Svinicki devotes an early chapter to the topic of what theories of learning tell us what will assist students to master new content. One of the main barriers is that "prior knowledge and experience affect current behavior and learning," and not necessarily in salutary ways. For example, learners may have existing beliefs that are sufficiently ingrained that attempts to dislodge these beliefs by presenting counterevidence to them will often fail. Svinicki, citing a paper by Posner et al. (1982), states that four conditions must be met in order for learners to abandon an existing belief (pp. 28-29):
- Dissatisfaction: learners have to be confronted with information that makes them dissatisfied with the existing belief
- Intelligibility: the belief proposed as a substitute must be intelligible to the learner
- Plausibility: the belief proposed as a substitute must be plausible to the learner
- Fruitfulness: the proposed new belief must be able to "predict new ideas as well as explain old ones"
Yet I wonder how often we succeed in meeting criteria 2-4. I suspect many students new to philosophy are thrilled by philosophy's capacity for intellectual destruction but become disillusioned when they feel that the relentless criticism of views endemic to philosophical practice results in many views being toppled but not much being offered in their stead. In philosophical research, being 'purely destructive' has its place. (If I recall correctly, Gilbert Ryle had several papers whose purpose, he said, was wholly destructive.) But in the classroom, being purely destructive is itself destructive -- and I wonder how often we help students destroy without helping them 'move on' to an ostensibly better view of the phenomena in question. This relates to some of our earlier discussions: Mike's on philosophical progress and mine on 'easy' moral skepticism. But I'd be curious to hear people's thoughts about how well we philosophy teachers do beyond instilling a sense of dissatisfaction in students concerning their philosophical convictions, and if we're not doing as well as we should, what techniques or approaches might help us steer students toward convictions that are intelligible, plausible, and fruitful.