School for Love

Onora O’Neill

  • The Philosophy of Teaching by John Passmore
    Duckworth, 159 pp, £18.00, July 1980, ISBN 0 7156 1031 7

Nobody could be more aware than Professor Passmore of the hazards of writing on the philosophy of teaching. He notes disarmingly that ‘the chance of writing even a reasonably good book on any branch of the philosophy of education is statistically very low indeed. It is terribly difficult to write in a manner which is neither philosophy for philosophy’s sake with an occasional example from teaching, nor just a series of commonplace banalities.’ His fear is that this book will fail in the latter way. Fortunately that fear is misplaced: the book fails on neither of these two counts. This is certainly not philosophy with pedagogic illustrations; and banality is kept at bay by the sheer diversity of topics and concerns which Passmore takes up, and by the unexpectedness and crispness of many asides and aperçus. He is learned and interesting, not only about philosophical and theoretical writings on education, but on the history of psychology and of pedagogy; he is familiar with contemporary classroom practices and pedagogic controversy; he is, of course, at home with the history of philosophy; he is humane and judicious, and cares that teaching be well done. The difficulties of the book reflect the problems of the subject; and these are problems which are not readily avoided.

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