Teacher Education and the Pursuit of Wisdom

A Practical Guide for Education Philosophy Courses

by Sean Steel (Author)
©2018 Textbook XXII, 382 Pages


Teacher Education and the Pursuit of Wisdom takes its readers into the deep waters of investigating teaching not simply as a profession but as a precious "way of life." The author begins by investigating the nature of teaching as both an "active" and a "contemplative" endeavor and inquires into the resonance between the nature of teaching on the one hand and what has been said classically about genuine philosophizing on the other hand.
Having laid the groundwork for students to be able to recognize this intimate connection, readers are next challenged to take up the notion of teaching as a "way of life" in the pursuit of wisdom experimentally and to record their observations in a personalized journal format. Thorough explanations are provided concerning the value of journaling for self-knowledge, and exemplar texts by master journal writers are discussed.
This book is designed for use as a primary textbook in philosophy of education courses. Instructors will find it helpful as a means to organize engaging classes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels for genuine philosophic practices and inquiry. It contains a well-defined program of work that is modelled upon the latest research concerning "authentic task design." Its rich experimental approach is replete with a broad array of learning tasks, assessment tools, and practices that are aligned with the competencies-based approach taken in most professional certification and BEd Programs.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Teacher Education and the Pursuit of Wisdom
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Figures
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: A Note to Instructors and Student-Teachers About How to Interact With This Book
  • An Invitation to Philosophize
  • Clearing Away Misconceptions
  • On the Defunding & Persecution of Pseudo-Philosophy
  • On the Defunding & Persecution of Genuine Philosophy
  • The Active & Contemplative Aspects of Teaching & Philosophy
  • Philosophy & Teaching as “The Art of Dying”
  • The Structure of This Book & Its Accompanying “Exercises” for Askesis
  • Notes
  • Chapter One: Journaling, Self-Knowledge, and Education
  • The Teacher’s Way of Life
  • Being Useless Is a Good Thing!
  • The Contemplative Life of the Teacher: Learning to Love What Is
  • The Active Life of the Teacher: Practicing Love of One’s Neighbour
  • The Teaching Life & the Eight-Fold Path
  • Teaching for Education as Experimental Self-Knowledge: Experiential Learning & Journaling
  • How Do I Experiment & Journal Using This Book?
  • Assessment: How Do I Know How I’m Doing?
  • Some Journal-Writing & Experimental Exemplars
  • Marcus Aurelius & Self-Education
  • A. G. Sertillanges: Finding Time as a Teacher to Be Contemplative
  • Friedrich Nietzsche: Aphoristic Wandering, Experimenting, & Yea-Saying
  • Louis L’Amour: Reading & the Adventurer’s Education vs. Formal Schooling
  • Mohandas Gandhi: Developing Soul-Force Through Experiments With Truth
  • Eric Voegelin & Anamnesis
  • Henry David Thoreau’s Experiments in Economy
  • Annie Dillard: Science, Philosophic Wonder, & the Art of Seeing
  • Henry Bugbee: Inward Mornings & Awakening
  • Notes
  • Chapter Two: Plato’s Meno and Education
  • Unlearning in Order to Learn
  • Plato Was Not a Doctrine-Pusher or a Salesman!
  • “Let the Play Say the Thing”
  • Assume Authorial Infallibility & Logographic Necessity
  • The Players
  • Student Interest & the Attractions of Sophistry
  • Student Resistance to Philosophy & the Tyrannic Spirit in Education
  • On the Value of Thwarting Our Students’ Dreams & Aspirations
  • Eristic vs. Dialectic in Conversational Education
  • Friendship, Flexibility, & Selflessness in Education
  • Appealing to Student “Interest” or Eros in Education
  • The Challenge of Taking-Up (Anairesis) Student Interests Philosophically
  • Perplexity, the Stingray, & Student Backlash
  • Storytelling, Breaking Down Resistance to Deep Learning, & Anamnesis
  • Anamnetic Inquiry in Education
  • Relaxing the Ego & the Search for a Teachable Wisdom
  • Persecution and Philosophy in Education
  • The Sophist as Our Current-Day Model for Teaching and Education
  • On Educational Orthodoxy vs. Genuine Knowledge
  • Our Powerlessness for Wisdom: The Need for Theia Moira
  • A Tale of Wonders (Mythos) for You to Discover in Your Own Life!
  • Notes
  • Chapter Three: Plato’s Apology and Education
  • What Is an Apology?
  • Philosophy & Rhetoric
  • The Setting & Socrates’s Accusers
  • Teacher Tact? Socrates’s Unflattering Choice of Words, & Standing Firm in Truth
  • Two Kinds of Accusers: The Old Ones First
  • Freedom to Speak the Truth & Writs of Impiety
  • Socrates’s Human Wisdom & the Delphic Oracle
  • The Philosopher as Irritant to the Prideful
  • Student Anxiety at Exposed Ignorance
  • Socrates’s Piety
  • Socrates’s New Accusers
  • Socrates’s Daimon
  • Fear of the Unknown as a Pretence to Knowledge
  • Teaching & the Love of Wisdom as the Art of Caring for Souls
  • The Dangers of Teaching With a Commitment to Loving Wisdom
  • The Courage to Teach From the Love of Wisdom
  • Socrates: Nobody’s Teacher?
  • The Teacher’s Knowledge & Sharing Our Love of Truth
  • “The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living” and Education
  • Notes
  • Chapter Four: Isocrates—The Father of Modern Education
  • Sophists Are Philosophers and Philosophers Are Sophists
  • Pleonexia and Education
  • Education as Seizing One’s Advantage & the Key to Success
  • The Panhellenic Ideal: Success for the Nation Through Education
  • The Pursuit of Wisdom as Destructive to Personal & State Interests
  • The Love of Wisdom Makes Us Useless Losers
  • On Seeing Ourselves Through Understanding Isocrates
  • Notes
  • Chapter Five: Francis Bacon and Education
  • Bacon’s Educational Legacy and His Quarrel With the Ancients
  • Science & Philosophy’s “Unfitness”
  • Bacon’s Two Beefs With Philosophy
  • Assessing Bacon’s Beefs: Philosophy’s Inability to Give Answers?
  • Contemplative Openness & Questioning in Philosophy vs. Science
  • Assessing Bacon’s Beefs: Philosophy’s Failure to Progress Knowledge?
  • Socrates, Anaxagoras, & Bacon’s Critique of Empty “Notions” or Abstract Learning
  • Bacon’s Understanding of Inquiry & the Dangers of Concocting Final Causes
  • The Spiritual Underpinnings of Bacon’s Views on the Contemplative Aspect of Learning
  • Two Opposing Models for Seeing (Theoria) in Education?
  • Social Responsibility in Education
  • No Imago Dei: Knowledge of Nature vs. Self-Knowledge
  • Notes
  • Chapter Six: Rene Descartes and Education
  • One Cold Night in the Stove …
  • Cats & the Nature of the Universe
  • The Problem of Seeing When Metaphysics Has Lost Its Grounding in Originary Experiences
  • Descartes’s Desire to Get Past Scepticism … to Certainty!
  • The Demand for Certainty in Your Classroom
  • Descartes’s Famous Cogito Ergo Sum
  • The Role of Doubt & Its Relation to Intimations of the Sublime in the Classroom
  • The Dangers of Positivism in Your Classroom
  • On Knowing by Loving: Relational “I-Thou” Knowing
  • Classical Meditative Contemptus Mundi vs. Descartes’s Spiritual Confusion
  • Notes
  • Chapter Seven: John Locke and Education
  • Not Primarily the 3Rs, but Character Formation
  • On the Use of Extrinsic Motivations: Honor-Loving vs. Rewards & Punishments
  • On Rules, Conformity, & Discipline in School
  • Human Nature vs. “21st Century Learning” Platitudes?
  • On the Need for Keen Seeing in the Classroom: Kidwatching
  • The Need to Respect Developmental Stages in Childhood
  • Tenderness, Relationality, & a Teacher’s Good Character Matter Most in Education
  • Locke’s Praise for Curiosity in Education
  • Locke on the Importance of Industriousness and Success in Education
  • Playing Til You Puke!
  • Authentic Education and Garnering Student Attention
  • Locke’s “Tabula Rasa”
  • Locke on the Intellect and the Will
  • Locke on the Significance of “Ideas” and “Thinking” in Learning
  • Our Estrangement From Being
  • Locke’s Waffling
  • Locke on the Understanding
  • Notes
  • Chapter Eight: Rousseau’s Educational Ideas in the Emile
  • A Difficult Challenge in a Short Space
  • The Developmentalist Layout of Rousseau’s Book
  • The Four Maxims of Education
  • Exposure to Ananke vs. Our Technological Faith
  • An Education in Freedom: Not Wills but Things
  • Rousseau & the Roots of Progressive Education
  • “Negative Education” Defined
  • On the Importance of Delaying Speculative/Abstract Reasoning in Education
  • On Delaying Moral Education in Pre-Adolescence
  • A Blurry Line Between Practical and Speculative Reasoning?
  • Guard Against the Child’s Imagination!
  • Rousseau’s Moral Difficulty With the Imagination in Childhood vs. Later in Life
  • Pre-Adolescence: A Special Time of Great Strength and Haste!
  • Hands-On Trades/Vocational Education vs. Liberal Arts Education
  • “Experiential Education” vs. Direct Instruction & Book Learning
  • The Great Change: The Teenage Years Begin
  • Teen Rebellion
  • A Second Birth & the Role of Amour-Propre
  • Modern vs. Ancient Psychology: Rousseau & Augustine on the Two Loves
  • The Sublimation of Amour-Propre & the Spiritualization of Love
  • What Is Love?
  • Modern Hollowness & the Meaning of “Experience” in Our Conceptions of Education
  • On the Problem of Idealization & Abstraction in Rousseau
  • Children & Cognizance of the Sublime
  • Studies for the Moral Education of Adolescents: Philosophy With Teenagers?
  • Rousseau’s Vision of Religious Education During Adolescence
  • Pity or Compassion as the Goal of Moral Education
  • The Portrayal of Women’s Education in Book Five
  • The Sexist Double-Standard & A Topsy-Turvy Education for Women
  • A “Natural” Inequality
  • The Preservation of the Family as the Core of Society
  • Education to Ease the Burden of Women’s Natural Inequality
  • On the Value of Self-Conquest for Human Happiness
  • A Sexual Symbiosis?
  • The Natural Reign of Women Over Men
  • Rousseau’s “State of Nature” and the Sexual Double Standard Revisited?
  • Notes
  • Chapter Nine: John Dewey, Inquiry, and Progressive Education
  • Know Thy Dewey!
  • Dewey & the Importance of Student “Interest”
  • Democratic Education
  • Education as the Formation of “Fundamental Dispositions”
  • Inquiry-Based Learning
  • Education and Growth
  • The Steps of Inquiry & Authentic Learning Tasks
  • Thinking & Education Focused on the Manipulation/Mastery of World as Object
  • Interrogating Deweyan Notions of Inquiry, Thinking, & Mind
  • The Love of Truth & the Contemplative Life
  • Dewey on Experience, Loving Wisdom, & Seeing (Theoria)
  • Dewey’s Polemic Against Philosophy & the Ancients
  • Taking the Schole Out of School …
  • Not Schole, but Recreation and Work
  • Your Challenge as a Teacher Who Loves Wisdom
  • Notes
  • Chapter Ten: Maria Montessori and Seeing the Child in Education
  • Montessori’s Epiphanic Moment of Seeing With Children
  • The Scientific, Experimentally-Minded Teacher
  • Teaching as Spiritual Practice
  • Teaching as Sacred Ritual & School as Sacred Space
  • The Importance of Passivity & Humility in Teaching
  • Epiphanic Seeing in the Classroom
  • Children Can Teach Us the Daily Askesis of Patience & Appreciation
  • On the Pursuit of Wisdom Through Seeing Children
  • On the Importance of Being Seen
  • “No Guru, No Method, No Teacher”
  • On Becoming No Teacher: An Askesis for Leaving the Ego Behind
  • The Art of Dying: Teaching as Making a Holocaust of Oneself?
  • On the Importance of a Learning Environment: Don’t Be Stingy!
  • Respecting the Rhythms of Childhood
  • The Challenge of Educational Transformation in the School System
  • Adult Blindness vs. the Child’s Keen Ability to See
  • The Sensitive Periods
  • The Secret, Hidden Movements of Soul Towards Self-Realization in Childhood
  • Work (Ascholia) and Leisure (Schole) in Education
  • The Precious Work of Children Should Be the Precious Concern of Teachers!
  • “The Intelligence of Love” Among Children
  • On Forgiveness as an Askesis
  • On the Importance of a Child’s Work in School
  • “Normalization” & the Child’s Practice of Silence
  • Childhood and “Incarnation”
  • The Meaning & Primacy of Work Among Children
  • Montessori’s Critique of Schole or Leisure in Childhood
  • On the Solitude of Work
  • Hannah Arendt vs. Montessori on the Nature of Work & the Active Life in Education
  • Notes
  • Chapter Eleven: Jean Piaget, Constructivism, and Seeing the Child in Education
  • Our Debt to Piaget in Education
  • Piaget’s Developmentalism vs. the “Factory” & “Banking” Models of Education
  • Keen Scientific Observation & Seeing the Child
  • A Gloss on the Stages of Childhood Development
  • Slowing Things Down
  • On “Egocentrism” & Lack of “Self-Consciousness” Among Children
  • Animism, Romancing, Methexis, and Artificialism
  • Developing Consciousness of Subjectivity & Teaching Constructively
  • On Constructivism & “Coherence” vs. “Correspondence Theories” in Education Today
  • A Philosophic Critique of Coherence Theory & Piagetian Constructivism
  • On the Hubris of Constructivism
  • The Ideological Will Towards Systems in Modern Education
  • Disconnect Between Piaget’s Developmentalism & the Pursuit of Wisdom
  • Grown-Ups and Children as Partners in Loving Wisdom
  • On the Value of Cultivated Innocence & Institutionalized Naivete for Wisdom’s Pursuit
  • The Primacy of I-It Knowing in Piaget’s Conception of Knowledge
  • Notes
  • Chapter Twelve: Jacques Maritain and Education
  • Why Read Maritain?
  • Affirmations of Progressive Education
  • Education Concerns the Pursuit of Wisdom & the Love of Truth
  • An Education for Freedom
  • On the Delusions of Modern Technological Society
  • Pride (Hubris) & the Need to Be Freed From the Self Through Education
  • A Liberal Arts Curriculum for Schools
  • On the Meaning of “Person” in Maritain’s Work
  • On the Meaning of “Personality”
  • On the Meaning of Individuality
  • Tension in the Soul & the Need to Distinguish the Two Poles of Our Being in Education
  • Our Blindness in Education Inhibits Genuine Self-Knowledge
  • On Seeing the Whole Child
  • Student Hostility Towards Suffering the Tensions Necessary for Genuine Self-Knowledge
  • On Integrating the Investigation of Personhood into Human Rights Education
  • Our Capax Omnium
  • On the Significance of Theoria or Contemplative Seeing in Education
  • On the Relation of the Intellect to the Will
  • On the Role of Education in Relation to the Intellect & the Will
  • On the Indirect Education of the Will
  • Notes
  • Chapter Thirteen: An Aporetic Ending? Assessment and the Pursuit of Wisdom in Education
  • Wisdom: The One Needful Thing
  • What Is Wisdom?
  • Wisdom Can’t Be Assessed Like Other Kinds of Knowledge
  • On the Meaning of Philosophizing
  • School Assessment as Caustic to Philosophizing
  • Genuine Philosophizing as Spiritual Exercise (Askesis): A Violation of “Taboos” in Education
  • On the Need to Recover a Vocabulary of Wisdom-Seeking
  • The Interplay of Discursive Reasoning & Contemplation in the Pursuit of Wisdom
  • Noetic vs. Dianoetic Education in Relation to Assessment
  • Philosophic Seeing in School: The Need for Contemplation (Theoria)
  • On the Incapacity of the Assessor’s Gaze
  • On the Problem of Assessing in Relation to Wisdom’s Pursuit
  • Tensions Between the Universal Drive to Assess vs. the Pursuit of Wisdom
  • On Learning You Don’t Know: There’s No Knowing to Assess in Wisdom-Seeking!
  • No Possibility for Error Renders Assessment a Silly Thing
  • The Heart of Education Transcends Our Discriminating (Assessing) Consciousness
  • Beginner’s Mind as Idiocy From the Assessor’s Summative Vantage Point
  • No Progress! Formative Assessment as Folly in Relation to Wisdom’s Pursuit
  • Assessor’s Concerns for Attainments & Progress Are Counter-Productive in the “Art of Dying”
  • No Seeking, No Encouragement, No Method, No Way
  • There’s No Self to Attain the “Learning Outcomes” an Assessor Would Like to See You Attain!
  • Wisdom Is Not Earned but a Gift: Not Through Activity & Effort, but Requiring Passive Receptivity
  • You Shouldn’t Assess What Cannot Be Taught
  • Conclusion: On Walking off to Nowhere to Do Nothing
  • Notes
  • Appendix A: Assessment Tools
  • 1. Student Journal (Teacher-Assessed Component)
  • 2. Student Journal (Student-Assessed Component)
  • Appendix B: Experiments for Philosophical Askesis
  • A Suggested (but Non-Exhaustive!) List of Journaling Activities
  • Index

| xvii →


Figure 5.1: Bacon’s Appraisal of Scientific vs. Philosophic Inquiry.

Figure 13.1: Noesis vs. Dianoia.

Appendix A.1: Teacher-Assessed Journal Rubric.

Appendix A.2: Student Self-Assessment Portfolio Cards.

Appendix A.3: Student Self-Assessment Portfolio Cards.

Appendix A.4: Student Self-Assessment Portfolio Cards.

Appendix A.5: Student Self-Assessment Portfolio Cards.

Appendix A.6: Student Self-Assessment Portfolio Cards.

Appendix A.7: Student Self-Assessment Portfolio Cards.

Appendix A.8: Student Self-Assessment Portfolio Cards.

Appendix A.9: Student Self-Assessment Portfolio Cards.

| xix →


Although the contents of this book are the product of much thoughtful reflection and intensive study, these personal efforts have not been the sole catalysts in the development of my approach to Philosophy of Education. The work you are about to read is the result of a fortuitous convergence involving, on the one hand, the facing of many unpleasant personal failings, as well as the taking on of much risk and career sacrifice; but on the other hand, this book has grown most beautifully from the cultivation of many beautiful friendships in a surprising atmosphere of openness, trust, warmth, and gratitude; in the events that have led to its writing, I came to feel a deep thankfulness in the relational eruptions that resulted from our intense experiments together in listening and community-building, in joy and adversity, in suffering and laughter, and of course, in failure that teaches its hard wisdom.

This is a loving, practicable text, and it has been tested in the fires of loving, daily application. The program of work it prescribes could not have been developed without the tolerance shown by certain administrators at Ambrose University. In particular, I’d like to thank both Linda Schwartz and Bernie Potvin for allowing me the space and freedom to design and implement something extraordinary for student-teachers. Thanks are also due to Sarah Bode, as well as to the anonymous reviewers at Peter Lang Publishing for their thoughtful comments and suggestions that made this book possible. My long-time friend, the artist and poet Amber Homeniuk also deserves special thanks (once again!) for her fine cover artwork. ← xix | xx →

But most especially, I’d like to thank the “freakish little cohort” who were willing to be led in wisdom’s pursuit, who came to Ambrose harbouring deep questions and openness in their hearts, and already carrying the spiritual seeds and eagerness of true teachers. These wonderful students have helped me to explore the genuine spirit of wisdom’s pursuit in a world-class B. Ed. Program. Because of them, and for the first time in my life, I’ve known what it means to be part of a genuine community of wisdom’s lovers rather than a lone wolf. These very fine student-teachers include: Dayna Aasen, Adam Ayer, Garrison Bergen, Samantha Cathcart, Keeley Craig, Meagan De Jong, Lindsey Doland, Lee Drummond, Joy Eliscupides, Manpreet Gill, Alysha (Hearn) Chiu, Danae Henry, Glennis Houston, Heather Kim, Jennifer Martin, Liana Massie, Brittany McCombs, Kaila McLeod, Jared Munton, Ebere Nwabuogor, Teresa Paul, Melissa Pond, Brittany Rau, Shannon Rennie, Ashley (Taylor) Barkley, Angela Tolton, Daniel Ulmer, and Amy Wright. Many thanks to each and every one of you. May you all have long, happy careers in the active and contemplative life of true teachers.

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A Note to Instructors and Student-Teachers About How to Interact With This Book

Recommended Readings

Hadot, Pierre. Philosophy as a Way of Life. Translated by M. Chase. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1995.

———. (2002). What is Ancient Philosophy? Translated by M. Chase, Trans. London: Harvard University Press.

Irvine, W. B. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Kingsley, Peter. Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995.

———. In The Dark Places of Wisdom. Point Reyes: The Golden Sufi Center, 1999.

———. Reality. Point Reyes: The Golden Sufi Center, 2003.

McMahon, R. Understanding the Medieval Meditative Ascent: Augustine, Anselm, Boethius, and Dante. Washington: The Catholic University of America Press, 2006.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Schopenhauer as Educator. In Untimely Meditations. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. New York: Cambridge, 1983.

Pieper, Josef. In Defense of Philosophy. Translated by L. Krauth. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992.

———. Happiness and Contemplation. Translated by Winston and C. Winston. South Bend: St. Augustine’s Press, 1998. ← 1 | 2 →

———. For the Love of Wisdom: Essays on the Nature of Philosophy. Translated by R. Wasserman. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004.

Schall, James V. On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing. Wilmington: ISI Books, 2001.

Steel, Sean. The Pursuit of Wisdom and Happiness in Education: Historical Sources and Contemplative Practices. Albany: SUNY Press, 2014.

Strauss, Leo. Persecution and the Art of Writing. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1952.

Uzdavinys, Algis. The Golden Chain: An Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy. Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2004.

———. Philosophy as a Rite of Rebirth: From Ancient Egypt to NeoPlatonism. Westbury: The Prometheus Trust, 2008.

An Invitation to Philosophize

There is nothing novel or innovative about this book. If you want innovation or novelty, I suggest picking up a “useful” book that intends to capitalize on the latest fads in education. There are plenty of those, after all. Everything I have written here is only a recollection (anamnesis) of the ancient traditions and of the genuine spirit of philosophy that we have long ago managed to forget throughout the Western world. So, as you wind your way through this book, treat it rather as a lost protreptikos or a paraggelma—that is, interact with it as an ancient “exhortation” or manual of instruction for approaching philosophy as it was originally practised, understood, and lived.

This book is designed as a means for you to rediscover the precious, hidden heart of education. In obedience to the ancient command of the Oracle at Delphi, it is also intended to be a means for coming to know yourself. I have crafted it with the same spirit that provoked Peter Kingsley to write that the true heart of philosophy is like a “mythological treasure”—an “invaluable object that has been lost and misused and has to be rediscovered at all costs.”1


Beginning this experimental course of study, many of you likely suppose that philosophy is the last thing that ought to concern you as practicing teachers, or as teachers-in-training. What a waste of time and money! How is philosophy going to help you be a good teacher, or to get through your gruelling work days? I bet you feel some impatience and frustration even at the prospect of having to complete a BEd or graduate-level “philosophy of education” course. You probably want to get right down immediately to the “nitty-gritty”; you probably want only courses that claim to provide you with a clearly-identifiable “tool box” for teaching; you want ← 2 | 3 → to be handed techniques, diagnostic devices, and strategies, as well as checklists of information you can use straightaway in your classrooms. Very likely, too, you secretly (or not so secretly!) want to be evaluated and tested on your professed knowledge of these things as well, because you care a great deal about grade point averages and bean-counting and that sort of thing. Through years of conditioning, this is what you’ve come to understand as the end-game in education.

You’ll find none of that here. In this self-experimental and self-inquisitive paraggelma, we are not concerned with a good that is to be “used” for anything else, nor can anything else rightfully be called its measuring stick. Forget about your penchant for technique and run-of-the-mill assessments. Where other things and studies might be used to procure this or that particular mitigated good, the “pursuit of wisdom” (which is the literal meaning of philosophy) is concerned with no such limited or ambiguous good. Wisdom is not to be pursued as a means to other ends; rather, it is the only end (telos) that is without qualification everywhere and always good. Indeed, wisdom is that greatest good (summum bonum) without which no other goods can truly be enjoyed. For that reason alone, we ought not to be impatient with philosophy, sloughing it off like so much wasted time or squandered tuition. It is the foundational contention of this book that the pursuit of wisdom must be integral to any genuine education, to teaching when it is a way of life, and especially to knowing oneself. Treat the focus of this book therefore as your most precious concern while you either embark upon your new careers as teachers, or while you play with its suggested change of direction, perhaps, in your current teaching practices as well-seasoned teachers, for like Socrates told his friends and executioners long ago, “the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.”2


As budding teachers in a “Philosophy of Education” class, or as well-seasoned teachers looking for something more and something missing in your own days, I am asking you to approach this book and the course of study associated with it like a personal invitation for you, first and foremost, to “love wisdom” (philia + sophia) in your own busy, daily lives. The course of study envisioned here is unconcerned with tests and essays (although perhaps your instructor might include them with legitimate reasons); nor is this course about the demonstration of knowledge, skills, or mastery of the “techniques” and various forms and approaches to teaching. I am simply asking you the most challenging of all things: namely, to experiment with cultivating wisdom’s pursuit in your own breast. I am challenging you to take up this “love of wisdom” as a precious way of life. If you do so, it may plant a seed within you, and this love will slowly grow in you with time, attentiveness, and care; this love may begin to animate and permeate your own daily inquiries, activities, ← 3 | 4 → speech, and habits of mind. Taking up such a love over the years as teachers, this lost spirit for wisdom will also spill over into what you do with your own students someday. It is my deepest hope that you will invite them to begin experimenting with the pursuit of wisdom by virtue of your own genuine, personal example.

Clearing Away Misconceptions

Let’s be clear from the beginning. Even though you may be enrolled in a BEd or graduate-level course that is devoted to “Philosophy of Education,” please understand that philosophy-proper is not a course you take to earn credits. It is not a subject in which you might earn a degree. Nor is philosophy something you will ever read in a book—not even this book! And all these PhD’s or “doctors of philosophy” wandering around campus? That’s not what philosophy is either.

If you are reading this book, you are likely either a professor of education, a student-teacher, or a practicing teacher in a graduate program. In any case, you have found yourself in a very strange Education Program, because “Philosophy of Education” courses have mostly been eradicated from Education Faculties. Indeed, the only time most student-teachers or teacher-professionals will ever have encountered the two words “education” and “philosophy” together is when they must craft their so-called “philosophy of education statements” for Human Resources Departments, and for the purpose of applying for teacher employment. But please understand that these “philosophy of teaching” statements are the furthest thing from philosophy.

Philosophy is quite handily the most misunderstood, maligned, and dismissed of all studies in post-secondary education (In fact, truth be told, it isn’t even an “area of study” in the normal sense of that phrase!). At a time when it is hip in universities and colleges to hire education specialists concerned with such things as “education leadership,” “education psychology,” “education technology,” “literacy,” “numeracy,” “special education,” “ELL,” “assessment,” “LGBTQ education,” and “FNMI education,” any pursuit of the unmitigated good of wisdom—without which none of these other studies can ever amount to anything—has fallen completely off the map. As the great German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche long ago remarked, philosophy has been made a ridiculous and extraneous concern in education.

Nietzsche’s nineteenth-century observation remains accurate even in the twenty-first century—especially among those who chant their unblinking praise for “twenty-first century learning.” As a public school teacher and teacher-trainer myself, I most often encounter student-teachers and colleagues who suppose that philosophy is simply a system of ideas and grand “theories”—no better than a set of abstract, intellectualized opinions with some central organizational sentiment ← 4 | 5 → behind them, mostly without any valuable application in the “real world,” and so largely “besides the point.” Philosophy in college or university is normally encountered as a dabbling enrichment to more important, core concerns; at worst, it is a distraction, a nuisance, or busy work for the teacher-in-training or teacher-professional who has far “better things to do.” If you are a philosophy instructor, you will certainly encounter these opinions in your end-of-term course evaluations from time to time.

However, while you read this book and as you enter into its experiments, it is very much hoped that you will begin to see that philosophy, as it was understood and practiced at its very beginnings, is not any of these things. Our modern prejudices about philosophy are all askew; in its early days, philo-sophia was a kind of loving spirit of inquiry that animated a way of life. If this is unclear to you now, have some patience. You will learn more about this spirit as you earnestly read and practice.

Right now, if you are confused or in a state of perplexity (aporia), you are certainly not alone. Mostly, nobody recognizes the genuine, original meaning of philosophy anymore, especially at universities. Mind you: Nietzsche (who I mentioned just above) clearly knew the difference between the love of wisdom on the one hand, and the sorts of things being taught in the name of philosophy on the other. In his essay, “Schopenhauer as Educator,” he writes that, “The only critique of a philosophy that is possible and that proves something, namely trying to see whether one can live in accordance with it, has never been taught at universities; all that has ever been taught is a critique of words by means of other words.”3 Rhetorically, he asks his readers what is this thing that universities call “philosophy” but a “mockery of an education”:

It is a training in passing philosophical examinations, the usual outcome of which is well known to be that the youth to be tested—tested all too severely, alas!—admits to himself with a sigh of relief: “Thank God I am no philosopher!”4


XXII, 382
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XXII, 382 pp., 11 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Sean Steel (Author)

Sean Steel holds a PhD in education philosophy, as well as graduate degrees in both religious studies and political science. He has taught for twenty years at a variety of public schools, colleges, and universities. Steel has published numerous articles in the fields of religious studies, philosophy, political science, law, and, of course, education. His 2014 book is The Pursuit of Wisdom and Happiness in Education: Historical Sources and Contemplative Practices.


Title: Teacher Education and the Pursuit of Wisdom
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406 pages