Philosophy as History

| July 25, 2011

This afternoon I had the honor of working with Art Education students in Teachers College’s Instep program – thinking about John Dewey’s legacy and impact on art education. As preparation for the lecture and group activity (collaboratively writing philosophies of art education), we read:

  • Ursula Niklas’ “On the Philosophy of Teaching Philosophy of Art” to reflect on how philosophical methods can be used in different ways within the context of art education.
  • The Encyclopedia of Aesthetic Philosophy’s “John Dewey: Survey of Thought” entry on John Dewey for a historical look at the impact Dewey had on discussion of art, education, and philosophy.
  • Three chapters from John Dewey’s “Art as Experience” to better understand his philosophical views and context (at the very least read the “The Live Creature” passage from 525-540).
  • The Wikipedia entry on Richard Shusterman (a contemporary aesthetic philosopher) to see how Dewey’s philosophy continues to serve as a philosophical touchstone (especially the “Definitions of art” section): (Actually, they didn’t get the Shusterman reading in time, but I spoke about it in my short lecture.)

It was a tough session to plan for, as I wanted to provide a broad view of Dewey’s relevance to art education, but also engage the class in thinking about the use and purpose of philosophy in their own teaching practices. Still, in good hermeneutic fashion, I tried to allow for both.

I asked everyone in the class to say a bit about their background in grappling with a teaching philosophy, and perhaps it was no surprise that people had a wide range of experiences – with respect to geography, philosophy, and education.

During the course of my talk, some interesting questions arose – about the use of wikipedia for doing philosophy, about my description of the “essence” of hermeneutics, and about whether or not teaching experience is necessary for philosophers who grapple with truth(s) of art and education. This latter question was one I did not have a chance to respond to in class, so I’ll respond here: this is a well-worn question across many philosophical disciplines, and there is no easy answer. On some accounts teaching experience is a hindrance, but on most it is an asset. Essential? Let’s not go that far. Valuable? YOU BET.

I’m not sure the philosophy-as-history angle was a useful hermeneutic, but it did allow for an important central argument: that philosophy is a tradition with which art educators must grapple. I hope it was interesting enough for these students to latch onto, and hope for feedback in the future. I’d like to keep working on this set of ideas, and a short lecture is an interesting (if challenging) format.

The students appeared to have engaging discussions about four elements of a “Deweyan Philosophy of Education” I put forward: Context, Definition, Interpretation, and Excellence. I hope they are able to continue to speak back to these four deeply philsophical themes in the future.

Thanks to the students for their energy!