Teaching Philosophies: Bertrand Russell

Hazel Pearson, 2010-2011 Departmental Teaching Fellow in Linguistics, recently wrote in:

I came across this teaching manifesto — by Bertrand Russell no less — and found it really quite moving. Feel free to share with anyone else you think might enjoy it!

Bertrand Russel's Teaching ManifestoOriginally published in a December, 1951 New York Times article entitled, “The Best Answer to Fanaticism – Liberalism,” Russel argues that critical thinking, open-mindedness, and the freedom to dissent thoughtfully are in decay, even in supposedly “free” countries like England and the United States. Likely written in response to the spread of McCarthyism, Russell’s list of ten learning goals for his students nevertheless remains relevant and thought-provoking today.

On the one hand, we all strive to teach critical thinking (except, maybe, in Texas), and Russell’s maxims are admirably well-adapted to that goal. I wonder, though: what are the pedagogical implications of teaching students to think in these ways? Can one teach students to think liberally – to question and disrespect authority, to prize uncertainty, to disagree reflexively – without undermining the social contract that makes education possible in the first place?

What do you think?

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