Any educational situation surely requires two things above all: the knowledge and ability of the tutor in the subject being taught, and the existence of an effective medium for communication between the instructor and the instructed. The latter can be ‘chalk and talk’ or the modern equivalent which may include slides, video clips, audio clips or entire videos, together with question and answer sessions.
I bring this up because I have just endured a third failed study weekend on the subject of philosophy. Now a person of insight might say ‘Ah! The common denominator here was you and philosophy; ergo, having attempted three times and failed, you and philosophy are doomed never to understand each other.’ Possibly. But I have made some modest advances in understanding science and social history, so I am not entirely incapable of academic study. Can it be that one of the great intellectual disciplines, a field of learning that is implicit in our very existence, the way we live and interact with each other and the Universe, is closed to me? I cannot believe it.
Previous attempts failed for different reasons; the area of study was too broad, too narrow, there was too much disruption from some of the other students. But this last weekend seemed as though it might be different. The subject was admittedly one of the more ‘difficult’ schools of philosophy, but the tutor was clearly at the top of their game; an Oxbridge graduate lecturing in philosophy at a university level.
But, this same tutor seemed incapable of talking about the subject in terms other than philosophical ‘jargon’, with, in most cases, no explanation as to the meaning of the jargon words. Here are some on the terms used again and again: femininity, creative becoming, temporality, cultural scripts, socio-cultural scripts, inter-subjectivity, facticity, futurity, perspectivism, normative, nominalistic. As if the subject matter were not difficult enough to start with!
It was observed by one other attendee that for the lecturer to ‘dumb-down’, would be to subvert their scholarship. But that surely is the knack of a good teacher; how to make intractable subjects easy to understand without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Some people complain that science programmes on BBC 2 or BBC 4 are fronted by ‘presenters’ rather than the scientists themselves. Academics know their subjects; of course they do, that’s why they’re successful academics! But unless they are communicators too, they teach at their peril, and those wanting to learn fail to be taught.
I shall not give up on philosophy. During this last weekend I did not, deliberately, keep asking for clarification, because many of the others in the class seemed comfortable with the mode of teaching. I did not want to be one of the awkward-squad, one of the bores repeatedly holding things up by continually asking questions. But no more! I give notice to any tutors of courses I may attend in the future; use jargon at your peril! I will not allow you to proceed without explanations in words of single syllables. Though the Heavens May Fall!
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs