Wednesday, September 25, 2013

"The primary postulate of American education"

Daniel Willingham's review of Amanda Ripley's book The Smartest Kids in the World is so laudatory that it makes it sound like a must read for any American educator. Ripley compares U.S. education to three nations whose educational systems are widely recognized for their quality: South Korea, Finland, and Poland. The success of these three nations makes the usual explanations for the U.S.' struggles look weak: poverty is high in Poland, we spend more money on K-12 education than they do, etc. This is not to say it's all peaches and cream in these three societies. The South Korean system is widely derided for producing stressed out, miserable, uncreative kids.

But what unites these systems is a cultural expectation: "an expectation that the work will be hard. Everything else is secondary." In contrast, Willingham proposes that among the "primary postulates" of American K-12 education is

a propensity to learn is innate, instinctive and therefore inevitable. That, in turn, means that it should be easy. This assumption is pretty much the opposite of the one Ripley assigns to South Korea, Finland, and Poland. ...Many Americans seem to think that it's not normal for schoolwork to be challenging enough that it takes persistence. In fact, if you have to try much harder than other kids, in our system you're a good candidate for a diagnosis and an IEP. 
I start teaching again for the fall term tomorrow. No doubt many of the students I teach this term will exhibit just the sort of attitudes we'd expect them to exhibit given that they've been shaped by an educational culture ruled by this postulate: fear of failure, the tendency to blanch in the face of even modest academic adversity, little attention to the time management needed to make persistent effort possible, the belief that a "full-time student" can put in half-time effort, a disinclination to seek help.

In short: Ripley's onto something.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Seeking teaching tips from philosophers

David Gooblar is soliciting teaching tips from college instructors, and philosophers in particular, for his new site Pedagogy Unbound. It's an elegantly designed site: He has links to tips organized by topic (Discussion, Academic Honesty, Making a Syllabus, and lots more). Many of them are taken from what I think of as classic recent sources on teaching and learning (Lang's On Course, Angelo and Cross' Classroom Assessment Techniques, etc.), others are "homegrown" from the contributors. David's looking for tips from contributors, so please don't hesitate to help him, and your fellow teachers, out.

Monday, September 23, 2013

CFP: AAPT Conference on Teaching Philosophy

The American Association of Philosophy Teachers

The College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University
Collegeville, Minnesota
July 30 - August 3, 2014

Proposals for interactive workshops related to teaching and learning philosophy at any educational level are welcome.  We especially encourage creative approaches to workshops or or panels on:

    •    innovative and successful teaching strategies
    •    professional issues connected to teaching
    •    how work in other disciplines can improve the teaching of philosophy
    •    engaging students outside the classroom
    •    innovative uses of instructional technologies
    •    the challenge of teaching in new settings
    •    methods to improve student learning

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Call for Nominations: Teaching Fellows


The American Association of Philosophy Teachers (AAPT) seeks devoted, excellent teachers to serve as 2014-2016 AAPT Teaching Fellows. Teaching Fellows will be acknowledged in Teaching Philosophy, receive a small stipend ($500), and serve a two-year term August 15, 2014-August 14, 2016. During this term, the fellow will pursue a personal project that furthers the teaching of philosophy. This project may include mentoring newer teachers, blogging on the AAPT website, facilitating teaching and learning workshops, or other activities. Most fellows will have the opportunity to deliver a plenary address at the biennial AAPT conference at the end of their term.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

A note to Teaching Philosophy reviewers

I wanted to say thanks to all those who've volunteered to review manuscripts for Teaching Philosophy. (And for those who haven't, here's where to sign up.)

I also wanted to give one bit of advice: A couple of those who've signed up as reviewers have e-mailed me asking why they've not been select to review any manuscripts. In all likelihood, the answer is simple: You did not select any reviewing interests when setting up your profile. When selecting reviewers, I generally look to those who've expressed some interest in a manuscript's topical area. But if you do not indicate any reviewing interests, I'm not likely to select you as a reviewer. So I'd encourage anyone who hasn't done so to edit their profiles to include reviewing interests to do so. Reviewing interests can be subdisciplines (environmental ethics, ancient philosophy, logic, etc.) or pedagogical concerns (student writing, testing and evaluation, teaching and technology, etc.). Thanks!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Cheating: Authoritarian versus design approaches

One surprising conclusion I've reached about students is that many of the behaviors they engage in which seem irrational to us often look very rational from their point of view. Take reading assigned material, for instance. We know full well that many students don't read regularly (and a few don't read at all). No doubt this is shortsighted, but from the average student's point of view, not reading can look pretty rational in the circumstances from a cost-benefit point of view. If you lack the background knowledge to complete the reading, have been given little help in preparing to read, have few strategies for dealing with tough texts, find reading alternately boring or anxiety-producing, cannot discern a connection between reading (or reading carefully) and subsequent academic performance, and can nevertheless pull decent grades without reading regularly, then ... well, why read?

For we instructors, seeing our students as (admittedly flawed) rational actors can make us better teachers. In the case of reading, say, we can make reading a more rational strategy by not 'covering' the reading in lectures, designing assignments that reward careful reading, filling in gaps in students' background knowledge when necessary, and so on.

This observation — that how we teach and the learning environments we create make certain student behaviors rational from their point of view — was in my mind as read this interview with James Lang, the author of a recent book on academic cheating.

Lang puts his main point very nicely:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Why (in part) teaching is emotionally laborious

Teaching is hard work. Most of you probably know that. But as time goes on, it becomes increasingly evident to me that teaching is emotionally difficult work.

This piece by Kevin Brown illustrates some of the reasons why teaching is emotionally taxing. Most of us like instant gratification. For the most part, the gratification that comes from teaching is at best long term, if it comes at all: