Jeffrey W. Bulger, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Teaching philosophy is the creative art of helping students to stretch, exercise, and strengthen their abstract cognitive thinking skills. It goes far beyond the student’s task of rote memorization of data or the regurgitation of hermeneutical criticisms.
What makes teaching philosophy a creative art is that there is no “best” way of teaching philosophy. Teaching techniques have to be adapted and molded not only according to each student’s abilities, needs, and interests but also according to the abilities, needs and interests of the class as a whole.
As a philosophy teacher, I guide the students into the experience and pleasure of abstract thinking. I use several different teaching modalities to accomplish this task. Some of the most important modalities, not hierarchically ordered, are as follows:
Modeling: requires the instructor to be a model of how a “philosopher” does abstract thinking and critical analysis.
Reading: requires students to increase their vocabulary, follow philosophical discourse, and read critically.
Writing: requires students to focus on a philosophical subject for an extended period of time, organize their thoughts, and present them.
Small Group Discussions: requires students to translate, express, and articulate their own abstract thoughts and to understand and constructively evaluate other classmates’ thoughts.
Class Discussion: creates an active environment in which students are able to interact with the instructor and other classmates as a whole.
Cognitive studies have shown that grade distributions for subjects that require upper cognitive functions, like abstract thinking, will have a tendency towards a reversed bell-curve distribution. Therefore, effective teaching is not just a matter of adjusting the subject’s difficulty level in an attempt to get a normal bell-curve distribution; rather, this tendency towards bi-polar distribution can and should be minimized by using a variety of teaching modalities.
Pedagogically, teaching philosophy effectively will stretch, exercise, and strengthen each student’s ability to:
1) analyze various concepts and positions,
2) contemplate from other perspectives,
3) think creatively and independently, and
4) synthesize one’s own philosophy of life with every day living.