James Stillwaggon, Ph.D.

Motivating Students To Take On New Ideas

James Stillwaggon, Ph.D. Picture

Iona logo An inspiring teacher and thoughtfully ardent writer, philosophy professor James Stillwaggon, Ph.D., has led a long career of motivating students to take on new ideas and challenge their perspectives on the bigger questions in life. Though he completed the majority of his college credits at the Hoger Instituut Wijsbegeerte at the University of Leuven (Belgium), this native of Point Lookout, N.Y., earned his bachelor’s in philosophy from Loyola College, and a Ph.D. that was a joint effort between Teachers College and Columbia University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

As a college senior, Dr. Stillwaggon was inspired to join the Peace Corps, but after learning that only business majors were being recruited at his school that year, he was disappointed, but not discouraged. Fearless and determined, he took the advice of a neighbor, who encouraged him to look into Teach For America (TFA), where he went on to serve for two years in North Carolina communities inflicted by social and economic inequities. It was here that James was most hard hit by the influences that dictate what is and isn’t possible for such groups in our society.

“Perhaps the greatest work that TFA has done in this country has been the education it has provided to corps members like myself, who return home to their relatively privileged communities with a story about poverty that is unrecognizable to their families and peers. All of my interests can be traced back to my first struggles to become a teacher and to be responsible to the students I served.”

Of greatest pride to Dr. Stillwaggon are the grants he has earned, such as the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Grant and the Thomas Paine Archives Research Grant, both of which allowed him to create research and publishing opportunities for students. Most recently, he presented his paper, "The Queerness of the Child: Edelman, Leclaire, and Blade Runner,” at the New England Philosophy of Education Society, at Tufts University, where he used the films Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 as illustrations of contemporary views of childhood, arguing that the idea of the child serves to interrupt our faith in progress and technological advancement.

Originally brought to Iona to rewrite and lead courses in the Education department, Dr. Stillwaggon recalls choosing Iona for its commitment to the philosophical study of education and childhood as part of its teacher preparation. Now at Iona for over a decade, he is most proud of students approaching him with questions that extend beyond the classroom. He states, “If they think that I know something about life as a result of reading all these books, and they are encouraged by that belief to read on, then my work is accomplished.”

Currently working with a colleague from the English department on developing an Integrated Core Theme (ICT) in Childhood Studies, including a standalone philosophy course on childhood and its place in adult life, Dr. Stillwaggon advises students to embrace the freedom to elicit new ideas and change your mind, without feeling like you need to commit to something for the rest of your life.

“Allow yourself to be won over by whatever you are reading at the moment, knowing that it will only help you to be both more critical and more generous to new people and new ideas in the future. Write a letter to your family and tell them in advance: ‘Look, I'm going to change over the next few years in ways that you can't even imagine, and you might not always like, but I'm always going to love you and I'm always going to come home.’"

Move the World: Stories