The Outlet: Ralph Cannizzaro

In this issue’s recurring segment that gives students an opportunity to learn more about the teachers they see every day, staffer Rachel Alexander interviews Philosophy teacher Ralph Cannizzaro.

1. Why did you decide to major in philosophy and then teach at the Bay?

I loved Philosophy with a passion. However, I did not teach it until many years later when Principal Neely, a long-time friend and my old roommate, asked me to teach at the Bay in 2005. In between, I was a circus performer, lived in different countries and was in business for myself for many years.

2. What is something that you wish you knew while you were in high school?

[I wish I knew] how important self-discipline and focus are.  You cannot have too much of it. You will need it to be successful in all areas of life.  The more of it you have, the greater your likelihood of success in everything you do.

3. What is a memorable moment you have had while teaching?

Every time the light of understanding shines in a student’s eyes; the moment they “get” or fully comprehend an idea of Plato or Aristotle, a logical fallacy or any challenging concept. Every time I receive a letter or email from a current or past student expressing gratitude for how much they learned in class or for the difference my class made in their life is amazing. For example, I received an email from a past student now in college who had taken two of my courses thanking me because had it not been for what he learned in my logic section, he would not have made it through a “weed out” Discrete Mathematics course for an Electrical Engineering major.

4. What is your favorite idea to teach in philosophy and why?

It is a three way tie: Plato’s Theory of Forms, the most important concept in the history of Western philosophy that addresses the still unsolved problem of the origin of universals; Immanuel Kant’s epistemological theory of how the mind acquires knowledge from sensory experience; and Thomas Kuhn’s concept of paradigms, our web of interpenetrating beliefs through which all our experiences are filtered such that the world we experience “out there” is really a subjective construct of our mind.

5. What is one piece of advice you would give to kids in high school?

[One piece of advice I would give to kids in high school is to] acquire as much self-discipline as you can. It takes very little discipline to do what you want to do, but great discipline to make yourself do what you don’t want to do, but which is necessary to succeed. Successful people can do that.

6.If you could have one superpower what would it be and why?

The power to get people to stop and think things through instead of reacting emotionally, to come from reason rather than emotion. Few people do. Everyone would be better off.

7. What is something your students have taught you?

[My students have taught me] to communicate more effectively to a wider array of mindsets.

8. Why is it important to have a strong moral conscience?

It is simple; you want to be treated fairly, honestly, morally and ethically. Doesn’t the other person deserve the same good deal, the same good treatment you want? Treat others how you want to be treated.

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