Keith Douglas' Web Page

About me Find out who I am and what I do.
My resumé A copy of my resumé and other documentation about my education and work experience for employers and the curious.
Reviews, theses, articles, presentations A collection of papers from my work, categorized and annotated.
Current research projects What I am currently working on, including some non-research material.
Interesting people People professionally "connected" to me in some way.
Interesting organizations Organizations I am "connected" to. (Some rather loosely.)
Intellectual/professional influences Influences on my work, including an organization chart. Here you can also buy many good books on philosophy and other subjects via I have included brief reviews of hundreds of books.
Professional resources Research sources, associates programs, etc.
What is the philosophy of computing? A brief introduction to my primary professional interest.
My intellectual heroes A partial list of important people. Limited to the dead.
My educational philosophy As a sometime teacher I've developed one. Includes book resources.

I've noticed that this page is getting a substantial portion of my traffic. To all you who enter my site through this page, hello!

This page has three sections:

  1. Educational Philosophy
  2. Educational Materials (syllabi, lecture notes, etc.) which illustrate some of my thoughts on education.
  3. Books which explore some of the issues in my educational philosophy.

Educational Philosophy

My educational philosophy encompasses six interlocking distinguishable (but not separable) components.

  1. Love of truth
  2. Love of beauty
  3. Systemism
  4. Humanism
  5. Technism
  6. Personalism

Love of truth
This primus inter pares is what I take to be the cornerstone of both philosophy and science, whether social, natural or mixed science. Students should learn to follow the truth wherever it leads and learn the best possible ways of discovering it - however provisional and tentative the discovery may be. Because a fallibilist epistemology teaches us that complete truth is rare, what we do obtain is thus even more valuable. And what we do obtain is valuable for its own sake, and for the sake of action (technology in the broad sense). In other words, I commit to science and philosophy as products of pure culture, like music, sculpture or theatre. I thus advocate teaching this insight as well - both to young people who may not appreciate it or its reasons, but to everyone else, who also can appreciate good culture. (Plato: "Who, then, are the true philosophers? \ Those for whom the truth is a spectacle of which they are enamored.")

Love of beauty
This exactly parallels love of truth. Not only are the arts beautiful, but good technology is beautiful too. Apple Computer, for instance, has long realized this (albeit with inconsistent results). But there is an aesthetic component to science as well, one that is difficult to articulate except by encouraging people to look and see. Here the educator is a guide to the wonders of the universe:

Do you know how many "pieces of water" there are in your teacup?

I once asked this of a friend of mine - and we both knew, I think, that the question was not just about the Avogadro constant. It was about a deep fascination with knowing the way the world works which can only be described as a reaction to beauty. Some of the reaction is in fact to us - we are beautiful creatures because we are knowers, inquirers, learners.

I owe the insight here to my first philosophy of science teacher per se, Mario Bunge of McGill University. The world comes in systems (things held together by bonds so they sometimes act as things of a different sort): molecules, cells, organisms, societies, galaxies, etc. And so our knowledge should be unified, not fragmentary. Professor Bunge taught me to see "the big picture" on things, and how a rational and consistent world view (to the extent that it is humanly possible!) not only makes learning easier, but also more fun, like assembling a big puzzle of some kind (as Susan Haack likes to say).

This component I owe to my parents. Science is a humanistic discipline. Not only is it our creation, our "most precious thing", as I paraphrase Einstein, but also a source of potential human emancipation. It is no wonder that many conservatives and ideologues hate science, for it has the power to shatter their illusions. But the humanism in my teaching also extends to my criticism of the reliance on the supernatural, which is all too often connected with ideologies and powers that threaten human freedom and dignity. A critical examination of claims of the paranormal is vital for a humanistic education, regardless of the anyone's metaphysical allegiance. Another component of humanism is the slogan "Be excellent to each other", which (suitably interpreted) includes both rights and responsibilities. A humanistic ethic also incorporates investigating our rights and responsibilities connected to the rest of the biosphere. Only by suitably integrating humanity with animality (or rather, recognizing and understanding our own animality) and indeed, living things generally, can we make progress in this area.

Both Mr. Murray, (my influential high school teacher), and Star Trek, have taught me to think about the human side of technology. This side extends from the conception of an artifact or plan to its demonstration to the public. Technism is neither technophilia (unwarranted love of technology) nor technophobia (unwarranted fear of technology) but an Aristotelian mean between these extremes. Careful discussion of technology, an examination of its "5Ws" and much else form my educational philosophy in this respect. Technology, as many have stressed, promises genuine human emancipation, if only we learn to use it well. Recent experience as a volunteer at an NGO has led me to realize the importance of what Bunge calls the sociotechnologies. These prototechnological fields include normative economics and political science, (so-called) management science, and (hopefully!) law, etc. Distinguishing but connecting the social sciences and the sociotechnologies is an important part of my educational philosophy.

This draws upon the "constructivist" insights of Jean Piaget and other psychologists. I avoid the term "constructivist" because it has been coopted by certain trends in science studies, education, etc. I take "personalism" to include the recognition that we "learn by doing", and that a student will learn best if allowed to pursue his interests while gently prodding her to explore many areas. The latter approach is accomplished by carefully tailoring connections between fields for each student. Textbooks which attempt to grab attention by drawing connections between the work to be done and popular culture are misguided, for they look quaint if out of date, or irrelevant if the student is (for instance) uninterested in hip-hop, video games, or Japanese cartoons, etc. The teacher's role is to research the students' interests and tailor his lessons to meet their specific needs. For example, I have used the Tom Lehrer song "The Elements" to get young people who are fond of music interested in chemistry.

Educational Materials
Here you will find a series of links to drafts of documents I have prepared related to teaching. Other related matters are also on my papers page.


Here are some works that I find relevant (though not necessarily correct!) concerning education and learning:

The relationship between democracy and education takes on many aspects, including crucially a prominent role for science.

Plato asks: How is learning possible?

Child education must draw upon child psychology. In particular, children have different world views than adults, particularly in scientifically literate societies. Piaget shows why - his work may have been superceded in detail, but not in globality.

Norm Levitt's book on the role of science in society has a chapter on education, though in some ways most of the book is about that.

Norm Levitt again, this time with co-author Paul Gross, analyzing the sorry state of part of academe.

Sagan's book pleads for critical thinking and rationality across the curriculum and can be mined for many useful curriculum suggestions.

More on rationality and lack there of amongst certain academic fields and society at large. Again, a grave concern for at least this some-time educator.

Bunge argues that careful attention to the philosophy of science can, inter alia, enhance the effectiveness of science teaching.

Want a philosophy book suitable for children? Russell's pretty book might be the thing.

More grammar books should be amusing, though please heed my previous remarks about humour and "teaching to the student."

Teaching and learning is best one-on-one. This and other lessons are to be drawn from this semi-biographical volume of an unusual person ...

Textbook editors and writers could learn a lot from this book, given that it is a satire of how many books are written. Teachers can use it to inspire them to avoid triumphalism and other sins of teaching history and citizenship, etc. If only there was a Canadian equivalent.

Illustrations are vital to many subjects. Here's an example of this thesis.

History is under attack, after a fashion. Educators ought to pay close attention to the chapters, on history as literature and one on history as science, as these crucially affect how the subject is taught and presented.

Giere's book on scientific reasoning fills a need, albeit imperfectly. It is a shame that this sort of thing is not taught early on.