Fieldwork Reflections: Philosophy in Schools

| March 31, 2011

The Teaching of English M.A. program at Teachers College offers a bi-weekly workshop series and colloquium for all student teachers in the program. The goal is to connect M.A. students with the work of master teachers and leaders in English education in ways that will inspire them to implement innovative instructional practices in their own classrooms. The “Fieldwork” strand of the blog provides M.A. students with a forum to discuss how the featured presenters’ work might influence their own practices in the field.

David Hansen and Megan Laverty (TC): Philosophical Inquiry and Philosophy in Schools

As Guillermo Marini suggested after the whole class discussion, philosophy often helps problematize reality, allowing us to take a different stance than what we are used to seeing every day.  These abstract questions help to engage students– making topics interesting and relevant to their lives and their role in the world.  They encourages multiple perspectives and metacognition, prompting students to value the thinking process and the introspection that often comes with it.

For this reason and others, I would definitely infuse my lessons in the secondary English classroom with philosophy and inquiry to prompt students to consider abstract ideas—to ask questions about the way they see the world and what things mean socially and philosophically.

– Belinda Michael

If the discussion was rewarding, the panelists’ reflection on it was even more so. Doctoral student Cristina Cammarano pointed out that like good philosophy students, we began with questions of terminology, seeking to define the word “Law.” Before that, even, one of us—Tanya—began by admitted our confusion, which, as Professor Blau always tells us, represents a “higher state of understanding.” Together, then, we could begin to formulate our questions. And, like any good discussion leader, Hansen asked follow-up questions (which are not included above due to a lapse of memory.) Later, the characters and plot became representative of larger ideas (Andrew argued that it represented an indictment of schools inability to foster philosophic inquiry!).

“The advantage,” doctoral student Guillermo Marini said, “of philosophic dialogue is that it problematizes reality. It allows just to take a different stance to the everyday; we question our understanding of words like “law”, which we usually use without thinking twice.”

Hansen concluded, “To think philosophically is not to come to consensus, but to bring disagreements together. Disagreement is as natural as breathing, as the sun coming up. Philosophy is as much a particular type of texts as a mode, or way of being.”

–       Jessica Rivo

We read Kafka’s “Before the Law,” which I had never read before.  It took me several reads before I had any clue where I wanted to go with it before discussing it with the person next to me… After that our conversation took a more serious turn and we focused on the question presented to the class by the panel: “According to the author, are we to think the man from the country has fulfilled his quest?”…As expected in a philosophical conversation, the question generated more questions.  I found the piece to be reflective of the educational system in America today and the response (or lack thereof) of its citizens.

– George Eleftheriades

As the students worked together in a group to understand a passage from Before the Law, a challenging and  piece by Kafka, it was clear that the group work contributed to both the construction of a particular community and to the intellectual endeavor. Students, and teachers, helped each other. It was inquiry driven, not model driven, and as the conversation continued, even the audience reached a deeper understanding of the passage.  The focus was on reading literature as though we were reading philosophy. There was no model. We scrutinized, asked questions, grappled with confusion, talked to teach other as partners in the process. We challenged the text. The text challenged us. And it was meaningful. Interesting. Engaging.

–       Grace Galagan