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How Do You Teach Enlightenment? The Wrightian Method

Enlightenment is the use of resolve, courage, and intellect to think for one’s self. Not everyone reaches enlightenment, but bringing students to this cognitive destination should be the goal of teachers. This raises the question: How do you teach enlightenment? One answer is ...

Published onJul 13, 2010
How Do You Teach Enlightenment? The Wrightian Method


Enlightenment is the use of resolve, courage, and intellect to think for one’s self. Not everyone reaches enlightenment, but bringing students to this cognitive destination should be the goal of teachers. This raises the question: How do you teach enlightenment? One answer is the Wrightian method. This philosophy and practice of teaching holds that when students are provided freedom, treated equally, and given support, then their resolve and courage increase and, in turn, so too does the chance of enlightenment. In Kant’s famous essay, What is Enlightenment?, he provides theoretical reasons for why the Wrightian method works. In turn, this paper defines enlightenment, describes the key parts of the Wrightian method, examines Kant’s theory, and concludes by discussing their practical implications for teaching students enlightenment.

Note: This is the version-of-record.


Enlightenment is not simply the process of gaining knowledge. It is not found in a book, class lecture, comprehensive examination, or dissertation defense. Enlightenment is not signified with a degree or job title, no matter how high or from which school.

Enlightenment is the human being’s emancipation from its self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to make use of one’s intellect without the direction of another. This immaturity is self-incurred when its cause does not lie in a lack of intellect, but rather in a lack of resolve and courage to make use of one’s intellect without the direction of another. “Sapere aude! Have the courage to make use of your own intellect!” is hence the motto of enlightenment. (Kant, [1784] 2006: 17, emphasis altered)

The Wrightian method is a teaching philosophy and practice that leads to students’ enlightenment. This strategy is meant to help students build the resolve and courage required to direct their own intellect. Resolve and courage are not improved through control and hierarchy. Just the opposite. Freedom, equality, and support – those are the keys to the door of enlightenment. It flourishes when teachers give students the freedom to explore their own interests, treat them as colleagues, and aid them when needed. This is the formula of the Wrightian method for teaching enlightenment.

Interesting enough, Kant ([1784] 2006) explains the virtues of the Wrightian method in his famous essay, What is Enlightenment? His theory provides reasons for why the Wrightian method is a teaching style that expedites enlightenment. In other words, Kant explains why teachers supplying their students with freedom and equality leads them to obtain resolve, courage, and, in turn, enlightenment. What Kant does not discuss, however, is the power of support – a key to the Wrightian method.

This paper begins by presenting Kant’s definition of enlightenment. Then the paper describes the fundamental principles of the Wrightian method. That is followed by examining Kant’s theory of enlightenment and its similarities to and differences from the Wrightian method. The conclusion provides practical suggestions for how teachers may employ this teaching philosophy to foster enlightenment among students.

Kant’s definition of enlightenment

More than 200 years ago, the philosopher Immanuel Kant ([1784] 2006) proposed an answer to the question: What is enlightenment? This section describes and discusses Kant’s ([1784] 2006) definition of enlightenment.1

As seen in the introduction to this paper, there are three key definitions that prescribe exactly what enlightenment “is”:

  • Enlightenment is the human being’s emancipation from its self-incurred immaturity.

  • Immaturity is the inability to make use of one’s intellect without the direction of another.

  • Immaturity is self-incurred when its cause does not lie in a lack of intellect, but rather in a lack of resolve and courage to make use of one’s intellect without the direction of another. (emphasis altered, p. 17)

Taken together, these three definitions suggest enlightenment is when a person uses resolve and courage to use her or his intellect without the direction of others.

The goal of teachers should to be help students reach enlightenment.  This raises the question: How do you teach enlightenment?

The Wrightian method of teaching

Enlightenment is not easy to obtain. Not all people do. One path to enlightenment is the Wrightian method. This philosophy and practice of teaching is nested in the belief that students are more likely to be enlightened and achieve broader success when teachers adhere to three inter-related principles:

  • Allow students to find and pursue their own interests.

  • Treat students as equals.

  • Support students when they need or request help.

This method of teaching is named after Richard Wright of the University of Missouri – St. Louis. He embodies the idea that teachers should give students freedom, treat them equally, and help them so they may become enlightened and obtain success.2

Freedom is the ability to do what one wants. It is the absence of control. By allowing students to investigate the topic most intriguing to them, students develop the resolve and courage necessary to become enlightened. Freedom leads to this by forcing students to find their own way. “Sink or swim”, the saying goes. Freedom comes with a great responsibility – personal accountability. Freedom might be considered having just enough rope to hang one’s self. Those who must think their own thoughts and direct their own action are forced to use resolve and courage. Therefore, teachers who give students the freedom to pursue their own interests are facilitating enlightenment.

Equality is treating people the same. It is the absence of discrimination. Equality gets rid of excuses and thereby increases resolve and courage – personal determination. You alone are ultimately responsible for your outcome – failure or success, immaturity or enlightenment. Equality encourages enlightenment by making the playing field fair. When the game is fair, people can be sure their ability determines their success. When equal opportunity and controls prevail, there is no one to blame other than one’s self. Equality is a condition without a public scapegoat – such as police, teachers, neighbors, or parents – to blame for individuals’ failure.  To avoid personal failure, people try harder and become more accountable for their actions and success. In this way, equality increases the resolve and courage it takes to achieve enlightenment.

Support is providing people with help. It is the opposite of opposition. Support builds resolve and courage by letting students know they are not alone. It is easier to walk toward enlightenment – to study, research and write for hours and hours on end – when there is financial stability, an ear to complain to and confide in, or a sounding board with knowledge and curiosity. A student without support is analogous to a plant without water. Support creates a responsibility beyond the individual. Public responsibility is a person’s duty to make people proud who have been supportive. Public responsibility increases as people gain support and, in turn, this increases their resolve and courage to succeed. For these reasons, teachers’ support of students is a key ingredient in creating enlightenment.

When teachers provide students with freedom, equality, and support, they are more likely to become enlightened. This is the premise of the Wrightian method.

Kant’s theory of enlightenment

Kant ([1784] 2006) defines enlightenment, but he also theorizes about the conditions that harbor it (also see Foucault, 1984). This theory provides insights into why the Wrightian method is a way to teach enlightenment. The following pages describe Kant’s theory of enlightenment and its congruence with the Wrightian method.

The cause of immaturity

Kant suggests two reasons why immaturity – meaning the absence of enlightenment – persists: idleness and cowardice. Idleness is easier than work. Cowardice is easier than courage. It is as simple as that (p. 17). Some students are experts in idleness and fear anything new. Yet enlightenment cannot be obtained without resolve and courage: to read articles and books; to work every day; to talk with your professors and peers; to speak up in class; to write something entirely new; to send papers and applications out for review.

Idleness and cowardice may come from a fear of failure. The problem with this fear is it kills success.  “[A]fter falling a few times, eventually [people] learn to walk alone; but one such example makes them timid and generally deters them from all further attempts” (p. 18). In other words, success requires multiple failures. Enlightenment cannot be obtained without first experiencing failure. Enlightenment requires a failure to fear: to read things you do not understand; to disagree with your professors and peers; to incorrectly answer questions in class; to write something not only new but also potentially wrong; to receive a rejection letter – many, many times.

The effect of guardians on enlightenment

Persons who are immature have “guardians” (p. 17). These are people who use their intellect to direct the intellect of others. Examples of guardians include pastors, physicians, parents, and bosses. Teachers are guardians.

The key actors in Kant’s theory of enlightenment are guardians and the immature. Guardians can give the immature the opportunity to obtain enlightenment – “nothing but freedom is required” (p. 18). Recall that freedom is fundamental to the Wrightian method. Absolute freedom is not necessary. Anarchy does not need to occur. Limits on freedom are ubiquitous, but not all limits restrain enlightenment. Some limits may even promote the resolve and courage to think for one’s self. Kant (p. 19) addresses the question: Which limits are facilitators or hindrances of enlightenment? The answer is important because it has implications for how determining how best to bring students to enlightenment.

Kant addresses that question by examining the two forms of reasoning: public and private. Public reasoning is “the kind of use that one makes thereof as a scholar before the reading world” (p. 19). In other words, pubic reasoning is the making and sharing of ideas based on prior study and experience. On the other hand, private reasoning is the “use that one may make of it in a civil post or office with which one is entrusted” (p. 19). Said differently, private reasoning is using one’s intellect to follow orders – i.e., pursue the goals of a leader. Almost everyone must obey from time to time.

If enlightenment is the goal, then public and private reasoning should be controlled differently. Kant believes “the public use of one’s reason must be free at all times, and this alone can bring about enlightenment among humans” (p. 19). On the other hand, “the private use of one’s reason may often, however, be highly restricted without thereby especially impeding the progress of enlightenment” (p. 19). The restriction of private reasoning is necessary for the following reason:

For many affairs that serve the interests of the [group] a certain mechanism is required, by means of which some members of the [group] must play only a passive role, so that they can be led by the [leaders] in the pursuit of [collective] ends by means of an artificial unanimity, or at least be kept from undermining these ends. In these cases, of course, one may not argue, but rather must obey (p. 19, changes to quote made in brackets).

The nature of life is that public and private reasoning intermingle. Kant argues that although persons should obey orders in private life (i.e., when working for someone else), they should also be allowed to share ideas about their orders in public life. To better understand this idea, consider an example of public freedom and private limitations on reasoning:

It would … be very harmful if an officer who receives orders from his superiors were to publicly question the expediency or usefulness of his orders; he must obey. He cannot, however, justifiably be barred from making comments, as a scholar, on the mistakes in the military service and submitting these remarks to judgment by the public. (p. 19)

For those who have not served in the military, a more common occurrence may further illustrate Kant’s argument:

A citizen cannot refuse to pay the taxes which are required of him…. Regardless of this, the same citizen does not contravene his civic duty if he publicly expresses, as a scholar, his thoughts against the impropriety or even injustice of such levies. (p. 19)

The differential control of public and private reasoning has direct implications for teachers, students, and freedom in lectures:

[T]he use that an employed teacher makes of his reason before his [class] is merely a private use thereof: because this is always merely a domestic assembly of persons, however large it may be. And in this view he is not free as a [teacher]…because he is acting on a commission that comes from outside. As a scholar, on the other hand, who, through writings, addresses the true public, namely, the entire world, the [teacher], when making public use of his reason, enjoys unrestricted freedom in making use of his reason and in speaking from his own person. (p. 20, changes to quote made in brackets)

In other words, teachers should teach what they are told to teach (e.g., a particular class such as methods versus theory), but they may express their learned opinion about the subject matter. This public reasoning may be done in class (given it is within the bounds of one’s orders) or by talking with colleagues, writing papers, or through other tools of expression.

As relates to limiting the reasoning of students, Kant’s theory suggests the rules they follow should reflect their teachers’ rules. Recall that equality is fundamental to the Wrightian method. Students should more or less do whatever assignment they are told to do (e.g., read a paper or write one), but they may share their informed opinion about the order – what is being worked on. This public reasoning may be done in or outside of class, so long as it does not conflict with orders.

Teachers, however, cannot teach in a way that confines enlightenment, especially if the motivation is keeping their power and status. Recall that both freedom and equality are fundamental to the Wrightian method. As thought by Kant:

One generation cannot form an alliance and conspire to put a subsequent generation in such a position in which it would be impossible for the latter to expand its knowledge (particularly where such knowledge is so vital), to rid this knowledge of errors, and, more generally, to proceed along the path of enlightenment. That would be a violation of human nature, the original vocation of which consists precisely in this progress; and the descendants are thus perfectly entitled to reject those resolutions as having been made in an unjust and criminal way. (p. 20)

What Kant is saying here is that teachers must not rig the game with rules that make it impossible for the newer generation to rise and gain enlightenment. It is better to give students freedom and equality than make them obey orders because the former facilitates enlightenment.

The rules of the game should always be determined with an eye to lex talionis. If rules follow the ethic to treat others how you would want to be treated, then enlightenment is more likely. Recall that equality is fundamental to the Wrightian method. Kant makes clear why this is important:

The touchstone of anything that can serve as a law over a people lies in the question: whether a people could impose a law on itself…. A human being can postpone enlightenment for his own person, and even then only for a short time, with regard to that which is his responsibility to know. But to renounce it for his own person, and still more for his descendants, amounts to violation the sacred rights of humanity and to trample them under foot. (p. 21)

Kant here is illuminating how teaching can affect the enlightenment of students by getting in the way of students – opposing rather than helping them. It only makes sense that if teachers realize they learn the most when left alone to do their research, then it might be best to leave students to do theirs.  Equality between teachers and students increases their enlightenment. “Caesar non est supra grammaticos” (p. 21).3

What Kant forgot and the irony of enlightenment

Freedom and equality are free, but providing help takes time, feedback, and money. Recall that support is fundamental to the Wrightian method. The enlightenment of students requires the support of teachers. It is the one aspect of this teaching philosophy that costs resources. It accounts for all of the expense.

Support may be given in the form of comments on papers, conducting research together, or time spent talking about ideas. Support may also cost money – lots of it. Often students do not realize how expensive they can be for parents, much less a professor, department or school. If you consider salary and tuition fees, many PhDs in criminology cost more than $100,000. Those teachers who can afford to sometimes use their research funds to pay students for work so they may become enlightened.

Kant does not discuss guardians’ support of the immature and its role in their enlightenment. What explains this omission? I propose he forgot. Support is too important a factor to intentionally leave out.

Kant almost hits upon the importance of support but does not fully draw out the implications of his analogy quoted above: “after falling a few times, [people] eventually learn to walk alone” (p. 18). This analogy implies that walking in the first place requires support – someone holding you up, providing balance. Thus, Kant subconsciously realizes – and probably takes for granted and so fails to properly theorize – that support increases the resolve and courage it takes to intellectually walk alone.

Support is a necessary, absolutely vital part of the Wrightian method. Support is a key to enlightenment because resolve and courage cannot be obtained without help. No person has always stood alone; those who did died quickly, and probably never stood in the first place. The truth and irony of enlightenment – daring to think for one’s self – is it requires support from others.

Support builds resolve and courage by letting students know they are not alone. Support gives people a base to build on. It is comforting to know there are people on your side that will help you when needed – give you a shoulder to lean on. Courage is built from a safety net of support. Resolve comes from an increase in accountability – not only to one’s self, but also to those who have helped. When there is a foundation made of teachers’ support, students are more likely to gain the tools of resolve and courage to construct their own intellectual home.

Support is too important to forget. It is a key part of teaching enlightenment and fundamental to the Wrightian method.


This paper has hoped to make two major points: (1) Enlightenment is the ability of a person to muster resolve and courage to use one’s own intellect (Kant [1784] 2006). It is a cognitive destination – a philosophy of life – with practical implications. Teachers should have the goal of helping their students obtain enlightenment. (2) The best way to “teach” enlightenment is for teachers to give students freedom, equality, and support.

Kant ([1784] 2006) provides a theory for why equality and freedom bring forth enlightenment. What he does not suggest is that support affects enlightenment. This paper suggests that support is a key to teaching enlightenment because otherwise freedom and equality go wasted. There would be no foundation to build on. Thinking for one’s self requires support from others. That is the irony of enlightenment.

The irony of teaching enlightenment – helping students think for themselves – is it makes teaching less important. To be enlightened is to no longer need the teacher. It is to become one. The goal of teaching should always be to make mature teachers. How do you teach people resolve, courage, and enlightenment? The Wrightian method. Freedom. Equality. Support.

Practical implications for teaching

The Wrightian method is important for both academic and practical reasons because this theory of knowledge may be used as a tool for creating enlightenment. This raises the question: What practical implications for teaching can be deduced from the philosophy that is the Wrightian method? The answer to this question depends on whether the teaching is “in” or “outside” the class.  

In the class

As relates to teaching classes, the Wrightian method suggests standardized tests are less useful than papers and presentations. Standardized tests force students to learn certain things. Papers and presentations allow students to learn and teach things. Within the bounds of a particular curricular context (e.g., a course on theory versus method, or qualitative versus quantitative research), students should be encouraged to study, write about, and present papers on whatever topic most interests them. This achieves both freedom and equality by letting everyone examine what interests them.

Of course the number of students in a class affects the strategy for evaluating and grading students. A reasonable rule of thumb for the Wrightian method is that as the size of a class decreases, (1) the length of papers and presentations required of each student should increase, but (2) the number of required papers and presentations should decrease. As an example, a class of 20 students may be asked to write and present two 20 page papers (a total of 800 pages for a teacher to examine), whereas a class of 100 students may be asked to write and present 8 papers of 1 page each throughout the semester (also a total of 800 pages for a teacher to examine).  Throughout the term of each class, as much support as possible should be given to all students, especially those who request or need it.

The goal of these papers is to have students use their resolve and courage to pick a topic to write on, learn and write about it, and discuss not only what others think but also what they think. A key to teaching writing during lectures is to break down papers and presentations into their fundamental parts: an introduction about the importance of the topic; a description of current knowledge about the topic; an explanation of the method used to explore the topic in the current paper; the findings; and what should come next. Once students are shown and realize that practically every published paper and conference presentation follows this format, then students will have a better idea of what to do in their own papers and how to evaluate others. This ability increases courage and resolve to read, write, and research – to eventually reach enlightenment.

Papers should be graded based on the authors’ ability to express their own thoughts on the topic examined. If students demonstrate the ability to pick a topic, gather knowledge about it, and share their learned opinion of it, then they deserve a high grade. High grades are a kind of support – teachers’ confirmation that students’ work is good. Students who do not adequately pick their own topic, research it, or disseminate their ideas about it should be given the help they need to fix these problems and deliver them from immaturity.

Also, the Wrightian method suggests you should never give the same class lecture twice. There are many classic books that have resulted from teaching a course. The responsibilities of teaching and publishing may be treated as synergetic opportunities. Each class lecture may be used to teach students about the most integral or cutting edge theory and research, some of which may be the teacher’s own. Teach and show students how to build and disseminate knowledge – one lecture at a time. This is a form of support. It also increases equality by revealing to students the most basic rules of the game when it comes to disseminating one’s own thoughts. In this way, teachers help students to learn the rules so they may be free to study what interests them and express their public opinion.

Outside the class

Teaching enlightenment outside the class is a different matter. “Outside the class” does not simply refer to a student and teacher talking about their class during “office hours.” Teaching outside the class is the process of helping students, however passively or actively, to do research.

Research is the accumulation of data and analysis of it. Examples include administering surveys, entering data into a spreadsheet, or statistically analyzing it. Research may also involve asking active offenders, such as drug dealers, to do interviews and talk about their crimes, and using that qualitative data to construct concepts and theories. Thus, research outside the class is a quantitative and qualitative variable – it varies in size and form.

The goal of teaching outside the class should be to give students the freedom, equality, and support it takes to obtain and analyze data that interests them. To be truly enlightened, one needs to learn how to find knowledge for one’s self. Enlightenment requires not only intellect but also the motivation to design, implement, and learn from a study. The resolve and courage necessary to conduct research may be increased through freedom, equality, and support.

 The Wrightian method suggests that students should be allowed to study whatever they want by using any viable methodology they choose. Do not ask students to do what they may not ask of you, such as to make photocopies or collect books at the library. Be their colleague, not their boss. These are ways of providing freedom and equality. They increase resolve and courage because students realize their intuition, vision, and skills are the sole determinant of their success, rather than control or discrimination. This increases personal accountability and determination.

Support can never be forgotten. Help comes in different forms and quantities. Some students need more or different kinds of assistance than others. Teaching outside the class requires the recognition that not all students need the same kind or amount of support. Yet when students do require help, either because the situation calls for it or the student asks for it, then help should be given. Support may come in the form of time, feedback, or money. Teachers should give students as much money, time, and feedback as they can afford to supply. Teachers’ support of students’ research does more than rid them of excuses.

Helping people gives them public responsibility – the duty to make others proud. When students are given more support, their public responsibility grows greater. The motivation to make supporters proud calls forth in people the resolve and courage necessary to reach enlightenment and succeed. For this reason, the amount of support provided outside the class by teachers to students should be maximized to the degree necessary to help them think for themselves.


Give students freedom. Give them equality. Give them support. That is how to teach enlightenment. The Wrightian method.


Foucault, Michel. 1984. What is Enlightenment? Pp. 32-50 in The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rainbow. New York: Pantheon Books.

Kant, Immanuel (translated by David L. Colclasure). [1784] 2006. What is Enlightenment? Pp. 17-23 in Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings, ed. Pauline Kleingeld. New York: Princeton University Press.

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