My Teaching Philosophy (General Paper)

“[T]he pre-eminent aim of education cannot be the learning of truths simpliciter, given fallibilism; it must rather be the learning of what we identify at a given time as true. That is, it is our best estimate of truth that is key – and that is what critical thinking is all about.” (Siegel, 2003, p. 4, emphases Siegel’s)

I situate my teaching philosophy within the contemporary post-truth climate in which trust in science and traditional institutions (e.g. the government, established news organisations, etc.) is increasingly undermined. Within this context, I stand with Siegel (2003) in holding that the fostering of skills and dispositions associated with critical thinking — not knowledge or true beliefs — is “educationally fundamental” (p. 2). In Siegel’s words,

“even if our fundamental epistemic aim is true belief, our inability to acquire it directly requires that we pursue it by way of critical thinking/evidential reasoning, and it is therefore the latter which is the proper (epistemic) focus of education.” (ibid., p. 4)

This dovetails with a central guiding tenet in the GP Teaching and Learning syllabus (MOE, 2021) — critical and inventive thinking. Specifically, Siegel’s ideas align with the GP syllabus’ aim to develop students who can “suspend judgment, reassess conclusions and consider alternatives to refine his or her thoughts, attitudes, behaviour and actions” (ibid., p. 11). To that end, the lessons that I design will invariably invite students to collaborate and consider disparate perspectives, frequently engaging with views that they may disagree with. For a practical guide for teaching in a post-truth environment, I also refer to Barzilai and Chinn (2020).

Additionally, these classroom discussions will set the critical context for my students to acquire and master the skills they need to excel in the GP examinations. For instance, discussions of topics in applied ethics like animal rights or genetic engineering will be introduced within a series of lessons aimed at inculcating effective reading strategies through instructional frameworks like the Directed Reading and Thinking Activity (DRTA). This deliberate integration of skills and content will provide students with opportunities to debate contentious issues and foster their critical thinking while also remaining focussed on developing examination skills.

In terms of classroom practices, my insistence on pair and group discussions in GP is motivated by Vygotsky’s (1978) social-constructivist view that students can learn richly from one another through the co-construction of meaning and knowledge. In addition, there will also be a steadfast commitment to seeking and clarifying the rationale behind my students’ responses instead of evaluating their responses at face value. Probing students to make their thought processes explicit makes it easier for me to examine their reasoning process and provide feedback or point out logical inconsistencies.

More importantly, these opportunities for rigorous, interdisciplinary discussions and the imparting of critical thinking skills contribute to my broader goal of elevating social discourse through the teaching of GP. For me, the knowledge, skills, and values taught in GP should not be exalted as ends in themselves; rather, they should be instrumental in helping to mould my students to become “well-informed and critically autonomous citizens” (Polizzi, 2020, p. 1). After all, just as Friere (1998) reminds us that all teaching is political and never neutral, I hold that GP is a discipline that has the potential to enable a critically engaged citizenry essential for the proper functioning of democracy.

December 2022.


Barzilai, S., & Chinn, C. (2020). “A review of educational responses to the “post-truth” condition: Four lenses on “post-truth” problems.” Educational Psychologist, 55(3), pp. 107–119.

Friere, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Ministry of Education (MOE). (2021). General Paper Teaching and Learning Syllabus. Curriculum Planning and Development Division, Ministry of Education, Singapore.

Polizzi, G. (2020). “Information literacy in the digital age: Why critical digital literacy matters for democracy.” In Goldstein, S. (Ed.) Informed societies: Why information literacy matters for citizenship, participation, and democracy. Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–23.

Siegel, H. (2003). “Truth, thinking, testimony and trust: Alvin Goldman on epistemology and education.” OSSA Conference Archive, Paper 82.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. (M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, Trans.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Featured image by Hulki Okan Tabak on Unsplash.

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