Alumni Interview with Darryl De Marzio (07’), Philosopher of Education (Part II)
By Timothy Ignaffo
Darryl De Marzio is a graduate of the Philosophy and Education program (2007), and currently an Associate Professor at the University of Scranton. In addition to his professorial obligations, he was also recently named the Director of Undergraduate Programs in Education. Darryl is also the immediate past president of MASPES. When he’s not in McGurrin Hall or with his family, you can find Darryl at Northern Lights coffee shop in beautiful downtown Scranton.
When did you decide you wanted to be a Professor?
I think I only really became aware of that desire when I first started teaching as an adjunct at Montclair State University in 2000. The thing for me was that this very first experience of teaching a course in philosophy of education made me keenly aware of how much I didn’t know about philosophy, education, and, most of all, teaching. I was very green at the time, and I hesitate to think of how terrible I actually was as a professor. But I never became discouraged by that. Instead, I became increasingly devoted to the study of educational philosophy and to the practice of teaching, not so much because of the thought that I might become good at it one day, but because the goods of study and practice were internal to the teaching that I was doing. In a way, it was precisely because there was so much that I needed to do just in order to become competent that I ended up reaping all that teaching has to offer.
Tell us about your PhD research?
What I tried to do in my dissertation is take up the question of why should teachers study philosophy from a somewhat oblique angle. Starting from the tradition that views philosophy as part and parcel of the quest to form and transform one’s way of life, I moved to the question of how philosophy might become such a practice and way of life for the teacher. But rather than answering that question directly, I considered what texts might form the basis of the study of philosophy as self-formation for the teacher. In the end, I came up with three texts: Plato’s Alcibiades, Montaigne’s “On the Education of Children”, and to a lesser extent, Plutarch’s, “On Listening”. What I try to show by analyzing each of these texts is that they all deal with the problem of how does one form and transform the self through activities and exercises that are clearly pedagogical in nature. I use Foucault’s later work on ethics and sexuality as the framework through which to perform this analysis.
You are now the Director of Undergraduate Programs at Scranton. What is that like?
It’s certainly bitter sweet. It’s a heavily administrative role, though it is not one technically. The benefits are that I work with students as more of an advisor through their entire course of study, rather than only as their professor. Furthermore, it has given me the opportunity to learn more about the challenges facing the university, such as the creeping specter of online delivery, fiscal belt-tightening, or how we’re responding to current public and political pressure. In this way, I feel as if I have become more of a well rounded member of my university community. The downside is that it does take me away from the life of the mind. If you get wrapped up too completely in this type of work, you tend to believe that all the important educational questions are the ones that pop up on the surface of the here and now. I think that philosophy of education has been therapeutic in this regard for me in that I can still tend to what lies above and below this surface.
President Obama made his administration’s ‘Education Agenda’ a key part of his State of the Union address. Tell us, what do you think of the direction of innovation and reform the President outlines? What hopes and concerns do you have for the future of public education, and where do you see Philosophers playing a role?
One of the more striking things about President Obama’s statements on education, and his educational policies in general, is how recognizable they are, and just how easy it is to imagine the same things being said by the previous President or a sitting Republican governor. In this sense, it’s very disappointing, not so much because one should expect more from a Democratic President—I certainly don’t—but because the rhetoric from both political parties is such that we only have the one prevailing and dominant view of education, a view that is, in itself, both frightening and dehumanizing. The ethos of liberal education, of civic education, of the common and public school is completely absent from the discourse, and I can’t help but think that we should all be very worried when the minority party silently assents to what the party in power is trying to do. It seems to me, then, that there is a whole segment out there—citizens who are speaking out against Common Core, parents who are fighting for their children to have the right to opt-out of high stakes tests, those who question what is really happening when tech companies are pumping billions of dollars into public education—that have little to no political representation.
There is, of course, the standard view of philosophy, the one that states that philosophy from its very inception is about speaking truth to power, questioning the received and prevailing view of just about everything. I imagine that philosophers will continue to try and play this role. But I also very much like the conception of philosophy described by Foucault in his very last lecture at the College of France, a conception that he derives from the ancient Cynics. Here the philosopher is one that doesn’t simply speak the truth in order to critique the existing order of things, but instead lives the truth in such a way that their life bears the mark of a transgressive, other life that points the way to another world. In this way, the life of the philosopher is essentially pedagogical. The philosophy teacher is therefore not the one that we recognize today, that is, the one who teaches philosophical truths. Rather, the philosophy teacher is the teacher whose very life is such that it opens up a way for others to construct different lives, different schools, different worlds