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A Philosophy of Teaching

 Margaret Diamond

 My study of rhetoric and communication has left me with the abiding belief that our communal truths must be worked out in dialogue with one another; that our realities are indeed socially constructed. This epistemological stance has implications for and informs all my thoughts and feelings about what it means to be human, what it means to live in a democracy, and what it means to participate in any community of discourse.  We live in a time of increasingly polarized political discourse. This is not constructive, nor does it contribute to our democracy. Communication theorists and teachers have an opportunity to help develop students, ultimately citizens, who may be able to reject these destructive modes of discourse. This is both a great opportunity and a humbling responsibility.

Underlying my philosophy of teaching is a central belief that pedagogy is both an ethical and a critical enterprise. My thinking in this regard has been most influenced and inspired by four historically diverse writers/philosophers/teachers, whose work, collectively, has led me to believe that the role of the teacher is one of being engaged with one’s students in a collaborative process, epistemologically constructivist in nature, in an environment of mutual respect and for the purpose of creating active participants in democratic discourse.  I see it as each individual’s both right and responsibility to bring his or her best ideas to the table. This means being informed, willing to speak, willing to listen, and willing to be changed. It involves engagement, civic engagement, as I see the classroom as serving as a microcosm of society at large. Both personally and professionally, I am guided by three fundamental values which I hope to impart to my students, in addition to educating them to think critically regarding the legal system and its relationship to technology and culture.

·       Preparation For Democratic Participation. Since first encountering his writing while completing my MA in Rhetorical Theory, I have been greatly influenced by Isocrates’ model of the citizen- orator. Isocrates, a Greek rhetorician and philosopher, is widely held to be the father of civic education, believing the goal of education to be not merely the creation of students, but of citizens. I apply this principle by actively promoting discussion of current events in the classroom setting and giving each student the opportunity to express his or her opinions in a safe and respectful environment. I shall create opportunities for students to develop self-confidence in interpersonal interactions with others, which has been shown to promote increased levels of behavioral change towards social justice. To do this, I encourage peer interaction and role playing. <o:p> </o:p>


·       Respect for the Other. Traditional Western Philosophy is based on a model of an autonomous thinker reaching the Truth through a process of reason, and subsequently communicating that Truth to others. I prefer the approach of philosopher Emmanuel Levinas’ Ethics of the Other, which suggests that the truth may only be discovered through our communicating together. We call into being the Other and they us through our communicating with one another. This respect for the Other, which pervades Levinas’ thought, is a concept which I hope to live by in both my professional and personal encounters. There is a certain intellectual and epistemological humility which must precede these encounters and therefore, I hope to create opportunities for students to reflect on their own attitudes, through both written and oral classroom exercise. The ability to recognize and respect diverse opinions must be premised upon a recognition that each individual is inherently valuable. Again, the opportunity for personal reflection and for interpersonal interaction with diverse classmates has been shown by research, to increase social justice learning. 


·       Dialogical Approach to Learning. As advocated by Paulo Friere, a dialogical approach to learning is a superior approach to the transmission model of learning. Learning, Friere believed, is an active participatory process between teacher and student. Knowledge is socially constructed through the active participation of students and teacher sharing diverse experiences and perspectives.  Students and teachers become critical co-investigators in dialogue with each other (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 68) Therefore, I will always strive to utilize the most interactive and collaborative types of learning exercises in my classroom instruction, and to draw upon the unique and diverse experiences and perspectives of each of my students, for each brings something unique to the classroom from which both I and the other students will learn.  In this respect I have also been greatly imfluenced by the concept of the “Ideal Speech Situation” laid out by philosopher and political theorist Jurgen Habermas, which is a model for a classroom where each participant may express him/herself without unhindered by status, whether age, race, gender, socioeconomic or educational status. It is doubtful that this perfect model can ever truly take place in this imperfect world with its imperfect (i.e.; human) inhabitants, but I will strive to create this situation in the classroom where we gather.

The concrete substantive learning objectives I have for my students include the ability to think critically and independently, to communicate persuasively, to understand the structure, politics, and powers of our legal system, to understand the historical context of our legal system and to be able to relate current developments within that historical context, and particularly for my law students, to be prepared (if engaged in the practice of law) to zealously advocate for their clients while maintaining the highest level of professionalism, and to understand that this sometimes means being able to negotiate and compromise in order to deliver the best outcome for one’s client. 

I find exercises which allow students to take a perspective other than their own are useful for increasing understanding. For teaching oral advocacy and argumentation, I have found especially beneficial assignments where students had to argue a defense for a position they had identified as being antithetical to their personal beliefs. In public speaking, I assigned speeches which involved students interviewing one another and then giving a five minute presentation about their classmate. I also utilize role playing exercises when possible as it allows students to explore other points of view in a non-threatening environment.

Ultimately, I see the role of the instructor as one of facilitator to students’ process of learning, rather than as a mere transmitter of information. My goal is to assist students in cultivating their abilities as both critical thinkers and competent communicators, so that they will have the tools to participate fully in democratic society. Without these skills, students will not have the ability to question, resist or think critically about the images, messages and values of consumer culture which surround them, nor to envision emancipatory alternatives to that culture.