Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

By

Diversity in Philosophy

We’ve spoken a little in #Philosophy12 this semester about the propensity of texts and teachers to rely on the roots of Western (and often male-centric) philosophers to form the basis of our understanding on the subject of knowledge, something we will likely address as we move toward epistemology this semester. However, the discussion has come about in our classroom in years past with respect to the search for female metaphysicians:

This tweet [to the left] started a ball rolling that saw me sending a late-at-night email to MIT Philosophy professor Sally Haslanger about why there weren’t any female Metaphysicians listed on Wikipedia’s List of Metaphysicists [Note: the page has since been updated to reflect our question.]. Sally was gracious enough to email me back the following morning, asking if she might “share your question with some of my female metaphysician friends?”

Which gave way to a conversation that began in room 111 – and on #ds106radio – showing up on this blog, moderated at least in part by Berit Brogaard:

Bryan Jackson recently wrote to Sally Haslanger to ask why there were no women on the list of metaphysicians on wikipedia. Sally shared this very good question with a few philosophers who have been interested in similar questions. After some discussion via email Sally started revising the entry. I have no idea how to revise wiki entries or what the rules are for making revisions, but I strongly encourage wiki-tech-y people to make further improvements to the list.

This week, GNA rekindled this conversation by passing along this essay by Concordia professor Justin E. H. Smith on “Philosophy’s Western Bias“:

The goal of reflecting the diversity of our own society by expanding the curriculum to include non-European traditions has so far been a tremendous failure. And it has failed for at least two reasons. One is that non-Western philosophy is typically represented in philosophy curricula in a merely token way. Western philosophy is always the unmarked category, the standard in relation to which non-Western philosophy provides a useful contrast. Non-Western philosophy is not approached on its own terms, and thus philosophy remains, implicitly and by default, Western. Second, non-Western philosophy, when it does appear in curricula, is treated in a methodologically and philosophically unsound way: it is crudely supposed to be wholly indigenous to the cultures that produce it and to be fundamentally different than Western philosophy in areas like its valuation of reason or its dependence on myth and religion.  In this way, non-Western philosophy remains fundamentally “other.”

It is my hope that in our current semester of philosophical inquiry, we move beyond this inclination toward ‘tokenism,’ and delve into different traditions of knowing beyond those dominant here on the western shores of North America.

I am curious though:

  • How have others confronted this problem of modern philosophy?
  • Are there in-born limitations in trying to comprehend cultural norms too far outside of our own?
  • What attitudes, approaches or processes might help challenge us to move beyond our own cultural perspectives?

 

 

By

Comment from the Internetz

A comment left on the archive of our Epistemology discussion of Reality, Perception & What can be Known:

I think it looks like the quiet students are the ones deep in thought. I was a quiet one back in school and still am. Very well spoken students! Thoughts were so well said and expressed by. I would have been one of the ones in school who sat and listened for fear of speaking out, sadly. In my mind I thought all sorts of things but how would anyone know if it is not expressed to everyone? I guess I did not have a bold personality.  Little did I realize how trivial my fears were and still are.

This environment and community of open discussion is so very valuable and provoking. Especially that these are young people who are just starting to delve deeper, yet are already so knowledgeable. And discussions like this in a large group do not happen very often with young people.  I love how they bounce ideas off each other so well and how you guide them through the discussion.

It is inspiring to see your enthusiasm and commitment to the students and also your own zeal and enthusiasm throughout. As well as being able to maintain and let the students speak with out interrupting or become too immersed. very cool. This school keeps getting better. The students energy is amazing.

It is amazing you are able to capture this. Really makes one think about … well everything!

 

By

Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?

Thanks to eternal #Philosophy12 participant and friend GNA Garcia for sharing this Harvard University course on Justice. Covering topics from murder, to cannibalism, and ethical conundrums well-beyond, the popular Harvard class (billed as “the most popular class in Harvard history”) is available freely on the Youtube. Embedded above is the first episode, which tackles the Moral Side of Murder:

If you had to choose between (1) killing one person to save the lives of five others and (2) doing nothing even though you knew that five people would die right before your eyes if you did nothing—what would you do? What would be the right thing to do? Thats the hypothetical scenario Professor Michael Sandel uses to launch his course on moral reasoning. After the majority of students votes for killing the one person in order to save the lives of five others, Sandel presents three similar moral conundrums—each one artfully designed to make the decision more difficult. As students stand up to defend their conflicting choices, it becomes clear that the assumptions behind our moral reasoning are often contradictory, and the question of what is right and what is wrong is not always black and white.

You can explore the world of justice on their interactive and multi-media website.

 

By

Metaphysical Emergence and the Discussable Object

Unplug'd 2012 Map Prep

Photo courtesy of Alan Levine

“It is to the reality which mediates [people], and to the perception of that reality held by educators and people, that we must go to find the program content of education.”

Paulo Freire

As we set out to encounter Metaphysics, my ambition as teacher is to help frame the creation of a learning object as an attempt at authentic social constructivism. Today we began with a conversation based on another Freire quote (about education being a ‘with’ transaction between teachers and students much more than a ‘to’ or ‘for’), and came away with a loose timeline and list of objectives and ambitions for the unit in the coming week.

“The investigation of […] people’s ‘thematic universe’ – the complex of their ‘generative themes’ – inaugurates the dialogue of education as the practice of freedom.”

Freire

Our task, in general terms, will be to encounter the lives and ideas of metaphysicians. And, in asking of ourselves what we can interpret of their essential guiding questions, to engage in the study of our own metaphysical thoughts and conceptions. This will happen in exposition on the class blog, connections made through comments and conversation, and inquiry through reflection and dialogue.

My hope is that these activities can be engaged in with the following in mind:

“…knowledge is neither a representation of something more ‘real’ than itself, nor an ‘object’ that can be transferred from one place to the next. Knowledge is understood, rather, to ’emerge’ as we, as human beings, participate in the world. Knowledge, in other words, does not exist except in participatory actions.”

Osberg and Biesta

Thus far the group has agreed to the following objectives:

    • Delve into a metaphysical thinker’s life and ideas
    • Put their ideas into the context of larger theory, culture and critique
    • Evaluate one of your philosopher’s questions, ideas, or arguments with your own ideas about validity, truth and soundness
    • Narrate and participate in the creation of a collective representation of our learning about Metaphysics, and metaphysicians

This will begin with a blog post, wherein participants will demonstrate research and introduction to a philosopher of Metaphysics, and strive to respond to the following questions:

    • How did the philosopher’s life or biography influence their philosophical development?
    • What ideas or concepts are they credited with, or notable for?
    • How have these ideas been built on or incorporated into our modern zeitgeist or mindset?
    • What personal response do you have to the topics your philosopher explored?
    • What do you find confusing or difficult to conceive of, in your philosopher’s thinking?

And from there work through individual reflections and assessments of our own ideas contrasted against those of notable metaphysicians, as well as one another. Over the course of the following week, these experiences, discussions, reflections and activities will culminate in the creation of what for now we will call the Discussable Object. The logic here is derived from Osberg and Biesta again:

“…if educators wish to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

At present, the idea of the creation of the Discussable Object as an authentic constructivist summative assessment is unrefined; but the general intention is this: to create a collective representation of our individual journeys of understanding metaphysics.

This raises an interesting contradiction within emergentist epistemology that we will likely spend time in the coming week discussing, that:

“for the process of knowledge production to occur it is necessary to assume that the meaning of a particular ‘knowledge object’ exists in a stable form such that the ‘knowledge object’ can be used like a ‘building block’ in the production of new abstract knowledge objects. This idea, however, is precisely what an emergentist epistemology denies. Because the meaning of any new knowledge ’emerges’ would be highly specific to the complex system from which is emerged, it follows that no ‘knowledge object’ can retain its meaning in a different situation.”

This marks I think a necessary crossroads in the creation of the blended open-online course, as 24 of our participants will engaged in something that may only create significance between themselves; I wonder about our ability – or the validity of the attempt – to share this process beyond the constructivism of our physical classroom. Here I am left thinking about Jesse Stommel‘s post on Hybrid Pedagogy, How to Build an Ethical Online Course, and the idea that:

“We must consider how we’ll create pathways between the learning that happens in a room and the learning that happens on the web.”

Indeed.

 

By

Open Online Invite to #Philosophy12

Image courtesy of @cogdog

Welcome (back)!

For the second year running, Gleneagle Secondary‘s Philosophy 12 class is being conducted as an open-online course, you are able to enroll as a non-credit learner in the community. Like it sounds, being a non-credit student means that you will not receive any institutional credit for your participation in the course, but are invited to read and view along with us, post your own thoughts as posts and / or comments on the blog site, or submit assignments for any of the corresponding units. There are no minimums, and no apologies for open-online learners in Philosophy 12: do as much or as little as you like.

To read a little of how this open approach influenced the first incarnation of Philosophy 12, see these posts from last year:

Feel free to share your thoughts with us via the #Philosophy12 hashtag on Twitter, and help us keep you in the loop by entering a few details in the form below.

Note: If you were an open online participant last year, or a for-credit student, your details are still in our databases, and you should still be an author on the blog. If your contact information has changed, please fill out the form again, or contact Bryan Jackson via email bryan at bryanjack.ca or on Twitter @bryanjack. 

[googleapps domain=”docs” dir=”spreadsheet/embeddedform” query=”formkey=dFF2YVdNaGNPNVFBWjBUVnQ1dl9YVUE6MQ” width=”560″ height=”1370″ /]

 

By

Looking back on Philosophy 12

Philosophy 12 Classroom

As we have wrapped up our study of Philosophy 12 for the year (to be continued in September if enough people enroll in the for-credit portion of the course), I wanted to document a few initial elements of the class statistics and participation before the analytics widget goes to sleep and isn’t around to be compared to future data. (What the collection of such statistics mean to me as a teacher is something I have yet to form an opinion about just yet; but the numbers are a piece of the story being told, one way or the other.) I also wanted to highlight the contributions of a few people who, though they may not have been enrolled formally in the class, were formidable members of the learning community.

These are some things I can tell you at this stage:

In five months, the class blog was viewed 9,000 times; visitors come from 82 countries, and every continent but Antarctica. 600 of those visitors arrived on our site by Google Image searches, thus creating the lasting legacy of Nick Kraemer in that no one who ever blogged with him will ever push publish without embedding an engaging photograph.

The blog averaged 51 comments a month, many of them ranging into the thousands of words themselves.

A few posts that attracted a lot of this thought and conversation over the course of the semester were:

In addition to a handful of students each credited with more than 15 individual comments – Liam, Jen, Jonathan, and Yazmeen – two of the course’s most prolific commenters were open online participants.

Stephen Downes is a researcher with the NRC’s Institute for Information Technology’s e-Learning Research Group, and one of the pioneers in the field of ‘open-teaching.’ Not surprisingly, perhaps, Downes was an avid participant at various points during the semester; but the bulk of his 31 comments came during the class’ Logic unit, where he rigorously interrogated each of the for-credit students’ proposed syllogisms.

Such was the notability of Downes’ work in the class, he became the fodder of more than one plausible thesis:

The only man who patrols his territory under his own power and initiative, who strikes fear into the heart of wrong doers in the dead of night, and does these things with only the tools and skills he has acquired through training himself to extremely high levels, is Batman. Thus, the first premise is true.

Then, we have the second premise: Stephen Downes patrols his patrols his territory under his own power and initiative, strikes fear into the heart of wrong doers in the dead of night, and does these things with only the tools and skills he has acquired through training himself to extremely high levels.

With my limited knowledge of Stephen Downes, I suspect these all to be true. His territory is the internet, which he prowls with the knowledge that if he sees non-desirable behavior, he will put an end to it. We can see this from the recent slew of comments this blog has received from him, in which he combats the non-desirable behavior of faulty logic. As he is not part of any organization, nor is this blog any sort of immediate or non immediate threat, he is under his own initiative to do this. Through reactions from other students, I am able to see that he inspires a certain amount of fear, but there has been nothing fatal. A time stamp from one of his comments will show that he commented in what would be the dead of night in this time zone. And finally, Downes does not use superpowers, he uses the advanced knowledge and skills in philosophy and logic that he has trained to obtain. The second premise seems to be true.

There is only one conclusion.

Another consistent discussant throughout the course was a friend of mine from highschool (Gleneagle itself, as luck would have it), Chris Price, who is now a local preacher pursuing an advanced degree in theology, and who can generally be found talking, writing and thinking about the meaning of life, morality, good and evil, and how we might justify our places somewhere in between. Chris brought a ravenous curiosity and an uncanny ability to isolate and articulate the key elements of a discussion, whether they were political, ethical, or logical, and was an example of intellectual humility in fostering healthy, honest and respectful debate and discussion.

Seriously. We’re talking polite-discussion-of-both-sides-of-the-abortion-issue healthy and respectful.

I hope each of the above-listed gentlemen will have time to join us in future incarnations of the course, most definitely. Their pursuit of lifelong learning and the rigor with which they are pursuing their lives of the mind are the best mentors for young intellectuals to encounter, and I am truly grateful for them having lent themselves to us so graciously.

#Philosophy12 Discussion

Someone else who contributed foundational support and inspiration to the Philosophy 12 cohort throughout the semester was GNA Garcia, who aside from listening in to class broadcasts and championing the group’s explorations even made it in to facilitate a face to face session of the course during the Open Education Conference in October.

GNA introduced herself as a fellow-learner / traveller / eternally discovering intellectual, and left an impression on more than one of her younger peers, as her words and the ideas she shared in person, on Twitter, and on #ds106radio came up consistently throughout the course, in discussions, presentations, and blog posts. She even prompted a discussion of female metaphysicians that led to MIT professor Sally Heslenger reaching out to Brit Brogaard on our behalf, and enacting changes to the Wikipedia listing of “Notable Metaphysicians” to include more females (a story I recently recounted here).

The steadfast collegiality, friendship and guidance she lent me as instructor / facilitator is much of the reason the open approach of the course could in any way be called a success. 

She deserves this credit, and probably a few of my paycheques.

A similar case could be made each and every one of the for-credit, face-to-face participants in Philosophy this semester. For daring to take their learning outside of the classroom, and onto the web, and to share their daily conversations, reflections, presentations and assignments, they have reckoned with the purest intentions of philosophical discourse: to make propositions clear, to say what one is thinking, and to have those thoughts meet with others‘ who may be contradictory. In making the forum for these discussions wider than the physical classroom, we were all privileged to the mutual understanding that was created as a result.

#Philosophy12 Discussion

Something that I was pleased to hear referenced in so many final, reflective presentations each member of the class offered over the course of the last week, was that one of the main takeaways of the course was a gained appreciation for engaging in thoughtful and respectful debate about All the Big Questions, and coming away with not only a firmer sense of their own individual perspectives, but a more empathetic understanding of differing views. In being able to create and facilitate such a community of learning, each of this past semester’s philosophes deserve enormous credit and commendation.

For my part going forward, something I will take away as advice – that came through course evaluations, conversations with participants, and my own reflections on the semester – from this year’s experience is that even more opportunities must be created for not only the sharing and driving toward a collective understanding, but for the voicing of more individual perspectives within that collective. We / I didn’t recognize the necessity of many smaller group conversations until some ways into the semester; and looking ahead at future incarnations of the course I want to be sure to allow more space for individual voices in advance of trying to create a group synthesis.

Hope to see you back on the #Philosophy12 blog in the Fall!

 

By

MIT Professors Pitch in to #Philosophy12

This tweet started a ball rolling that saw me sending a late-at-night email to MIT Philosophy professor Sally Haslanger about why there weren’t any female Metaphysicians listed on Wikipedia’s List of Metaphysicists [Note: the page has since been updated to reflect our question.]. Sally was gracious enough to email me back the following morning, asking if she might “share your question with some of my female metaphysician friends?”

Which gave way to a conversation that began in room 111 – and on #ds106radio – showing up on this blog, moderated at least in part by Berit Brogaard:

Bryan Jackson recently wrote to Sally Haslanger to ask why there were no women on the list of metaphysicians on wikipedia. Sally shared this very good question with a few philosophers who have been interested in similar questions. After some discussion via email Sally started revising the entry. I have no idea how to revise wiki entries or what the rules are for making revisions, but I strongly encourage wiki-tech-y people to make further improvements to the list.

The comments on the post delve into the mechanics of editing wikipedia to reflect a broader perspective (which was one of our intents), as well as debate about the inclusion of various philosophers on the list itself, which is much more than, though maybe just exactly, what I was hoping when I sent Sally that initial email.

Hopefully it is only the beginning of a dialogue with some of the continents most intelligent philosophers and theorists as we continue our exploration of #philosophy12.

 

By

Philosophy Pop Quiz

As it deals with pedagogical reflections that are personal beyond the realm of the Philosophy course, I have cross-posted this on my own blog

I’m grateful to Dr. Gardner Campbell of Virginia Tech for letting me bring his daily pop-quiz into #Philosophy12 this semester, as it creates a context for learning that highlights behaviours that are congruent with the philosophical mode and constructivist’s approach as well.

The five questions of the quiz aren’t assessments of any specific understanding, but rather inquiries into habits that will lead to a conducive learning environment in the physical classroom. Our open online participants, I would guess, are the types of learners that are engaging in these behaviours (they otherwise wouldn’t likely be participating with us).

Dr. Campbell’s daily check in goes as follows (score yourself with the numbers supplied):

  1. Did you read material for today’s class meeting carefully? (No – 0, Once – 1, Yes, more than once – 2)
  2. Did you come to class today with questions or with items you’re eager to discuss? (No – 0, Yes, one – 1, Yes, more than one – 2)
  3. Since we last met, did you talk at length to a classmate, or classmates about either the last class meeting or today’s meeting? (No – 0, Yes, one person – 1, Yes, more than one person – 2)
  4. Since our last meeting, did you read any unassigned material related to this course of study? (No – 0, Yes, one item – 1, Yes, more than one item – 2)
  5. Since our last meeting, how much time have you spent reflecting on this course of study and recent class meetings? (None to 29 minutes – 0, 30 minutes to one hour – 1, Over an hour – 2)

Gardner talks about how the quiz is a predictor of how ‘productive’ his classes will be, and in a quick show of hands to reflect today’s scoring, I can see how the class’ honest reflection and response to these questions is potentially a very accurate picture of the engagement at the outset of the day. But more than that, I appreciate what Gardner might call the ‘meta-message’ contained in the brief assessment, and what GNA Garcia described as, “thinking about how [learners] are thinking about what they think about and when,” and thus creating “habits of mind.”

 

 
css.php