Thursday, July 5, 2007

Hello, I'm the APA. How can I help you today?

Starting this year, I'll be a member of the American Philosophical Association's Committee on the Teaching of Philosophy. (Our own David Hunter is already a member). The Committee's charge:

The Committee is charged with assessing trends and needs in the teaching of philosophy and making recommendations for action by the Board. It sponsors sessions on the teaching of philosophy at Divisional meetings, responds to requests from members and others regarding teaching, and undertakes programs for the improvement of teaching. At the direction of the Board, it prepares statements for Board approval regarding instruction in philosophy.

So I'd be curious to know from our readership how the Committee must better fulfill its charge. How can the APA help its members as teachers? Any and all suggestions welcome!


  1. "Our own David Hunter is already a member"

    Is he? News to me... I think unfortunately once again the curse of having a common last and first name strikes again. I am guessing he is the David Hunter in metaphysics, I believe he is based in the States. Whereas I am the David Hunter who is in Ethics/Bioethics, who is based in Northern Ireland... (There are also other David Hunters in bioethics even if we narrow it down to just the UK)

    Still glad to hear one of us is going to be involved in this, Congrats Michael.

    I speak out of complete ignorance of the American system, but I guess from an international perspective, it would be good to have guidelines in regards to what sort of training is appropriate to new philosophy tutors & lecturers.

    David Hunter

  2. Oops. I guess it would be strange to have international representation.

    But the question still stands: And vis-a-vis David's suggestion, should the APA involve itself more actively in the training of graduate students as teachers?

  3. Improve the APA's collection of syllabi. Good idea, terrible execution.

    Look at the form you have to fill out to submit a syllabus. It's no surprise almost nobody has done it. You have to fill out a ridiculous number of fields, and if your syllabus isn't already posted, you have to copy and paste the thing into a plain-text window, screwing up all formatting (or requiring the person submitting the syllabus to spend a ton of time cleaning things up).

    All a person should have to do to submit the syllabus is the following:

    (1) Type in one's name.
    (2) Make a choice in a pull-down menu categorizing the type of course it is (Introduction to Philosopy, Critical Thinking, History of Modern Philosophy, Other History of Philosophy class, etc.).
    (3) Upload the syllabus, using the sort of interface you'd typically have to attach a file to an e-mail.

    Then have some widget htmlify the syllabus and slap it up on the web.

    Oh, and the collection needs to be publicized so that people know it exists.

  4. Michael,

    Syllabi are a good start. I think that in addition to this, a really impressive "library" of handouts submitted by instructors (and of course categorized by subject) would be an immense help to lots of people. Why reinvent the wheel? My guess is that in this regard, professors are doing it all the time. This would be an immense help, I think.

  5. Certainly the process of making available teaching materials could be streamlined (and better publicized as well). But I guess part of me feels that such suggestions amount to 'thinking small' about the APA's role in promoting teaching within the profession. The APA has a statement on teaching
    ( so uncontroversial that it almost certainly is unread and has no impact. So I'd be interested to hear thoughts about whether the APA should provide more leadership in promoting teaching within the profession. The 'other APA' (the one for psychologists) seems more pro-active in this area. They have a division of their organization, the Society for the Teaching of Psychology,
    (, that publishes an enormous amount of data and guidance for psychology teaching. But my own opinion is that the APA has a rather hands-off attitude toward the teaching of philosophy, and I wonder if a less hands-off attitude. For instance, I'd be interested to have the APA draft a statement about the training of graduate students as teachers, citing different models of training, outlining some best practices, etc. This is not meant to criticize anything teaching-related the APA does do, but only to draw attention to the lack of ambition that seems to characterize its efforts.

  6. Michael,

    My wife is a social psychologist, and she can attest to the quality of the APA (in psych) with respect to teaching. In fact, we have discussed on more than one occasion the odd differences between the two fields on this issue.

    One thing that does strike me as central -- the need for a conference in pedagogy. In psychology, there are _numerous_ of these in any year. In philosophy, unless I'm missing something, there's one every two years held by the AAPT (this says something, though I'm not sure what it is). Although the AAPT folks are very well intentioned and hard working, I don't think their conferences are terribly successful. I (and Adam) presented at the 2005 one, and it was very poorly attended. One reason very well may be the awful locations they choose (Toledo?) for the conference. Beyond that, I'm not sure what the problem is -- bad publicity? Philosophers dislike treating pedagogy seriously (there may be a bit of this, I'm afraid)?

    In any event, it seems to me that a very well run conference every year is an absolute must to take the issue of teaching in philosophy to the next level. Great locations, big speakers (not big names in philosophy scholarship, which I think sends the absolute wrong impression, but big names who are known as great teachers), tons of publicity. I think leadership should start here. When I go to an extremely well thought out conference (events, food, location, speakers, etc), I get the message: we take this issue seriously. Again, I don't want to criticize the AAPT folks, because I have no idea what constraints they are working with, and I do think they are all good teachers and care about the discipline. But I just don't think the AAPT conference does what I'm talking about.

    Just a suggestion.

  7. For those readers like me who have no idea who the AAPT is they are the American Association of Philosophy Teachers.

    One query Chris is the AAPT for pihlosophy lecturers or people who teach philosophy in schools? If it is the former I would resist reinventing the wheel and suggest attempts to improve the AAPT conferences and their popularity. If the later, well then there does seem to be a gap there, and it would be good to have such a conference as you describe.

  8. David,

    I think it's the former, and I also agree that the wheel shouldn't be re-invented. I believe the AAPT is closely associated with the APA, but I'm not sure how the connection works specifically (I suppose Michael would know).

    I should note, in addition, that I wasn't at the 2006 conference, just the 2004 one. It could be that the 06 one was far better for all I know. One thing I remember in the 04 one was multiple talks given by the same speaker, which is an obvious sign that not enough people are submitting, for one reason or another.

    In any case, I do think that the conference (AAPT one or another one) is one place to naturally start.

  9. The APA's committee on teaching sponsors sessions on teaching at the divisional meetings, but my own sense is that these are not particularly well attended because (a) they are in competition with the rest of the meeting program, and (b) there's lots of distractions at the divisional meetings (looking for jobs, looking to hire people for jobs, general schmoozing, etc.) So a 'stand alone' APA-sponosored conference on teaching (annually? biannually?) in an attractive location might be a workable idea.

  10. Are you free to discuss any of the ideas that have been thrown around in the committee? I'd be curious to hear what people have been thinking on the issue. If you don't feel that you can discuss what people are saying, I understand that too.

  11. Chris: My term on the committee just got started, so there haven't been conversations as yet. I did this post in part because I thought that soliciting ideas from interested parties in the discipline would be good preparation for whatever contributions I might make to the committee.


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