Rethinking Education from First Principles
Academic Leadership - Online Journal,
Vol. 7 No. 1 (2006): Vol-7-Issue-1-January-2006
Several years ago, I began teaching writing pedagogy in Capital University’s “junior block” elementary
education program, a program that teaches pedagogy classes across the curriculum and then places
students in a school for five weeks. I wanted students to consider what they were doing when they
carried out the activities we call “teaching” in a classroom. One of the fundamental but unfortunately
unspoken assumptions about teaching is that when a person teaches, another person learns.
My inspiration was physicist Richard Feynman who disliked taking other people’s word for anything. In
most of his pursuits, including physics, mathematics, and computer design, he liked to figure things out
from “first principles,” that is, working from the basic foundations of a field and deriving the higher
elements himself in the hierarchy of theory. I wanted students to think about education from first
principles because unless we have some idea of what we are doing as teachers, we are wasting a lot
of people’s time.