Gnothi Seauton: Why and How to Teach Religion and Philosophy to Secondary School Students

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Gnothi Seauton: Why and How to Teach Religion and Philosophy to Secondary School Students

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Title: Gnothi Seauton: Why and How to Teach Religion and Philosophy to Secondary School Students
Author: Vorkink, Peter
Citation: Vorkink, Peter. 2015. Gnothi Seauton: Why and How to Teach Religion and Philosophy to Secondary School Students. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: Rather than “saving” the difficult fields of religion and philosophy for college curricula, it is instead developmentally appropriate for high school students—fourteen- to eighteen-year-olds—to engage the complex existential, ethical, and analytical challenges raised by these disciplines, especially as they pertain to the adolescent search to “know thyself” (Gr. γνῶθι σεαυτόν [gnōthi seauton]). This is explored in the context of unfolding trends in American education which downplay the importance of a humanities education in the overall curriculum, and with reference to models of adolescent psychology and pedagogical theory, drawing in particular upon my forty years of experience as a classroom teacher.
In pursuit of this thesis, I argue for a more appropriate understanding of the definitions of religion and philosophy, as well as a more holistic understanding of the act of philosophizing. More traditional and restrictive definitions of religion need to be revised to embrace the view of the student as a person who is seeking meaning in a variety of situations and places, often outside of organized religion. The understanding of what it means to teach philosophy—that is, “to philosophize”—is likewise reappraised in light of Phillips Exeter Academy’s reliance on the pedagogy of the Harkness method, which mandates seminar-style classes modeled after the Socratic exchange. This invites a discussion of how Socrates used the apothegm γνῶθι σεαυτόν, an understanding of which is a necessary part of defining both the word philosophy and the activity of philosophizing. There is a difference between education as intellectual and spiritual formation and as information transmission, a distinction drawn from the original intent of a Platonic dialogue.
In Chapter Two, I demonstrate how seven major figures—Immanuel Kant, Søren Kierkegaard, Friedrich Nietzsche, Frederick Buechner, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Schleiermacher, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer—function as intellectual muses for teaching students how to come to know thyself better as a person. The first four are read directly in class; the latter three inform the pedagogy embedded in the religion department curriculum at Phillips Exeter Academy.
In Chapter Three, I offer numerous Phillips Exeter Religion Department course descriptions and lesson plans to illustrate how one translates the theory of the dissertation into classroom practice.
Terms of Use: This article is made available under the terms and conditions applicable to Other Posted Material, as set forth at http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:dash.current.terms-of-use#LAA
Citable link to this page: http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:17467315
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