Review: A Primer for Philosophy and Education

A Primer for Philosophy and EducationOne of the greatest things about reading living philosophers is that they are continually interacting with the world. There’s nothing new from Plato, only a new platonic reading. Kant is gone and will now be perpetually late for his daily walk. But living philosophers can still respond to the dialogue started by their work. Recently, Samuel Rocha was asked what kind of philosophical method he followed in his book, A Primer for Philosophy and Education. He responded that there really was no method or branch of philosophy to point to, save perhaps phenomenology. The respondent then suggested that the best name for what happens in this charming book is the Rocharian approach.

This Rocharian approach is a three-step process. First, philosophy is linked to education. This step requires that both philosophy and education be redefined. According to Rocha, philosophy is not the study of past thinkers and ideas, though that has merit in itself, but the seeking of truth. Education shares this same end. Following Ivan Illich’s deschooling movement, Rocha distinguishes between schooling and education. Schooling includes all the institutional trappings of academia, but education is a natural human response to the world. Second, the fruit of education, understanding, is distinguished from mere knowledge. Rocha notes that knowledge could be only a superficial result, akin to the information-soaked media, while understanding encapsulates the depth of truth. Finally, Rocha turns to the purpose of education. Rather than merely being a tool for building knowledge, gaining credentials, or even for just discovering truth and gaining understanding, education has a deeper purpose: love. As Rocha notes, “we are drawn by love towards wisdom into understanding, drawn beyond information…and shallower notions of philosophy and education. We are carried by love to the fountain of wisdom with hope that it, like art, will yield its own reward: love for love.”

Rocha’s view of philosophy and education offers a mental framework for the way that I want to understand my role as an educator. Like humanist pedagogy, this primer emphasizes the dignity of the human person and the creation of a loving environment.

Although so much of the Rocharian approach draws out instinctive acceptance from me, where I struggle with it is the emphasis on things to the exclusion of language as an important reality. Being so entrenched in my own field, my first thought is that language relates to the most important thing—the most important ontology—persons. The language of a critic engages the language of a poem and is a tool to understand that poem which in turn is a tool to seek meaning. But ultimately, the poem says the “I” of the poet, awaiting the “I” of the critic. Yes, language is less than both these persons, but those persons are infinitely more important than the book, than the page, than the ink. Just as words cannot trap, encapsulate, or exhaust the person, so is the ink unable to contain the words. Words are mysterious because persons are mysterious.

However, I think this struggle will have the most important impact on my teaching. So much of the previous paragraph is steeped in pride in my own discipline. It is a love of things that could possibly push against a higher love for persons. Of course, the word person is repeated quite often in it, but almost at the service of poetry, as the mystery of persons is equated to the mystery of things: mere words. This book helps me see my own capacity to subordinate students to the subject itself.

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