Joseph Keegin


BA, Philosophy, Indiana University Southeast
BA, German, Indiana University Southeast
MA, Liberal Arts, St. John's College

“Is it ‘illusory’? Is that the word you’re looking for?” Allison shook her head no. A notoriously indecisive high school junior, Allison often submitted projects late and frequently worried herself sick over the philosophical subtleties lurking within every writing prompt. All of her other teachers were explicit about how they had given up on her—“too difficult,” “needs too much attention,” etc.—and had instructed me to do the same. We were twenty minutes into a conference on a paper that would be due the end of next week. “Ephemeral?” Still no. “Deceitful?” Too negative. She began to explain: “I’m looking for—this is going to sound stupid.” She stopped. I urged her on: “No, no—what is it? You got this!” The light in her eyes was unmistakable. “I’m looking for a word that means something material that isn’t real. Like there’s something that exists, but it’s not the way we think it is. Does that make sense?” I told her it did, but only dimly. Nevertheless, we had found a place to start. In half an hour, she had gone from silently nodding in self-conscious panic to being engaged and ready to puzzle through her half-formed thought, and all it took was some encouragement and the willingness to listen. By the next week, she would finish a paper considered to be one of the best in her class.

Moments like these are central to my pedagogical philosophy. The latter half of the word "pedagogy" comes from the Greek verb ἄγειν, "to lead"—but only after the student has agreed to follow can teaching begin. Said differently: teaching is impossible without a student’s openness to learning. Though this opening can only be carried out by the student him- or herself, the teacher’s first task is to provide the occasion for this opening to learning by cultivating and maintaining an environment in which it can happen.