Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Aristotelian Teaching Method

"Aristotle prevailed through persuasion, not coercion." (David Lindberg, 1992, p. 68; 2007, p. 66.) 

Arriving at the first day of class most students, having not previously encountered their professor, will likely not know what the class will be like or how it is going to be taught.  I believe that there are three methods of teaching which one can expect as being the primary form of the class.  The professor may, upon entering, go right on in to lecturing his personal beliefs or that of the majority consensus without mention of opposing views.  A second possibility is a professor who does not really lecture at all.  You may find this teaching method used in many of the philosophy classes on campus.  The professor will often bring up a subject and then require the class to proceed to teach themselves with the occasional prod or redirection via designed questions.  While this method does have its benefits, it has often-times seemed like a much better approach would be method three in which the instructor presents his own and other varying viewpoints and allows the students to make up their own minds on the subject.  It is my belief that people cannot be taught like the contents of a high school history book.  “It is this way” or “This is how it happened”.  When people learn in that context they lose the capability to reason for themselves and they never acquire the ability to question the norm.

How does this all apply to Aristotle you may say.  Well, method number one, the lecturer, is that which you will usually find in a modern physics, biology, or business class.  It is the one method which is most common on all campuses, bar a lot of liberal arts colleges.  Method two, better known as the Socratic Method (named after Socrates of Greece), is common in classes which contain a good portion of discussion: philosophy, religion, history of science.  And finally method three, which is how I would picture Aristotle would have taught many of his subjects.  In his writings it does not appear as though he is forcing his beliefs upon the reader.  Coercion implies some force is used in achieving the result.  Aristotle does not use forceful language and he is more than open to other ideas.  It is often that he reveals the beliefs of his fellow philosophers to the reader, therefore making sure that his do not sit alone on the paper.  When an instructor tells a student what he believes but also makes sure that said student is aware of alternative ideas it makes his argument all that much stronger, especially when that student concludes that belief is superior after having checked the opposing views for himself. 

It seems as though very few college professors, at least here at OU, follow what I would like to refer to as the Aristotelian Method, laying it all out on the table for the masses to decide; though it does appear that it is more common in the more difficult and more involving classes.  Perhaps if this method of instruction were more common, especially in the public high schools, things like the flat earth myth would not permeate the education system, but alas time and money are what is of the essence in our culture and public discussion may seem trivial to the powers that be.  Some day, Some day!

Lindberg, Beginnings of Western Science, 2007, Chapter 3.

Kerry Magruder, Aristotle - Earth, http://homepage.mac.com/k...tle/aristotle-earth.html, accessed on September 18, 2008.

This article originally written September 20th, 2008 for OU HSCI 3013 - History of Science to Newton.

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