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Teaching Philosophy

My teaching philosophy, related as it is to institutional management structures and corporate orientations, is discussed in a number of published papers I have written on the subject at different stages of my tenure. Students were also encouraged to study and critique the nature of the University itself, especially with regard to South African Post Secondary Education (SAPSE).

At the root of my teaching philosophy, from inception of my academic career in 1977 to the present, is the observation by American Philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce on the way that philology and biology organised themselves at Johns Hopkins University in the 1880s:

  The function of the university is the production of knowledge, and that teaching is only a necessary means to that end. In short, instructors and pupils here compose a company who are all occupied in studying together, some under leading strings and some not.

CCMS strives to make learning the object in our curricula, in an attempt to break the mould of previously disadvantaged communities in which education consisted of sitting passively and being `taught'. That the University as a whole does not seem to have a coherent approach to its curriculum which encourages the development of autonomous learning at undergraduate level, makes the task at CCMS that much harder. However, this approach underpinned our earlier work, and the success of our graduates who have made serious contributions to the emerging society stems largely from their exposure to learning in this way. CCMS's experience has shown that autonomy is not necessarily undermined by learning collectively; at worst, this approach might delay an individual insight for a short while. At best, the student's exposure to a variety of concerns and viewpoints actually deepens insight and leads to greater depth and scope in the ways that these insights are formulated.

Having adopted the Peircean semiotic and his philosophical foundation on pragmatism as much of the basis of my work, I have tried to put the Johns Hopkins and Peircean philosophies into practice in the way that CCMS has developed, in the way it is managed, and in organising staff and students to cooperate where possible as a `community' of researchers. In this, of course, we also had a good example from the Birmingham Centre on which CCMS is modelled. In many ways this style has shown highly pleasing results. However, where both the Birmingham and Johns Hopkins models could assume relatively homogeneous and well educated students from stable social environments coming into their respective programmes, this was not so for the University of Natal after 1990.

Two additional issues became evident after 1993:

i) CCMS began attracting relatively large numbers of international students, especially from other African countries. After 1994, our students now also came from Canada, USA, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Norway.

ii) Africanisation of our curriculum was always a fairly pressing issue. While African approaches to the study of our field was introduced as early as 1985 via our Honours course in Visual Anthropology, which drew extensively on African philosophers; we realised that many of our residual Western assumptions needed further rigorous self-reflection if we were to relate to our black students' very different, social, cultural and religious experiences. For this reason CCMS continues to argue for Natal University being an African University in terms of its orientation, rigorously integrating Western and African philosophies

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