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State, Elaborate, Exemplify: A Weekend with the AAPT
August 2, 2010
This past weekend, Wendy and I attended the Eighteenth Biennial International Workshop/Conference on Teaching Philosophy. It was not as stuffy as it might sound.

About a hundred and twenty philosophy teachers of all ages, ranks, and philosophical stripes gathered for the four-day symposium to share tips about how to entice American undergraduates deeper into the web of philosophical speculation. The program was sponsored by the American Association of Philosophy Teachers (AAPT) at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, near Myrtle Beach.

Most participants took turns presenting and attending workshop sessions. Discussions - both in the classrooms and at the communal meals - tended to focus on techniques for teaching philosophy to the generally unprepared and disinterested: how to induce students to read the texts, how to prepare them to parse an argument, how to improve their writing skills, how to present the great philosophers in a way that encourages remembrance. I attended a session on using art to anchor philosophical concepts and another on engaging students through the use of humor. Wendy presented a session on supplementing classroom learning with international travel.

As the name of the biennial/international workshop/conference indicates, members of the AAPT tend to favor compromise over exclusion. No need to accept an 'either...or' when a 'both… and' is available. Not that members were unwilling to stake out a claim and defend it. The conference provided ample opportunity for philosophical swordplay, though no-one was in any real danger of being hurt. Even those with the sharpest wits exercised them only in play. I heard two fellows debating the best way to reconcile friendship with impartiality. Not too much chance of blood being shed there.

Often, when you put three or more academics from the same discipline in a confined space for any more than a few minutes you observe something akin to a peacock mating ritual. Not true of the AAPT. The folks who attended the AAPT conference came to share and learn, not to jockey for position in the academic sandbox. There were of course insiders and outsiders, the well established and the up and coming, but the hallmark of the AAPT is its hospitality. We were made to feel welcome and—so far as I could observe—so was everyone else.