The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Philosophy of Education Part II

Today was another day with no work. After completing my application for the this year’s Illinois Teen Institute and working on updating my resume while applying for jobs and watching The X-Files, I figured it was high time to write up my revised philosophy of education. You may recall that I had posted my “official” philosophy (that was written as part of my course-work at the University of Illinois) back in the beginning of January. Since then, I have been jotting down notes and thoughts as they come to me, and I’ve decided to share what I have so far. It isn’t a totally polished document, but I would appreciate any insights or comments!

Who should teach and to whom should this teaching be directed?

A core element of my educational philosophy is summed up by the words of singer/song-writer Phil Collins: “In teaching we do learn, and in learning we do teach.” In this, I mean to say I believe everyone is a teacher at one point or another. We teach when we interact with others, but we also learn. I reject the notion that only professionally-trained men and women should teach, not only because it is silly, but also because it is impossible. We teach when we share our experiences with others, when we express our opinions, and even when we simply converse. What are we teaching in these informal settings? Well, that varies. It certainly isn’t a formal curriculum of education. We teach ideas and concepts without following a framework. There are two main components of omnipresent education: the informal and the formal.

As a professional educator, I recognise the value of and need for formal education. This need is not something that has been created by pedagogical elitists who wish to maintain their careers. This need is required for the functioning of our society. By having formal education we are better able to share and transmit our cultural values, as well accept and evaluate the values of others. Professional educators set standards one another and for those they teach. They learn, understands, and implement best practices, effective methodologies, and educational theories. They police themselves and they for professional development.

All nations would benefit from establishing nation-wide professional teaching standards and certification. Teachers in the United States are currently certified by individual states, with each state using a different certification method. This makes the mobility of teachers incredibly limited and the comparison of professional standards difficult to establish. By creating national standards and national certification, educators would be equipped to share ideas and methods across the country to improve the quality of education at all levels and in all places.

However, education cannot be provided only through formal settings. The average student in America spends seven hours in school five days a week. That means that, of the 168 hours in a week, students in the K-12 system are in school a mere 21% of the week, and that is only during the  roughly 36 weeks of the year that school is in session. I am not advocating for longer school days, nor am I advocating for a lengthened school year. I value the freedom that time off from school allows to develop extra-curricular interests and the spend time with family and friends. What I am advocating for is better use of time away from the classroom. This can best be utilised through informal teaching opportunities. The United Way of America has partnered with the Ad Council, Civitas and Families and Work Institute to create the Born Learning campaign, which seeks to make everyday moments teaching moments. This campaign focuses on taking advantage of informal teaching moments, especially between parents and young children. Parents are primarily responsible for the education of their children. Formal education system are meant to be a resource, not a replacement. Parents should take advantage of these resources, but also recognise that there are many opportunities to teach all around them.

I would like to note at this point that the best education provided when the process is a mutual one. Parents and professional educators can and should learn from their children and students while children and students are learning from parents and professional educators. The quality and quantity of teaching and learning will rarely be equal, but there should always be some exchange of ideas. Perhaps the only thing we will learn from one another is how not to do something. That is still learning, and that is still teaching. I once read that there are many who are ever learning, but never come to the knowledge of the truth. This is not the only option available. When we are teaching, we are helping others to become life-long learners who are indeed coming to the knowledge of the truth, again and again and again.

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2 responses

  1. A few things came to mind as I read through.

    I might suggest that, if this document is to be an official personal statement that you use in the job search process, you minimize or delete your opening point about informal teaching. It probably would not be an important factor in considering you for a job, and really the concept is amorphous. You might focus it by describing how a teacher might teach outside the classroom—but even then, is it the teacher’s responsibility to meet and teach outside the classroom? I think not.

    The value of and need for formal education is not in serious dispute among educators, is it?

    What do you say to those who argue that education in this country has less to do with the transmission and evaluation of values than with the preparation of a work force?

    Who should have the right to develop and implement best practices, methodologies, etc.—the profession or the individual teachers? It seems to me that less standardization of curriculum combined with teacher training that emphasizes innovation over “teaching to the test” will result in the kind of energized mutual education you envision.

    When making a point about policy such as you have about national standards and certification, as well as formalizing informal education, is your purpose to take a stand with or against your reader, and would you want to take such a stand with someone responsible for choosing you for employment if, by so doing, you alienated them in some way?

    Also, in the US “recognize” and “utilize” are spelled with a “z.”

    February 7, 2011 at 5:59 pm

    • I am going to attempt to respond to all of your comments, which were excellent.

      First, I would never use my philosophy of education as a part of my job searching. This is not meant to be a formal document so much as it is a personal treatise on what I think about education. It is partly inspired by the writings of Montessori, Rousseau, Dewey, Herbart, Loyola, and the other great educators in history.

      Second, this is going to be an ongoing series. Today I wanted to focus my thoughts on the question, “Who should teach?” I will get to the questions of how, what, where, when, and why at later points. Eventually I will synthesise all of these elements into a more concise document that will take the place of the document I shared earlier.

      I am not seeking to debate whether or not there is value to formal education, although I would say there are many who would. There is the oft-quoted statement by Mark Twain who said “I never let me schooling get in the way of my education” and the scores of parents who have shunned formal education provided by professionals to take the education process upon themselves by way of home schooling.

      Again, I will discuss the purpose of education more fully at a later date, although I’ve probably touched on it a time or two already.

      And yes, I know that the American spellings use the “z” instead of the “s”. American spellings also favour “-or” instead of “-our” and “-er” instead of “-re”, except, oddly, in the case of the word “theatre” – I’ve been using non-American English spellings since high school, and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. At least, not in my personal writings.

      February 7, 2011 at 8:16 pm

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