UNE philosophy professor David Livingstone Smith explores why philosophy is difficult for undergrads

David Livingstone Smith
David Livingstone Smith

December 08, 2017

David Livingstone Smith, Ph.D., wrote an article that was published on December 6 on the Philosophy Talk website. The article, titled “Of Philosophy and Basketball,” articulates Smith’s feelings on why it has become difficult to teach philosophy to undergraduates.

Smith makes the case that the culprit is the predominating educational model, which emphasizes regurgitation of information rather than substantive and creative thought. “The model of education that [students] absorbed over the years is one in which the instructor inputs information, which they then output into assignments and tests,” he explains. “In this impoverished framework, education isn’t about the cultivation of the intellect, the exercise of curiosity, the development of intellectual courage, the challenging of orthodoxies, or the playful exploration of ideas. It’s about mindlessly reproducing what one has been told.”

Smith argues that students have difficulty speaking up in class because their pre-college education has conditioned them to be “petrified about being wrong.” He also says that they have “difficulty critically engaging with one another’s views” and have a particular hard time disagreeing with professors.

Smith asserts that it is as though “the intellectual muscles that would allow them to engage with philosophy more fully have atrophied from disuse,” and the blame, he says, lies not with the students but with the educational systems from which they come. “This is a tragic waste of human potential,” he writes, “and I have no doubt that our nation will one day feel its consequences, as generations of citizens are trained to comply, and to do as they are told, whatever they are told.”

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