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

Philosophy of Education Part IV

There was no available work for me today, except for a few short-term assignments (a couple of hours in length) and an assignment that was available just after my wife left for work. Due to the fact that we have but one vehicle, she takes me to work then picks me up each day. So when there aren’t full-day assignments, there is simply no way for me to get to work in a timely manner. And so it is that I spent today taking care of a few minor projects, cleaning the house, and reading.

As is my new custom, I am going to take advantage of these non-work days to write about my educational philosophy. I want to emphasise that this is my own personal philosophy, and it is meant as a personal guide to explain why I do the things I do. I am curious to know if I do have a method to my madness. I believe I do, but I am learning as I go that there are many areas where I’ve never really examined my reasoning behind them. I also want to emphasise that I do not particularly expect others to adhere to my philosophical views, which have been shaped by a wide variety of educators, philosophers, religious leaders, laypersons, and just my own experiences. Thirdly, I am happy to provide an opinion on a particular topic, but I am in no way claiming the expert status on that topic unless specifically stated. Which is just a roundabout way of saying that we all have opinions and I am glad to share mine, but my opinions are mine and mine alone. Fourthly, there are many ways in which I believe the education system in general can be improved upon.

In the United States, we have a system of formal public education available to all without qualifications from about the ages of 4 to 18, give or take. My field focuses on the education of those between the ages of 5 and 14, with my personal interest more particularly in the narrow window of 8-11. The purpose of this public education will be discussed at a later date, but I would consider the most fundamental goal to be to provide students with the necessary skills and knowledge to further their education and to be ready to contribute to society in a meaningful way. (What is meant by meaningful contributions will be a key element to this future discussion.)

After high school, men and women are given many different options: they can enter a trade school, enroll in a community college (where the student will generally work toward earning an Associate’s Degree in two years), attend a university (so noted by its typical 4-year course of study that provides a Bachelor’s Degree and opportunities for graduate and post-graduate work), or they can enter the workforce immediately. There are also service opportunities available through public and private institutions. After entering the workforce, which is the expectation of all adults, there are continuing education opportunities through specific degree programs or classes that provide instruction and/or training on particular skills. The interesting thing is that there is never any reason for a member of our society to not be continually learning.

Which brings me to my focus today: just as I believe that we are all responsible for teaching in one way or another in all that we do, I also believe that we are all responsible for learning throughout our lives. Actually, I need to rephrase that. Just as we are all responsible for how we teach in one way or another in all that we do, so also are we all responsible for how we are learning throughout our lives. For me, there is no question that we are always teaching and always learning. Yes, I realise that there are those who would disagree with me. I consider this a great example of a personal philosophical approach to a subject. If I accept that everything I say and do when interacting with others is a form of teaching, then I need to be aware of what I am saying and doing so that I do not teach incorrectly. It is impossible to teach when alone. One must have another to be teaching.

However, learning can be done alone and should be done alone on a regular basis. At some point, we each need to be able to delve into a topic and drink deeply from it without the diluting influence of other opinions. Afterwards, we should share what we have learned with others. As we teach what we have learned, we will learn from them as they respond. This was perhaps one of the most difficult things for me to learn as an educator–I need to be willing to learn even as I am teaching. There are many educators who approach their craft as if their pupils are lacking knowledge, and it is the role of the educator to provide this knowledge, to fill the cup, as it were. I do not use this approach in my methodology. I believe that each and every single person in my sphere of influence has a wealth of knowledge that is waiting to be discovered. My responsibility is to help them discover what they know and add upon it. It is also my responsibility to discover for myself what they know, so that I can take what they know and add it to that which I already know. Despite what I have been known to say on numerous occasions, and always in jest, I don’t actually know everything. I am still learning day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. Sometimes I am simply learning how not to do something. Other times I am learning what I do not believe. Frequently I am learning that something I have heard is not actually a new belief, but actually a belief that has lain dormant within me. I am always learning more about the nuanced reality that is my human existence.

It is up to me how I will synthesise this learning into my own wealth of knowledge. This is my responsibility and my burden: to decide how I will learn, and what I will do with that knowledge. I believe this is true for everyone, although they may not agree with me. Interesting how that works. We accept the reality of the world in which we live, though, as Christof from The Truman Show put it. To apply this statement to my educational philosophy, I apply the reality of the world which I know to the world in which I live. A world in which I am always teaching and always learning.

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2 responses

  1. I propose that it is possible to teach when alone if one is of two minds on a point and those two minds enter into a dialogue. Also, if one addresses oneself vocally on some matter when alone–and actually pays attention to the mutterings, it might be said that one is learning from a teacher. I won’t go into multiple personalities because there may be simple logistical issues that keeps one personality from being present in the body/space when another is there; that said, however, one personality could leave mini-lessons on post-its for the other personalities to discover when they emerge. On a more serious note, we are aware of writing to learn strategies that make it possible for an individual to teach himself while alone through the medium of writing-discovery. Furthermore, the Spirit instructs in truth and is always best heard when alone. Please don’t take this points as refutations of your point, but simply as an exercise in pushing the envelope a little bit.

    Also, I find the word “opinion” distasteful after decades of hearing students hide behind it. I wonder if you might consider another word. Just asking.

    February 15, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    • For the purposes of my discussion/development of philosophy, I would consider “teaching oneself” the same thing as “self-learning.” Also, if one is learning from the Spirit, one is not actually alone.

      Concerning the usage of the word “opinion”, I find it to be the most appropriate word to use in this case. You are welcome to suggest an alternative, but as I am not hiding behind the word, not using it in an incorrect manner, I have trouble understanding why it is distasteful.

      February 16, 2011 at 5:15 pm

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