So let’s outline what I am trying to do in this website. I am not attempting a philosophical or “academic” analysis, but a “pedagogical extrapolation” of what a Spinozist theory of teaching and learning might look like. There are quite a few academic articles which explore the pedagogy of Spinoza, but they are aimed at an academic audience cognizant of the full range of scholarship about Spinoza, and, excellent as they are, not readily accessible to your average teacher.
I wanted to use Spinoza’s ideas as a springboard for my own reflections upon my life as a learner and an educator in schools for over a quarter of a century. In this sense, the project is “auto-ethnographic” in that I am using Spinoza’s idea to trigger a reflective commentary upon my own experiences as a teacher and learner. At certain apposite moments, I have illustrated how many of Spinoza’s precepts are now endorsed and further explored by other philosophers, psychologists, educational research and learning theories.
Spinoza wrote famously in what is termed the “Geometric Method”, using Euclid’s Geometry as a guideline for how to write Ethics. This involved Spinoza setting out his treatise with clear “Axioms” (self-evident truths) and “Definitions” at the beginning of each section, then proceeding forward with a series of “Propositions” which build upon one another in a “reasoned” way. Each Proposition could contain all or some of the following in order to justify it fully: a Demonstration (D: a demonstration of the proposition in action); Corollary (C: a proposition that follows from one already proved); Scholium (S: supposedly marginal notes which are much more than that in Ethics); a lemma (L: a subsidiary or intermediate theorem in an argument or proof); a postulate (Post: a thing suggested or assumed as true as the basis for reasoning, discussion, or belief).
There are many excellent books on Spinoza’s Geometric Method, and I have in no way explored the issue in this blog, but I have made a “gesture” towards the Geometric Method here in that every section contains a memorable phrase which I believe encapsulates the essence of Spinoza’s thought. I have then followed this phrase with the Spinozist equivalent of a Scholium: a marginal note. Sometimes, I have offered Axioms and Definitions where I have felt that they might be helpful. My website does not pretend to be “geometric” in any fashion. It aims for readability though, and its argument should have some kind of internal logic, based on Spinoza’s thinking. The structure of Spinoza’s Ethics has assisted with the structure of my blog: I have loosely followed the five different sections of Ethics in the trajectory of my blog.
|Spinoza’s Chapter||The Joy of Teaching|
|I. Of God||Chapter 1: God’s Learning|
|II. Of the Nature and Origin of the Mind||Chapter 2: The Mind’s Learning|
|III. Of the Origin and Nature of the Affects||Chapter 3: Affective Learning|
|IV. Of Human Bondage, Or The Powers of the Affects||Chapter 4: Power and Learning|
|V. Of the Power of the Intellect, or on Human Freedom||Chapter 5: Learning to be Free|
This blog is a process of learning about Spinoza and about learning, it does not pretend to be authoritative, it is an exploration; the act of writing has been a profound learning experience for me; writing this has been a chance for me to learn more about Spinoza.
I’m aiming this blog not only at teachers of all subjects but also any interested person. I believe that science teachers may well be just as interested in his philosophy as an English teacher like me because his philosophy is truly “holistic”: it can readily embrace the lessons of science today, as much as having relevance to the teaching of literature. It has an openness and range which is unusual.
I try at all times to write in a clear style which an “intelligent” teenager could understand.
I have punctuated the text with “Journey into Joys” which are questions, exercises, thought experiments, creative visualisations for readers to pursue if they want to; they are there to help the reader understand my conceptions of Spinoza and learning in an active fashion.