Monday, August 27, 2012

Teaching philosophy as the provision of critical vocabularies

I don't know how many of you came across this study documenting the apparent decline of moral language in our written culture. The authors scoured Google Books for words with moral significance (conscience, character, etc.), as well as virtue or trait words (honest, patience, kindness, etc.). While the authors found an increase in certain morality-related words (compassion, integrity, fairness, tolerance, selflessness, discipline, dependability, reliability), the overall frequency of moral language in our written culture has declined dramatically over the past century.

Now of course we should be careful in drawing grand conclusions from this study. In particular, we should hesitate before concluding that this study shows actual moral decline, i.e., a decrease in general moral virtue or conscientiousness. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Reader query: Teaching logic and the 'practice of reasoned argument'

A reader asks:

Is there a way to teach propositional logic that more directly ties the subject to the practice of reasoned argument than I am used to? I learned logic myself as an abstract formal set of operations, through practice exercises. (Sure, we interpreted symbols as propositions, but for all that the results were hardly less divorced from the actual practice of reasoning.) I intuited and later learned in more depth how to put these operations into practice in my own thinking as an aid both to conceptual and communicative clarity. But no one ever explicitly taught me that.  
Does anyone know of a textbook, teacher, teaching method, or anything along these lines which(/who) successfully injects the practice of logical thinking, and perhaps even rational dialogue, into the teaching of the formal operations? Or is that simply too much to ask for in a single class? 
I don't think there's anything wrong with a purely formal and abstract approach, by the way. I'm just looking around.
Those more versed in teaching logic: What do you suggest to this reader?

Quotable Teacher, installment 19

"“Probably the most violent and aggressive act that any person can do to other persons is to invade their minds with ideas and twists of meaning which disturb the comforting security of things known and faith kept. Yet this is what I, as a teacher, am required to do.” 
— R.W. Packer, Teaching in the Universities: No One Way

CFP: Philosophy and High Schools

UPDATE: Deadline approaching - get those papers in order!

Teaching Philosophy is sponsoring a special issue devoted to philosophical education and inquiry at the high-school level. The full call for papers is here, and the deadline is September 1.

Monday, August 13, 2012

What happens to philosophy majors

Here's a great resource to use when advising students (and especially when recruiting philosophy majors). Satyan Devadoss, a mathematician at Williams College, tracked the career paths of over 15,000 students at Williams College and created this fantastic visualization linking majors to eventual career paths. It's interactive, so you can mouse over different disciplines to see what happens to students who major in those disciplines.

Here's the visualization for philosophy and religion majors:

Monday, August 6, 2012

A pass-fail option — for profs?

Alison Byerly reports on a very intriguing way to encourage pedagogical innovation that has been adopted at Middlebury: an option for faculty to select courses to be evaluated by students on something akin to a 'pass/fail' option:

The new course evaluation policy is simple: all faculty members who have completed two full years of teaching will have the option of designating one course every two years as "course response form-optional." In such courses, the standard evaluations will be distributed to students, and collected, but returned to the instructor only (who may then stipulate whether or not they should be included in their central administrative files). Like the student who chooses to take a particular course pass/fail in order to mitigate his or her fear of exploring unknown territory, an instructor who is trying something new now has the option of teaching an "ungraded" course.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dead blogging the AAPT, part I

I returned a few days ago from the biennial conference of the American Association of Philosophy Teachers (AAPT). If you've never attended one of their conferences, I recommend it. The energy and commitment to education you encounter among the AAPT members is remarkable — I have little doubt that our profession would benefit if the typical philosopher had even a fraction of the same energy and commitment to effective teaching.

Unfortunately, I was only able to stay for two of the three main days of the conference. Furthermore, there were usually at least five concurrent sessions in any particular time block, so I obviously saw only a small sample of all the work on teaching that was presented at the conference. 

Nonetheless, I thought I'd post some quick overviews and comments about the sessions I attended, just to provoke thought and encourage you to attend the conference in future years.

Today, I'll describe what I saw on day 1, and I'll post next week about day 2.