Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What are the learning objectives for the philosophy undergraduate major?

Our administration is asking us (well, telling us) to come up with learning objectives for all our programs (BA, MA, PhD). Thinking about what our learning objectives are -- and should be -- made me curious both what other departments think of as the learning objectives for their majors, and what individual philosophers who think hard about their teaching think of as their objectives.

A couple of observations before you comment.

1. Derek Bok, in his book Our Underachieving Colleges, observes, I think rightly, that in most traditional majors the curriculum is designed -- and a lot of the instruction is conducted -- around the tiny fraction of students who will go to graduate school in that discipline. I think this is right largely because it makes sense of most of the conversations I have had with colleagues in my own and different disciplines over the years, and also of the numerous program reviews I have read in recent years.

2. A different point -- I teach two kinds of class, classes which mainly contain majors, and classes that contain no, or almost no, majors. And most of the latter are not gateway classes -- the students are near graduation, and this will be their only philosophy course. I conduct the latter courses very differently, and have somewhat different learning objectives for the students than for the classes which contain majors (though, in those classes, I do have different goals for different students -- in particular, I often have a number of pre-professional students in those classes, and try as much as I can to differentiate instruction accordingly. My request in this post is for you to tell me what the aims for majors should be.