Teaching Philosophy

Robert Najlis, Teaching Philosophy

My teaching is focused on diversity of thought, of practice, and of the individual participants. I have studied different disciplines, including artificial intelligence, cognitive science, in addition to the visual arts. I have lived in both Asia and Latin America, and speak both Chinese and Spanish. My father is from Nicaragua, and I have family there as well as other parts of Latin America. This experience not only helps me in communicating different points of view, but also in understanding people who find themselves in a different cultural environment or classroom.

In my own research I delve into artistic traditions from different cultures. In my teaching I share this knowledge as appropriate. For example, in a class on linear perspective, I might mention perspective systems from China or the Middle East. Artificial intelligence concepts can be introduced as a gateway to research in that area, or as a method for developing our own ability to try new and unfamiliar ideas and techniques. While this information can help to broaden students’ knowledge base, more importantly, it opens the dialogue to different cultural and research interests. This creates an environment where diverse backgrounds and interests are shared on equal grounds, creating a safer and more inclusive space for all.

I have worked with students from a wide range of backgrounds and ages, with diverse learning styles and needs. I try to understand the circumstances of each student and work with them individually while at the same time maintaining a cohesive group class experience. I encourage students to search for and develop their own interests, while also working to ensure that they receive a well-rounded education that will provide a strong foundation as they move forward in their work and their studies.

The act of drawing or painting is a practice of seeing, thinking and investigating, an emergent process that allows for transcendent discoveries, beginning with the physical process and growing far beyond:

the emergence of new knowledge is held in an image that has a direct relationship to my embodied experience of the place of the research. The image is pre-verbal in the sense that it involves multiple sensory responses in a particular moment. (Somerville, p. 212)

Listening plays a fundamental role in my teaching, critiquing, and mentoring. As students progress and develop their own ideas, it is crucial to approach their work with a lens that is not prejudiced by my own likes and dislikes. One needs to understand where the student is trying to go and to help them get there. As Paulo Freire noted:

Authentic education is not carried on by ‘A’ for ‘B’ or by ‘A’ about ‘B,’ but rather by ‘A’ with ‘B,’ mediated by the world – a world which impresses and challenges both parties, giving rise to views or opinions about it” (Freire, p. 93).

As a teacher, I can help to introduce students to ideas, but it is by assisting them in their investigation through methods such as object-based learning that together we can cultivate their use and understanding of such topics. The art world today is diverse and allows for many approaches to a wide range of questions. As an educator, my goal is to ensure that students develop a strong foundation from which they can continue to grow for a lifetime. As John Dewey noted: “education should derive its materials from present experience and should enable the learner to cope with the problems of the present and future” (Dewey, p. 77). I encourage students to be aware of multiple approaches and concepts to ensure that they will always be able to flourish, grow, and enjoy acts of discovery for themselves.

Dewey, J. (1997). Experience and education. New York, NY. Simon & Schuster.
Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herde
Somerville M (2008) “Waiting in the chaotic place of unknowing”: Articulating postmodern emergence. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 21(3): 209–220.