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Teaching Philosophy

Volume 20, Issue 4, December 1997

Shannon Sullivan
Pages 401-419
DOI: 10.5840/teachphil199720450

Teaching as a Pragmatist
Relating Non-Foundational Theory and Classroom Practice

Drawing on the work of John Dewey (but addressing non-foundational epistemologies generally), the author argues that if academic philosophers take seriously the claim that theory and practice are reciprocally determined, then they should take seriously the task of intelligently experimenting with teaching practices in order to refine theories of knowledge and, on this basis, improve teaching practices. This paper explores one way of relating non-foundational epistemology to classroom practices. The author elaborates a “transactional” model of knowledge, according to which knowledge is what arises from historically- and contextually-situated agents interacting with each other and the world. One pedagogical application of this model is a “transactional classroom.” Such a classroom employs “Group Inquiry,” a teaching strategy that involves the teacher and students sharing responsibility for the results of inquiry as well as for the development of standards to which inquiry is held. After detailing several courses built on this teaching strategy and offering advice for avoiding a foundationalist position in the classroom, the author addresses criticisms of this teaching method and reflects on its results. With the help of student surveys, the author concludes that while students found these courses demanding, Group Inquiry successfully decentralized the classroom and improved student participation.

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