Knowledge Building as Developing Personal Wisdom in a High School English Class
Michel Ferrari, Joan Peskin, Anda Petro, & Nic Weststrate
Wisdom has a rich and varied meaning in religion and philosophy, but little is known about how people experience wisdom personally in the context of their own lives—nor about how to teach for wisdom in secular contexts. As part of a larger project studying personal wisdom, we have conducted interviews with expert and novice teachers about what wisdom means for them and whether they can teach for wisdom in a high school English class. Fifteen expert and 15 novice teachers were given three frequently used on senior high school English curricula (a scene from Macbeth, the opening of Bertrand Russell’s autobiography, and the poem Bushed). Expert and novice teachers showed dramatic differences in how they thought the curriculum could be used to teach about life and about wisdom. In general, novices naturally follow very closely the set exercises that they have been trained in as student teachers and through analogies with how other courses can be taught. In contrast, expert teachers have much to say about how to build knowledge about life through a detailed consideration of the curriculum material. Besides a wealth of ideas of what might be done in class, we see a remarkable focus on the students themselves. The main aim of the teaching practice is to get students themselves to engage the material as a way to understand other lives and ultimately their own lives. There is also a deep humility that reflects a respect for the lives of students and a shared journey of an ongoing inquiry to understand more about life. In so doing expert teachers draw on their own life experience teaching, as well as on master narratives of what it means to be good teacher, and what it means to deeply understand English literature as a wisdom into the human condition.
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