A&O – SELF in the Classroom




As an “instructor” I try to speak from my heart–that is the deepest beliefs I can articulate … and I want to speak to your heart–that is as deeply into your consciousness as you will allow.   I talk a lot, describing phenomena, including states of mind. BUT, as Edmund Burke put it, 

“We yield to sympathy what we refuse to description. The truth is, all verbal description, merely as naked description, though never so exact, conveys so poor and insufficient an idea of the thing described, that it could scarcely have the smallest effect, if the speaker did not call in to his aid those modes of speech that mark a strong and lively feeling in himself. Then, by the contagion of our passions, we catch a fire already kindled in another, which probably might never have been struck out by the object described.”  (Edmund Burke (d. 1797).  “On the Sublime and Beautiful.” (The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.   Bartleby on-line access)

 See notes on Existential Phenomenology in the classroom   

College instructors[i] succeed to the extent that they can meet the needs of students to master content at a level that transcends mere knowledge. 

  • This is usually indicated by the student’s experience of a transformative learning experience [ii] that leads from “mere knowledge” of course content to its “realization.” 
  • In practice, this applies course content creatively in the service of meeting personal and professional needs.   Creativity is a key concept here because it manifests access to and integration of non-conscious resources, including implicit knowledge, in the service of meeting a more-or-less urgent biological need.  Such experiences are typically (but not always) highly rewarding and range from reducing stress (by mitigating the urgency of a need) to enhancing a student’s personal awareness of their boundaries, including an enlarged sense of self-efficacy and the ability to identify and solve problems.  


The student succeeds in the phenomenologically-informed course to the extent that they can feel safe (physically and socially), share (confusion as well as insight), engage with mediator (including peers) … participate with a skilled mediator. 

  • The development of a sense of self requires constant testing of boundaries as an aid to if not prerequisite to confident self-mastery.  The instructor facilitates this by identifying and encouraging movement through a student’s “zone of proximal development” (ZPD)[iii]