Labor Day Weekend is upon us. That means back to school for some 50 million US students—and their teachers.
Most likely, lesson plans, at least the early ones, are ready to go. If you teach an age group that requires student seat assignments, maybe that’s also off your to-do list. At the very least, you have your class roster finalized. The students’ reading lists may need a few final touches, but you can always make last-minute adjustments.
But what about your reading list? Just as important as a student reading list, teachers need thought-provoking, inspiring, books to freshen up their pedagogy. Not only would this similarly motivate your students, but after enough years on the job, teaching may become somewhat banal. Sprucing up your own reading list with these four philosophy books can change that.
Philosophical Investigations by Ludwig Wittgenstein
The Investigations is one of the most renowned philosophy books of the 20th century, written by the most acclaimed thinker of the time, as voted on by his peers. It was published posthumously in 1952 after Wittgenstein lost his battle with cancer the year before.
The book is a significant reversal of Wittgenstein’s theories found in his first book, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, the only one he published in his lifetime. The Investigations is written in hundreds of one sentence to short paragraph mantras, making it extremely easy to read and digest, regardless of any previous philosophical experience.
The mantras cover theories from language to morality, making it an excellent one-stop-shop for various philosophical ideas. One area in particular that teachers may find helpful is his description of the ‘duck-rabbit,’ where Wittgenstein presents a drawing that can be viewed as either a duck or a rabbit. It exhibits the fact that the world is not always as it seems. This is a lesson kids should learn sooner rather than later.
The Republic by Plato
This author believes The Republic should be mandatory reading for all citizens of a democratic country as it depicts how a democracy can turn sour. This is Plato’s crowning achievement in a body of work nearly unmatched in literature.
Besides the political ideas that appear within the book, it appears on this list because of the format. Written as a play, Plato does not just argue for specific claims but uses characters to argue against his ideas. The ability to understand both sides of an argument is crucial, and there is no better depiction of how to do this than Plato’s. Republic.
Fear and Trembling by Soren Kierkegaard
This opus is a slightly more complex read than the other books on the list. Do not let this deter you. In the book, Kierkegaard – through the pseudonym Johannes de silentio – attempts to explain the foundations of anxiety using the most foundational example in literature – the biblical narrative of Abraham in Genesis.
Kierkegaard asks us how Abraham was able to cast aside all feelings of doubt as he agrees to God’s request to sacrifice his only and beloved son Isaac. What is it about faith that makes it stronger than reason? His answer is a roadmap for navigating our own anxiety.
Now that we are in year three of schools opening during th Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with the constant fear of school shootings, anxiety levels in classrooms are as high as they’ve ever been. Teachers who can control their anxiety benefit themselves and can translate those lessons to students.
Inside Ethics by Alice Crary
Published in 2016, Inside Ethics By the distinguished American philosopher Alice Crary expertly investigates our understanding of ethics in a way that is easy to understand and offers a novel account that includes nonhuman animals as well.
Central to Crary’s argument is the idea of objectivity, or more precisely, the misguided idea of objectivity. She claims that it is too narrow a concept hitherto understood. Any objectivity must still be guided by normative, or moral, conceptions. This is why both humans and animals are ‘inside’ ethics. Our world is necessarily understood through morality.
Inside Ethics invites its readers to question the fairly agreed upon concept of objectivity. But to ask questions and be curious even about ideas that are generally accepted is a good thing.
Philosophy books have much to offer for any profession. But teachers have a unique position to influence the next generation.