The Case for Philosophical Mindedness – Christou and Bullock

At its core, I find the premise of this article engaging. The argument is made that approaches and philosophies regarding education are grounded in an ‘insider’ perspective, because any child of the West has significant experience with organized and institutionalized education. (p. 22) It is the duty of educators to adopt a ‘Philosophical Mindedness’ that embraces “an ethic of ambiguity, a willingness to question presuppositions, and a disposition of pragmatism.” (p. 22)

As well, the article conducts a rapid but engaging survey of existing educational theory, calling on a huge variety of sources from ancient Greece and Rome, through to Christ (p. 19 footnote 25) and modern theorists. By casting a net so large, Christou and Bullock are able to construct a broad description of their term “Philosophical Mindedness.”

Overall, we can break down their essay’s key points as such:

  • Educators should challenge their assumptions and not be complacent to teaching
  • All aspects of education and how it is provided are flexible, identify your prejudices and foundational beliefs towards education
  • All educationists – teachers, parents, students – are responsible for a “philosophical mindedness,” questioning the development and efficacy of currently held educational structures and looking towards avenues for improvement

However, I did not find this article to be particularly engaging as a result of the linguistic championing of the authors’ perspectives. We can see this grandiose validation in the following quote:

“Philosophical mindedness for educationists requires, at the very least, an understanding of the implications of our actions, discourse, and ideas within various and overlapping sphere of educational activity. At its best, it demands an ongoing heroic scrutinizing of our personal, institutional, and collective pedagogical beliefs.” (p. 17)

The authors argue that their philosophy is actually ‘heroic’ in significance and anyone who follows it is a champion.

Using terms like “philosophical mindedness” and comparisons to thinkers like Socrates and Christ help establish one’s theory at the pinnacle of western philosophical acclaim. One must wonder if describing this approach as a progress-based mindset towards education – where each individual is looking critically at where they are (as a teacher, am I always providing engaging material for the students that help grow their perspectives? Does my classwork always reflect my theory of what education should be?), and how they can continue to grow, is not a more humble and effective methodology.

Rather than making a comparison between this and the idols of western theory, why don’t we compare this and the learning habits of a toddler. Toddlers are constantly re-evaluating and re-developing their conceptions of the world, based on new evidence. They explore everything they encounter carefully and develop their own new understandings of the world. Is it not easier to mimic the learning habits of a toddler than those of Socrates?

There is an interesting article written about becoming a ‘good programmer.’ It claims that programmers must be dumb and lazy.

Lazy? Why lazy? “Because only a lazy programmer will avoid writing monotonous, repetitive code … [and consider] which software tools make his work easier, which approaches avoid redundancy, and how he can make his work be maintained and refactored easily.”

A lazy educationist would be one who avoids strong ties to any philosophy. Rather than working hard to validate my theories by citing the pinnacles of western philosophy, I develop simple, working schemata that dictate my educational practice. On account of them being simple and grounded in day-to-day practice, I can then easily evaluate and change my philosophy when faced with contradictions and conflicts of practice.

Dumb? Why dumb? “Because if he’s smart, and he knows he is smart, he will:

  1. Stop learning
  2. Stop being critical towards his own work

“But there’s a more crucial point why a good programmer must be dumb. That’s because for him to find the best solutions to his problems, he must keep a fresh mindset and manage to think out of the box (or rather, know its actual shape). In a way this leads to the mindset of a child; incredibly creative because he never heard “no” for an answer.”

This description of a dumb programmer is easily transferable to an educationist. By considering ourselves ‘dumb’ we will be constantly reevaluating our approach. This will be easier because we have no hierarchical authority with which to validate our ideas.

In terms of a linguistic terminology, I find words dedicated to comical self-deprecation, that inspire humility, to be more effective than those that carry the speaker to lofty heights and pinnacles. To be able to occupy the ‘radical middle’ that Christou and Bullock champion, we need to be able to ‘kill our darlings’ so to speak. By substantiating our ideas on lofty and loaded terminology and thinkers, we inherently make them less flexible. However, by viewing ourselves through an eye of inferiority and humility, we will be inherently looking to advance our methodologies and habits.

As a final warning, consider how the article reflects on Jane Roland Martin and her remarks that “this conversation has largely excluded women as subjects and as voices.” (p. 20) Going through the article, many of the direct quotations taken from female thinkers are actually summaries of their thoughts written by men. Feminist thinkers and ideas are discussed through the quotations of Johnson, Reed, Oakeshott and Turcotte. (p. 19-20) One must wonder if Christou and Bullock had been a bit lazier, and gone straight to source texts instead of marching through extensive philosophical criticisms, would they have found more female sources to support their argument that women should have a greater voice in the ‘conversation?’

  • Christou, T. M., & Bullock, S. M. (2012). The case for philosophical mindedness. Paideusis, 20(1), 14–23.

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