University Teaching Requires Lovingly Opposing the Student: Claude Lamontagne’s Rationalist Reflexions

I have uploaded a timeless address given by Claude Lamontagne,  Professor of Psychology, on the occasion of him receiving the 2001 University of Ottawa Teaching Award.

I’ve uploaded this address this evening in order to share the gem, and so that I can link to it in an essay I am writing on Lam Wong’s recent 21 Elements exhibition of paintings on “Relation, Perception and Meaning”. (The essay will be in the next edition of Wong’s book, 21 Elements.) It is fitting that Lamontagne’s paper should itself be so beautifully artistic!   Professor of Psychology, on the occasion of him receiving the 2001 University of Ottawa Teaching Award.

Lamontagne’s address is “University Teaching: A critical Rationalist’s Reflexions”.

Coincidentally, this evening, I happened upon a Hypercritical blog post by John Syracusa, “Creativity, Inc”, which touches upon one of the underlying themes in Lamontagne’s essay. It is that the pursuit of excellence involves rigorous, ongoing self-criticism. That, of course, has been well documented in the literature on expertise. Karl Popper demonstrated that scientific progress is to large extent a matter of criticizing theories. More generally, Popper wrote that “the possibility of fighting with with words and ideas instead of fighting with swords is the very basis of our civilization, and especially of all its legal and parliamentary institutions.” Lamontagne’s essay deals with this issue from the teacher’s perspective. Criticism ineptly delivered has stunted many a student’s cognitive development. So, Lamontagne describes the humble, loving attitude a teacher must have in order to foster his student’s development through criticism.

Lamontagne’s reconciliation of criticism and acceptance is particularly pertinent today as psychology increasingly embraces secular Buddhist notions of acceptance. One of the points I make in my essay-in-progress on 21 Elements is that interweaving acceptance and self-criticism is not a paradox but an art.

I will have occasion to comment at greater length on Lamontagne’s fabulous paper.

PS. Dr. Lamontagne was my honour’s thesis supervisor. His experience of doing a Ph.D. in AI on a Commonwealth Scholarship at Edinburgh inspired me to do the same (except at Sussex and Birmingham, England, with Prof. Aaron Sloman, who did a postdoc in AI at Edinburgh while Claude was there in the ’70s.).

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Luc P. Beaudoin

Head of CogZest. Author of Cognitive Productivity books. Co-founder of CogSci Apps Corp. Adjunct Professor of Education, Simon Fraser University. Why, Where, and What I Write. See About Me for more information.

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