Teaching Methods

Some professors–particularly where the subject is open to interpretation like philosophy, humanities, ethics, or literature–push their views onto students.  I’ve also read that doing so helps the students to think for themselves because if the teachers pushes a viewpoint that the student disagrees with, then this forces the student to think.

Perhaps I’m the minority and but I don’t like that type of teaching.  The problem with that is what if the students agree with the teacher?  Then the students aren’t thinking, they’re just agreeing with a teacher.  That’s not learning!

When I teach philosophy for example, I explain what a particular philosopher said and then I defend it in class because I know there’s bound to be some students that will disagree with the philosopher.  So everyday, I’m defending a new position because each new philosopher has something different to say.

In ethics, I’m more critical.  I start off by explaining what the article is about, then I open it to the floor and let the students discuss whether the ideas in the article has merit.  It can get to really interesting discussions because there’s bound to be disagreements.  On those rare occasions where everyone agrees (or disagrees) with the article, I spice it up by playing Devil’s Advocate and it makes them think.

It’s funny because I’ve had many students come up to me at the end of the semester and they thought that I was biased towards a pro-choice position on abortion (we usually start off with a pro-choice article) and then the next day, we read a pro-life position and I defend that (or at least explain what the author’s getting at).

To me, the best teacher isn’t one pushing his/her philosophical or ethical ideas onto the students.  The best teacher is one who explains the ideas, let’s the students figure out what they believe themselves, and the teacher’s role from there is to push the students into why they have these beliefs.  The teacher should start off as non-biased.  Is it hard to do?  Yes!  There have been times where I really wanted to say why this article is wrong, but I try my hardest not to let my bias show.  I don’t know if it’s successful or not, but I believe that is the best teaching method.

I’ve had both types of teachers.  One of my teachers was teaching religion and he definitely had an agenda which made the class miserable.  My other teacher who teaches religion and theology took the non-biased approach and for the longest time, I thought he was an atheist (or at least an agnostic).  It turns out he was a believer.  I was amazed at that teaching skill!  He made me think more about religion and theology than anyone and I really worked hard on my religion papers as an undergrad.

To me, a non-pushing agenda teaching method is the best.  However, I’m sure some of you had the other kind.  Which type of teaching did you like best?  Which made you learn more?

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
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10 Responses to Teaching Methods

  1. Paul says:

    I totally agree with you (but everyone’s biased towards their own option to at least some degree).

  2. Killer J says:

    I can share a personal anecdote.

    I think the reason my views are as polarized as they are is fueled by the anger, resentment, and betrayal I felt sitting in a classroom listening to some lock-step, aging hippie attempt to manipulate the entire class.

    I actually believed professors wouldn’t be subjected to bias at one time (naive, I know). I took everything they said as the golden truth, since they were the experts. From your last entry, we’re supposed to believe ‘experts’ right? Well, I did. Every damn thing they said!

    After maybe two or three years in the university, I began getting suspicious about some of the facts spewed from professor’s mouths, but didn’t think much of it until I stumbled across a book in the WSU bookstore talking about some concepts in direct opposition to the ‘facts’ being taught in class. “This couldn’t be!” That was my first thought.

    Well, that book piqued my curiosity and opened me up to exploring beyond the academic black hole my professors were trying to keep me in. Long story short, I think it has made me in to a less open minded, cynical, polarized dude. I wonder what my beliefs would be like had professors presented the facts and allowed me to decide myself?

  3. Michelle says:

    I definitely like your approach to teaching. I learned so much and had so many new thoughts. All the while, I could not figure out what the hell you thought! Even though I was curious, I know why you were teaching that way.

  4. shaunmiller says:

    Out of curiosity, Killer J, what book was it?

  5. Killer J says:

    I was trying to remember. Something like “ten things you won’t learn in a university” or something. I think it was in sociology section, but not positive. I didn’t actually even do anything more than thumb through the book, it’s just that it got me thinking.

  6. shaunmiller says:

    Killer J, in a previous post you said trusting experts was a good idea. But with these certain professors, you started to distrust them. What made you distrust them? What was the reason that their expertise shouldn’t be trusted? But at the same time, since we should trust experts, could there be a possibility that stubbornness or irrationality kicked in? Or perhaps cognitive dissonance?

    This may relate to the expert post because I want to figure out at what point we can (or perhaps should) distrust experts.

  7. Killer J says:

    Well, an expert professor’s job is to teach, not manipulate. The professors weren’t doing their job. They were using their expertise via the initials after their name to brainwash, rather than present ideas.

    So, I guess we should trust experts unless they are blatantly abusing their authority.

  8. shaunmiller says:

    That’s interesting, Killer J! Maybe this partially solves the dilemma that dealt with the expert post: we trust experts only when they’re doing their job correctly. But then the question comes back: how do we know that they are doing their job correctly? I understand your situation and so when I was talking about how one of my professors wasn’t doing a good job, I ask myself: how do I know? After all, he’s the expert. If I know he’s not doing his job correctly, it’s as if I’m the expert, or even have more expertise than he does. But how can I have more expertise than the expert? This can’t work. It’s starting to bug me somewhat because there must be some sort of criteria but I can’t figure it out.

    On a side note, the field of epistemology is starting to concentrate on experts and how to trust experts. If I had the time, I’d definitely check out the articles and see what they say. Perhaps another time.

  9. shaunmiller says:

    By the way, thank you for the kind comment Michelle. I was hoping to stay unbiased as I can in class so that the students can learn, but also because I didn’t want the students to think, “why is he teaching this when he obviously doesn’t believe in it?”

  10. Killer J says:

    Maybe one can call into question an expert’s proficiency when another equal expert presents facts/ideas that the other expert was deliberately hiding.

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