How I Attempt to Escape Bad Versions of Groundhog Day as a Public High School Teacher

At 27 years of teaching high school, too many days feel like badly directed versions of Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day:

File:Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney, 2013-2.jpg
Image posted by Anthony Quintano, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Not too long ago, a good friend texted to ask how I’ve made it this long. I was tempted to answer that it was probably due to a head injury. Actually, a big part of making it this long has been with the support of such friends who love to learn and love to promote learning but struggle with our cultural and institutional settings that seem absurdly obstructive to learning.

Philosophy, friendships, and good books seem to most help me push back against absurd anti-learning forces. Reading “The Allegory of the Cave” or Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead with others are the sort of texts that seem to open up space for better questions about learning, relationships, and long-term flourishing. Over the years, I’ve often found that philosophical questions help facilitate better reading, relationships, and better attitudes about life and the struggles against absurdities.

Lately, I’ve been playing with a simple philosophical framework that I can share with students to help us get at the deeper issues of learning and long-term flourishing. I’ve tinkered with basic question approaches from philosophers as different as Dallas Willard and Luc Ferry, but I think I’m getting some traction with the framework below.

Philosophy Framework for Critical Thinking about Literature, History, and Rhetoric. Here are four sets of basic categories and related questions of philosophy to know for learning and long-term flourishing (opposites, increments, and mixes may apply):

  • 1. Metaphysics: What is real? What is the context of our focus on reality?
  • 2. Epistemology: What is true? How do we know?
  • 3. Aesthetics: What is beautiful? How do we respond?
  • 4. Ethics: What is good? What should we do?

Lately, I’ve found this scheme quite useful for discussing all sorts of topics, from Puritans and Romantics to Platonic and Postmodern ideas popping up in Disney/Marvel’s WandaVision. Likewise, our issues of COVID, politics, and race relationships dovetail well with the complex essential questions that can grow out of these starting points.

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