, I practise this by :

Teaching

  1. Considering students as agents of invention rather than passive learners of reproduction.
  2. Increasing students’ productivity rather than maximizing their ability to memorize information.
  3. Engaging students as participants rather than consumers.
  4. Cultivating invention in students rather than encouraging them to rely on established ideas.
  5. Letting students, as future potential teachers, know that original intellectual life, as Jaspers points out, happens where teaching and research do not merely “exist side by side but go hand in hand.”[7]

Philosophy

  1. Making philosophy open to the world of thinking critically and doing so in educational systems, so as to prevent philosophy from being sidelined as an island out of touch with reality and merely representative of a particular form of rationality.
  2. Suspending the one-sidedness of Western philosophy and incorporating comparative philosophy as a primary part of the curriculum.
  3. Calling for multiple ways of thinking in order to observe the relative value of diverse philosophies and expand beyond the onto-theological ways of Western metaphysics.

University

  1. Questioning the idea of university as a defender of a certain type of Western logic, rationality, and reason and calling for a different type of university which is less universalistic, and more open to ‘other‘ , including non-Western perspectives.
  2. Calling for the institution of university to rebuild itself as a place of “reflection,”[8] to reflect on itself and think critically about its own presuppositions as an academic society.

From Freire we learn to be realistic and from Derrida we learn to refuse or decline the reality as it is. My central point is found in Ernesto Che Guevara’s charge: “Be realistic. Demand the impossible!”


[1] Derrida, J. (1992). “Mochlos, or The Conflict of the Faculties” [author’s emphasis]. In Richard Rand (Ed.), Logomachia: The Conflict of the Faculties (p. 3). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

[2] Freire, P. (2006). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Ed. (p. 84). New York: Continuum.

[3] Derrida cited in Kearney, Richard (1984). Dialogues with Contemporary Continental Thinkers (p. 125). Manchester: Manchester University Press [author’s emphasis]. Here, Derrida explains deconstruction by deconstructing the ‘subject’, as an example. I applied his example to education.

[4] Derrida, J., Porter, C., & Morris, E. P. (1983). The Principle of Reason: The University in the Eyes of Its Pupils. Diacritics 13(3), 2-20.

[5] Derrida, J. (2002). In Jan Plug (Trans.), Who’s Afraid of Philosophy? Right to Philosophy I  (p. 73). Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

[6]  For Ricoeur, “Utopia is discourse of a group and not a kind of literary work floating in the air.” Ricoeur, P. (1986). In G. H. Taylor (Ed.), Lectures on Ideology and Utopia (p. 274). New York: Columbia University Press.

[7] Jaspers, Karl (1959). In H. A. T. Reiche and H. F. Vanderschmidt (Trans.), The Idea of the University: An Existentialist Argument for an Institution Concerned with Freedom (p. 78). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

[8] Derrida, J. (2004). In Jan Plug & Others (Trans.),  Eyes of the University: Right to Philosophy 2 (p. 154). Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

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