A New Hope: the end of philosophy and rise of education as the unifying subject of academia.

I recently heard a talk by a former philosophy student who is now training nurses. He argues that educational training in a university should address who the student wants to become, and that this goal must be integrated into learning professional ethics. The perspective and the ensuing discussion about ethics and values and focusing on what becoming means revealed to me why I have found education such an interesting field of study. Education has replaced philosophy as the primary unifying cross-disciplinary academic subject. I used to hold the ancient view that all other subjects at a university were somehow subtopics of philosophy. This might have been true in the past but now philosophy appears to have reasoned itself out of practical relevance, if not existence. Philosophy is now an inward looking if not inward practicing discipline just like all of the STEM subjects and most of the humanities. Now education is only the field whose thought invades and deliberately tries to shape every other department on campus.

At our university I am beginning to see more people in our education group asking how we teach ethics and professional values while facing important issues of how to help a student develop fully into the person he or she would like to become. The first step is attacking the problem of criticality and what it means to get a student to think critically and independently.  There are now real hints that at least at our university, the field of education may be on the cusp of a shift away from the current obsession with quantifiable assessment and the churning out purely practical products with transferable skills. Education researchers are now thinking about the ethical and quality of life goals of our students. Furthermore, education researchers see the value of doing this on a universal level looking for the commonalities and differences across disciplines. Education researchers are now the only truly fully engaged interdisciplinary academics. Ironically, one of my most influential teachers once wrote that to teach teaching is a meaningless statement without linking it to a specific discipline. But I am now convinced that the teaching field is the best hope for recovering what has been lost in our obsession with merely giving students the material and practical skills they need to do practical work for our society.  The real lovers of knowledge are the ones who care enough to think about how to teach students to be not just good at what they do, but to be good human beings, good citizens and ultimately good leaders.


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