Associate Professor of Educational Philosophy
"I like the idea of working with teachers. There is a kind of idealism that the would-be teacher has that needs to be nourished."
“I was struggling with all of the deeper mysteries in life, what am I doing here, where should I go,” says Rene Arcilla, explaining how he first became interested in philosophy. “Then I realized that the struggle would, should, never end."
Arcilla finds teaching philosophy to students who will one day become teachers themselves particularly rewarding. “I like the idea of working with teachers. There is a kind of idealism that the would-be teacher has that needs to be nourished."
Admittedly, Arcilla doesn’t nourish this idealism by teaching pedagogical methods. Rather, his philosophy courses offer students something they might not have expected: a sense of what he calls “the immensity of the human drama” and a more expansive understanding of the vocation of teaching. “Wrestling with all the dilemmas inherent in trying to reach students,” he says, “you’re connecting to something that has a sense of dignity to it, a sense of humanity.”
“In the best of cases,” he explains, “there is a moment when somebody sees in a text a real possibility for understanding what’s important, seeing human life as a tragedy, or a comedy, or what have you. A light bulb goes on and that is absolutely the best moment of teaching. You get this crescendo, people feed off of each other’s ideas and epiphanies.” When this happens, Arcilla says, “It’s like being in an orchestra, all of a sudden the room is charged.”
Arcilla’s current work focuses on developing a philosophical theory of liberal learning. Such a theory would attempt to explain why an education in the arts and humanities responds to a need of our nature. It would also describe the specific benefits or outcomes of a liberal education. Finally, Arcilla hopes his study will contribute to discussion about how contemporary American culture might begin a process of reform. Arcilla envisions a culture “less focused on entertainment and more focused on trying to continue the ongoing process of self-formation.”
“A lot of culture available to us in our so-called leisure time is largely about trying to distract us from the fatigue of our work lives,” Arcilla contends. “As attempts at distraction become more and more desperate, it seems to me that there is less and less opportunity for reflection and learning.”