Chris A. Kramer
Santa Barbara City College
"The Mind is not a Vessel to be Filled but a Fire to be Kindled", and "Education is Not the Filling of Pail But the Lighting of a Fire", and ... Something About a Horse ... You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it smile? Because of the long face and all? (No, that can’t be it). Anyway, borrowing a bit from Plutarch and Yeats (maybe, there is no agreement on whether he said that about pails and fires), and some idiom from 12th Century Old English about horses walking on water, I assume, we can glean the following gem: learning requires active participation by learners. It is almost embarrassing to have to write that, but here we are with education today, mostly unloading facts into unlit receptacles. This doesn’t work, and not just because the metaphor is mixed. Genuine learning requires focus, which requires motivation, which is cultivated by interest, which needs curiosity, which is not something teachable through the typical educational curricula. I can, as Aristotle tells us, teach students the basics of some ethical theory, but I cannot make them virtuous. Ah-ha! I can lead a horse to water, but I can’t make it abide by the categorical imperative (No, that’s not quite right. Although it’s true--most horses are utilitarians). One way that seems to work in piquing student interest in learning philosophy is to use humor as you make the case that a philosophical attitude is very similar to a humorous attitude. Both rely heavily on questioning our collective presuppositions, both cultivate rational skepticism, and both are never content with accepting traditions and values that are mindlessly received. I’ve got it now: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it an iconoclast! (still not it). Friedrich Nietzsche published a book in 1889 titled Twilight of the Idols: Or How to Philosophize with a Hammer. This was during his most frenetic and fecund period, just before the syphilis set in rendering him somewhat less than his lauded Ubermensch. The “Idols” for Nietzsche were “false gods” or the ubiquitous errors that philosophy should expose. He is likely borrowing (without citation!) from sir Francis Bacon, whose “idols” are fetishes which can divert us from the pursuit of truth. Learning is hard, but it doesn’t have to be gloomy, hence, I advocate for a different sort of hammer to act as a “tuning-fork” sounding out the hollow and dangerous idols handed down to us that have passed for sagacity.
Keywords Humor  Teaching Philosophy  Friedrich Nietzsche  Philosophy  Humor in Education
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