Why Bother Teaching? Despairing the Ethical Through Teaching that Does Not Follow

Studies in Philosophy and Education 36 (6):633-645 (2017)


Contemporary education policy discourse in the United States views teaching as the primary instrument to effect student achievement, and teachers are responding by leaving the profession and discouraging students from becoming teachers. While teaching is more commonly associated with hope, I argue that the growing dissatisfaction of teachers with their profession can be understood through despair as an ethical act. Rather than disavow the role of despair in teaching and education more broadly, the critical and provocative roles of despair are emphasised here as an ethical response to a normative order of effective teaching. These roles are expressed through the question of why bother. Understanding why bother teaching as an ethical question that arises from despair serves to critique the present and provoke movement without yet projecting a future. Thus, this paper traces the ways the ethical negates a normative order to arrive at a teaching that does not follow from instrumental logic in service of a future goal, aim, or objective. This leads to a consideration of the risks involved in despairing the ethical, which I describe as a practice for which risk cannot be managed or minimised while remaining ethical.

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References found in this work

On Populist Reason.Ernesto Laclau - 2006 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 68 (4):832-835.
Receiving the Gift of Teaching: From 'Learning From' to 'Being Taught By'.Gert Biesta - 2013 - Studies in Philosophy and Education 32 (5):449-461.
Happiness, Despair and Education.Peter Roberts - 2013 - Studies in Philosophy and Education 32 (5):463-475.

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