The quest for an effective pedagogy differentiates the teacher from the researcher. Within the humanities and social sciences, we are constantly confronted with the challenge of communicating complex material in a novel and effective manner. Active teaming is bolstered by an approach that emphasizes creative problem solving, and critical thinking. And active learning often begins with a question.
Despite those techniques, philosophical inquiry can sometimes lead to esoteric, pedantic, or even banal approaches to teaching that leave the neophyte intellectually lost or detached from the learning process. As a discipline, philosophy itself is intrinsically provocative. In the spirit of Nietzsche’s infamously provocative style, the use of stimulating techniques in teaching introductory college courses can be immensely beneficial.
Goals of Provocation The goals of provocative teaching are grounded in a conceptual framework of critical thinking as well as in an understanding and appreciation of the many psychological processes that influence mental life. The teacher’s strategy should be designed to provoke or pique students to think; that is, to analyze the grounds of their beliefs, which can be directly applied to their personal lives. Stirring questions and statements should challenge (and respectfully critique) the method and rationale by which students arrive at conclusions and reexamine the grounds for their beliefs and attitudes. Guiding Principles
Guiding principles in formulating provocative teaching techniques as follows: 1. Orient the technique toward the entire class, not just one student. 2. Allow an appropriate pause time for class response. 3. Respond to all students’ responses. 4. Validate and confirm student attempts to respond or offer an explanation. 5. Use the discussion to launch into a formal presentation of the material or to augment existing didactic strategies. Classroom Examples
Provocative techniques combined with systematic questioning may be applied arbitrarily to any topic. Through provocative systematic questioning, the student realizes that this type of reasoning is an informal fallacy based on an appeal to authority that became conditioned and serves as the grounds for his belief. It is better to focus questions toward the entire class, in a case like this, by focusing on one student, others join in to offer competing arguments or supportive rationale that are further examined by the class as a whole. That generally leads to an inclusive process rather than an exclusive centering on one student. Parenting and Corporal Punishment
Students believed that corporal punishment was immoral. Most students believed it was morally acceptable, and some even made a case that it was immoral not to physically discipline children when they commit transgressions, because physical punishment teaches them morals. Provocative exercises may provide a personal utility for self-discovery that departs from the traditional procedures of pedantic pedagogy. Risk of Provocation
When we examine controversial issues in class, we should be respectful of individual and cultural differences that may influence certain beliefs and practices, while we still maintain intellectual integrity. It should be a tacit assumption for students that acts of provocation are designed to bring rational and emotional constructs under the rubric of knowledge. No provocation should be executed merely for “shock value.” Because some students may feel intimidated by philosophical questions, the professor should try to be sensitive to the students’ cognitive acumen as well as their emotional development. Sometimes, students who are overly emotional, rigid, or vulnerable to a particular topic simply need to be reminded that the discussion at hand is only an object of intellectual investigation and certainly not a personal attack.
Conclusion We must find a method that suits our personalities and didactic styles. Instead of traditional lecturing, the combined use of provocative questions and statements that force the class to respond to a particular issue may have more impact and personal meaning than fort-formal approaches. Furthermore, the use of probing and systematic questioning gears students toward an introspective analysis of their personal beliefs, not only grounded in reason, but also linked to emotional and psychological motives that influence their perception of cause and effect. One will notice progress in their critical thinking skills over the length of the course. Rather than professing an impetuous position based upon unreflective conditioning, students offer more solid argumentation with developed rationale for their beliefs and attitudes.