Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

World Philosophy Day: The European gaze on the Other

Friday, December 1st, 2017
The World Philosophy Day was celebrated on Nov 16 this year.

WORLD Philosophy Day is annually observed on the third Thursday of November. This year, it fell on the 16th of this month. As it is, we attend to our daily rituals oblivious to the mother of all knowledge, and the secular source of humanitarian values.

Since establishing World Philosophy Day in 2005, the United Nations World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) underlines the enduring value of philosophy for the development of human thought, for each culture and for each individual.

The complexities of the times call for reflection on humility, to be engaged in reasoned dialogue, and to transcend prejudice for a sustainable and peaceful world. This shows the importance of the discipline of philosophy that encourages critical and independent thought. Unesco reiterates that it does not own World Philosophy Day. The Day belongs to everyone, everywhere, who cares about philosophy.

In Malaysia, we do not teach philosophy in the universities, nor in schools. There are no philosophy departments. I have alluded to this in an interview by one of the national dailies some years ago. Then I had said, all top global universities have a department of philosophy. We want to be in the top one per cent, but we have even killed history.

To be fair, courses on philosophy of science and philosophy of art are taught in the related departments in Malaysian universities. The logic is simple. One cannot be granted a Degree in Fine Art, or some aspects of visual or performing arts without a course in the philosophy of art. But science faculties in Malaysia do not offer any semblance in the likes of the philosophy (and history) of science. The Science and Technology Studies Department, under University of Malaya’s Science Faculty, delves into and has a programme on the history and philosophy of science. Much of the interest in that area is dependent on individual academicians having such orientation and the extent of their advocacy.

I was instrumental in introducing and teaching a course titled Introduction to Philosophy in the Faculty of Film, Theatre and Animation at a public university more than a decade ago. My attempts at introducing a course on philosophy and modernity in another university did not materialise due to the apathy (and perhaps fear) of what it would produce of students.

Then, I had argued on the importance of teaching philosophy in the context of the natural and the social sciences as an exercise in reasoned and informed thinking on the major challenges of our time.

And as an extension, the universities can organise cultural events, dialogues, debates, seminars and workshops with the participation of scholars, scientists, artists, students, teachers, the media, civic organisations and the public.

My allusion to World Philosophy Day is to engage us in the problematique of philosophy. My problem with philosophy as knowledge is how it was introduced and transmitted to the modern world.

In a book published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012 titled The Gaze of the West and Framings of the East (editor Shanta Nair), I discussed this problem of philosophy in the chapter titled Representations of Philosophy: The Western Gaze Observed (pages 79-92). In that chapter, I described the representation of philosophy and identified the problems as such within the Orientalist-Occidentalist mode.

In that context, I had made pertinent observations on the representations of philosophy from the vantage point of the non-European worldview. The state of theorising and narrating philosophy much manifests the Western gaze, taken to be universal. Philosophy (read Western) is unique to Europe and the Occidental world, and not necessarily universal.

I had asked a series of questions such as “Is there a single Oriental philosophy?”. Can we assume that both the Occident and the Orient have a similar conceptualisation of difference and experience as to warrant the thinking about philosophy as comparable, or even thinkable? Is being a common experience on both sides of the divide?

In the mainstream narrative, we find that the West has produced and reproduced philosophy and to that end, the mind and logic that dominate and inform us about ourselves and existence. The history of philosophical thought has always been discussed and dominated by the Western tradition through early Greek philosophers and their ideas have since become the foundation for the study of philosophy today.

For example, in philosophising the Other by the West, one may note that the ways of thinking, idea of logical thought and roots in the Malay tradition are relatively neglected, and underexplored. Scholars of philosophy, either from the East or West, have never put serious attention into it.

The book From Africa to Zen: An Invitation to World Philosophy (1993) does not include the Malay world and their philosophy. Malay philosophy and the Malay worldview as such exist outside the frame of Western consciousness.

It is quite normal to conceive of philosophy as being ‘Western” (and inherently Christianised) so much so that any scholar (in Malaysia, for example) who partakes an interest in the subject, and promotes it in the appropriate arena, is seen as imbibing a Western value and subscribing to an Occidental ethic. In the 2012 book, and in preparing for my contribution to the chapter, I searched the word “philosophy” through the “universalised” search engine Google and a list of 142 million entries appeared; and for “Eastern philosophy”, 3.660 million. For both searches, the Internet encyclopaedia Wikipedia tops the list. I have used Google and Wikipedia for the purpose of illustrating in itself how the West has come to dominate various discourses on knowledge production and philosophy. The Internet and Google are classic examples of Western technologies representing also the non-European world.

Terms such as “ancient”, “medieval” and “modern” are now used almost universally, regardless of appropriateness. Islamic and Indian philosophies as a category will almost always reside under the Medieval period. An example is manifested in a 2004 book titled One Hundred Philosophers by Peter J. King, an academic philosopher at Pembroke College, Oxford. The book is divided into six sections, namely Ancient, Medieval, Early Modern, 19th century and 20th century. Under “Medieval”, the book identifies such figures as Adi Samkara, al-Kindi, al-farabi, Ramanuja, al-Ghazali and Ibn Rushd together with European philosophers as Pierre Abelard, Thomas Aquinas, William of Okham, Machiavelli and Franscisco Suarez.

Another classification in Wikipedia’s entry on the history of “Western Philosophy” is as follows:

WORLD Philosophy Day is annually observed on the third Thursday of November. This year, it fell on the 16th of this month. As it is, we attend to our daily rituals oblivious to the mother of all knowledge, and the secular source of humanitarian values.

For a long time, history and philosophy were divided into such categorisations. Bernard Lewis, a commentator of Islam, who has been most of the time dubbed an orientalist, argues that the term “Medieval Islam” does not mean Medieval Islam but that period in Islamic history which corresponds to the Medieval period in European history and philosophy. We are aware that the periodisation of the world, and periods of philosophy and intellectual history were invented by Europeans in Europe to classify the different phases of European history, which is then imposed, or self-imposed upon the rest of the world.

By A Murad Merican.

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Teaching Statements

Saturday, August 9th, 2014

What is a Teaching Statement?

A Teaching Statement is a purposeful and reflective essay about the author’s teaching beliefs and practices. It is an individual narrative that includes not only one’s beliefs about the teaching and learning process, but also concrete examples of the ways in which he or she enacts these beliefs in the classroom. At its best, a Teaching Statement gives a clear and unique portrait of the author as a teacher, avoiding generic or empty philosophical statements about teaching.

What Purposes does the Teaching Statement Serve?

The Teaching Statement can be used for personal, professional, or pedagogical purposes. While Teaching Statements are becoming an increasingly important part of the hiring and tenure processes, they are also effective exercises in helping one clearly and coherently conceptualize his or her approaches to and experiences of teaching and learning. As Nancy Van Note Chism, Professor of Education at IUPUI observes, “The act of taking time to consider one’s goals, actions, and vision provides an opportunity for development that can be personally and professionally enriching. Reviewing and revising former statements of teaching philosophy can help teachers to reflect on their growth and renew their dedication to the goals and values that they hold.”

What does a Teaching Statement Include?

A Teaching Statement can address any or all of the following:

  • Your conception of how learning occurs
  • A description of how your teaching facilitates student learning
  • A reflection of why you teach the way you do
  • The goals you have for yourself and for your students
  • How your teaching enacts your beliefs and goals
  • What, for you, constitutes evidence of student learning
  • The ways in which you create an inclusive learning environment
  • Your interests in new techniques, activities, and types of learning

“If at all possible, your statement should enable the reader to imagine you in the classroom, teaching. You want to include sufficient information for picturing not only you in the process of teaching, but also your class in the process of learning.” – Helen G. Grundman, Writing a Teaching Philosophy Statement.

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In Defense of Teaching

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Mark Twain once remarked that “All generalizations are false, including this one.” It seems that we are in a time—an educational crossroads of sorts—when teaching is overgeneralized to the point where it can be difficult for professionals to have meaningful conversations.

Tired descriptors such as “sage on the stage” and “guide on the side” have permeated the pedagogical literature for more than two decades now even though they greatly oversimplify what really takes place in the college classroom. Most teaching occurs on a continuum between these two extremes. But now the term “lecture” is equated with using didactic instruction and nothing else. It is regularly blamed for a multitude of pedagogical problems in the academy. Articles in various educational journals regularly associate teaching with telling and continue to recommend that this traditional method be completely abandoned in favor of more student-centered strategies that promote active learning.

Educational research findings do need to be applied more regularly to teaching, and there is no doubt that student-centered approaches are integral to student success. We are in a robust time of pedagogical design aided in some measure by technological development and faculty creativity. However, at times the emphasis on student learning ends up devaluing teaching and diminishing all that it contributes to student learning.

by James Ricky Cox, PhD and Dave Yearwood, PhD

Six Questions That Will Bring Your Teaching Philosophy into Focus.

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Earlier this year, a couple of contributions to The Teaching Professor (Haave 2014) and Faculty Focus (Weimer 2014) discussed the place of learning philosophies in our teaching. The online comments to Weimer’s blog post (2014) made me think more about how we as instructors need to be careful to bridge instructivist and constructivist teaching approaches for students not yet familiar with taking responsibility for their own learning (Venkatesh et al 2013).

Students still seem to equate lectures with better learning/teaching as opposed to student-centered teaching strategies despite the preponderance of evidence to the contrary. This preference is confirmed for me when I review the end-of-term student evaluations for the courses in which I use team-based learning (TBL) – an active learning strategy if there ever was one. But what is really interesting is that there is a seeming sweet spot. For those courses in which I used TBL all of the time, student evaluations requested more lecturing. In contrast, in the one course in which I used TBL for only a couple of course sections, students indicated that a bit more TBL would be appreciated. Perhaps what I need to consider is varying the teaching strategy I use (Venkatech et al 2013) taking into account the need to bridge post-secondary students’ transition from pedagogical to andragogical learning (Grow 1991).

What I particularly like in Grow’s article (1991) is his assertion that good teaching responds to the needs of the student — in his words, it is situational. My question then is, how do instructors make their teaching situational to an entire class? An entire class will contain a large continuum between students needing pedagogical vs. andragogical learning strategies. How do we respond to all of these different needs and the existing continuum in learning approaches (Knowles 1990)?

by Neil Haave, PhD.

Remembering Our Mission to Teach

Friday, August 1st, 2014

Have you ever become so frustrated with students and overwhelmed by your workload that you start questioning what you are doing? At times it can feel suffocating. Baruti Kafele, an educator and motivational speaker offers a perspective of being mission oriented to educators and others working with young people in our nation’s classrooms. He suggests affirming your goals and motivations to facilitate successes among students. However, in the college classroom, it is also essential that we, as faculty members, remember and affirm our purpose, acknowledge the contributions we make in students’ lives and professional pursuits, and respect the call or passion that brought each of us to the teaching profession.

What is Mission Oriented?
In this context, mission orientation acknowledges how faculty members serve, impact, and influence the lives of others. It begs to question: How do faculty members, energize, reignite, and in some instances, recapture that which motivates our work with students? What contributions are we making to the lives of the students we teach? Have we become derailed from the mission to contribute to others in a profound and significant way? And, if so, how do we get back on track?

It is in the spirit of mission orientation that we offer in this article two contributions faculty members should consider—thinking deeply and building relationships. Both contributions represent and respect a mission to teach and influence the lives of others.

by Candice Dowd Barnes, EdD and Patricia Kohler-Evans, EdD

Nine Characteristics of a Great Teacher

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Years ago, as a young, eager student, I would have told you that a great teacher was someone who provided classroom entertainment and gave very little homework. Needless to say, after many years of K-12 administrative experience and giving hundreds of teacher evaluations, my perspective has changed. My current position as a professor in higher education gives me the opportunity to share what I have learned with current and future school leaders, and allows for some lively discussions among my graduate students in terms of what it means to be a great teacher.

Teaching is hard work and some teachers never grow to be anything better than mediocre. They do the bare minimum required and very little more. The great teachers, however, work tirelessly to create a challenging, nurturing environment for their students. Great teaching seems to have less to do with our knowledge and skills than with our attitude toward our students, our subject, and our work. Although this list is certainly not all-inclusive, I have narrowed down the many characteristics of a great teacher to those I have found to be the most essential, regardless of the age of the learner:

1. A great teacher respects students. In a great teacher’s classroom, each person’s ideas and opinions are valued. Students feel safe to express their feelings and learn to respect and listen to others. This teacher creates a welcoming learning environment for all students.

by  Maria Orlando, EdD

Student-Centered Philosophies of Education

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Student-centered philosophies of education emerged as a response to the limitations of traditional, authoritarian models of education. Instead of establishing schools as places where a fixed base of knowledge is passed from teachers to students, these philosophies encourage cooperation between students and teachers in order to find the best answers to questions facing modern-day learners. According to these philosophies—progressivism, social reconstructionism, existentialism—because the world is constantly changing, students should seek answers through hands-on, experiential learning.


The progressivism philosophy of education stresses the following:

  • Experiential learning. Progressive schools give children the chance to learn by doing. Art rooms, wood-working shops, kitchens, and science laboratories are features of progressive schools.
  • The scientific method. Students are expected to pursue answers to their questions through problem solving and critical thinking, and are rarely expected to find their answers in a book.
  • Intrinsic motivation. Rote memorization is discouraged because students don’t see what they’re doing as intrinsically valuable—they simply have to take the teacher’s word for it and work toward extrinsic results.

Progressivism in education has its roots in the philosophical criticism of European philosophers such as John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding from 1689, he stressed the importance of experiential learning, writing that all reason and knowledge come from personal experience.

Rousseau also criticizes educators who teach by requiring students to merely memorize facts in his 1762 book In Emile, or On Education: “You think you are teaching him what the world is like; he is only learning the map; he is taught the names of towns, countries, rivers, which have no existence for him except on the paper before him.”


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Teacher-Centered Philosophies

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Teacher-centered philosophies of education require that children are educated using certain methods put into action by their teacher, as opposed to student-centered philosophies, in which teaching methods are formed according to the needs and learning styles of individual students. In short, teacher-centered philosophies force the student to adjust to the teacher; with student-centered philosophies, the teacher adjusts to the student. Essentialism and perennialism are the two teacher-centered philosophies that are prominent in the United States.


Essentialism is a teacher-centered philosophy that stresses rigorous practice with the traditional subjects: reading, writing, math, and science. An essentialist curriculum is structured to develop discipline and a common culture of knowledge. Essentialists value deep knowledge on a few core subjects, as opposed to more general knowledge on a wider array of subjects.

In 1938, education reformist William C. Bagley pioneered essentialism in America. As outlined in his publication Essentialist’s Platform, he pushed for a strong, common core curriculum to help America’s school systems compete with higher-ranking countries. He believed that the influx of immigrants was threatening American culture by weakening the schools, and responded with his attempt to raise academic standards.

The Essentialist’s Platform detailed three main components of essentialism in the classroom. First, students were to be taught by an essentialist teacher who is well-educated and knowledgeable in the core curriculum. In Bagley’s book Craftsmanship in Teaching, he framed the teacher as the center of the essentialist classroom. The teacher’s role in essentialism was to teach a strict curriculum with knowledge and authority, but the method was at the teacher’s discretion.

The second component was to weave community into the curriculum. The essentialist reform was set to promote the customs of American culture to each student regardless of the school, to ensure that all schools of varying demographics had a common foundation. This element of essentialism is in direct contrast to student-centered philosophies of education, which focus on the growth of the student as an individual.

Third in the Essentialist’s Platform, Bagley pushed for a higher standard for all students in “the essentials.” He took a “pass or fail” approach to promoting students to the next educational level; the only way a student could progress was to prove knowledge of the required subjects through grades and testing. “If education abandons rigorous standards and consequently provides no effective stimulus, many persons will pass through twelve years of schooling to find themselves in a world in which ignorance and lack of fundamental training are heavy handicaps,” Bagley said.

by Allie Figures.

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Who is responsible for people’s welfare?

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

THE STATE OR THE INDIVIDUAL? Because governments have so much power, public expectation is that it will be used for their benefit.

THINK that political philosophy is irrelevant to you, the average Malaysian? Think again.

Since the birth of modern democracy, and particularly after the birth of socialism, one question has been repeatedly asked: Whose responsibility, if anyone’s, is society’s welfare?

Does it lie with the state, as Karl Marx postulated in 1848, or with the individual, as John Locke had argued 150 years earlier? Who should be held accountable when people are deprived and suffer?

The answer to this philosophical question has led to the rise and fall of governments in seemingly endless cycles. If history is any guide, the answer appears to be, at times, the government of the day and at other times, citizens left to their own devices.

In the early days, life was somewhat simpler, with voters being labelled either liberals or conservatives. Liberals, often incorrectly termed leftists (among other derogatory terms), generally favour bigger and more government intervention while conservatives favour less of both.

Today, things are not quite as simple. Both liberals and conservatives have, today, largely become more moderate and centrist in nature. New groupings have emerged within to challenge the ruling ideological ethos, hence, the rise of the Republican Tea Party in the United States.

Remember that these differences are not just about personalities but also the fundamental issue of whether state power, through policies, should be directed at alleviating poverty and the hardships of the people.

A great deal, of course, rests on the capacity of governments. Not all countries, especially those at low levels of development, have the financial resources to intervene in a big way, even if they wanted to.

Strategies for Writing Better Teaching Philosophy Statements

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Teaching philosophy statements are now prepared for a variety of reasons: as part of a job application process; to be included in a promotion and tenure dossier; for a teaching award; or to foster reflection about how and why you teach. Regardless of purpose, the goal ought to be preparation of statements that reveal those beliefs and practices characteristic of an individual teacher. Writing teaching philosophy statements that accurately describe the instructional self isn’t easy, given that so many of us begin teaching careers with little training and continue them with episodic professional development. A set of resources can do much to assist the process and an impressive collection appears in the article referenced below.

Among resources included in the article are summaries of seven websites that contain a range of materials on teaching philosophy statements, including definitions, suggested formats, writing exercises, sample statements, and rubrics that can be used to assess them. It also contains a list of questions that can be answered when writing about learning goals, teaching methods, assessment of student learning, and assessment of teaching.

Several writing exercises are proposed that would not only help candidates prepare statements that might stand out, but that are wonderful ways to deepen individual reflection about teaching and learning. For example, “Think about a moment in your classroom when you and the students were having a great time. Write about that ‘great moment’ using the following series of questions: What was the topic and activity during which this great moment happened? What was the goal of the activity? How did you structure the activity? What did students do during the activity? How could you demonstrate that the activity resulted in significant student learning? How does this great moment exemplify what you value about your discipline and your personal and instructional style?” (p. 140)

This is followed by the suggestion that you write about a not-so-great moment, responding to a similar set of prompts. Or you might start with a “story” that “refers to a pivotal moment, either in your own learning or in your teaching.” (p. 140) Finally, there’s a prompt that asks you to imagine that you are being interviewed for a magazine article about effective teachers. Here are some of the questions you can expect to be asked: “What is a ‘personal best’ achievement for you as a teacher during the past year? What of your worst qualities as a teacher would you throw away? If you wrote a book about teaching, what would the title be?” (p. 141)

They also identify four areas where most teaching philosophy statements could be improved. “Many early drafts of teaching philosophy statements lack concrete evidence of student learning and assessments of teaching.” (p. 142, bold added) Here writers need to either include or write about those classroom artifacts and evidence that constitute proof of learning and good teaching.

For new teachers or teachers without much experience, it can be challenging to write about the breadth and depth of teaching experience. But if different courses and different student populations have been taught, those should be described. And whatever the teaching experience, writers can explain how an experience in one instructional setting would inform what they would do in a different setting.

by Maryellen Weimer, PhD.

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