**Personal Philosophy of Education**
As teachers and other professionals in education, we all develop a philosophy of education that describes what we believe the learning process is and how instruction can promote the learning process. Our philosophies of education are influenced by our own educational experiences, the learning theories that we have studied in our education programs, and our experiences as teachers in the classroom or in other positions.
1. Write post that describes your personal philosophy of education. Support your personal philosophy of education with evidence from your own educational experiences and at least two learning theories described in Chapter 7. How do you think people learn and what components in the curriculum support students’ learning What were effective strategies that you experienced in your educational career You can refer to Figure 7.1 on p. 195 of your text for an example of a philosophy of education.
2. In the section “Understanding and Using Evidence” see the chart, “Changing Values”, on p. 215 in Chapter 7 of your text, Introduction to Teaching, addresses how values in American culture have changed from 1950 to 1990. Identify two values that are currently affecting American Society (they can be from the list on p. 215 or other ones that you think are important). How have historical events and/or mass media affected the values that you chose What impact do these two values have on your professional career How might these values affect what we believe about education and how we implement education
HOW DO TEACHERS DEVELOP PERSONAL PHILOSOPHIES TOWARD TEACHINGAND LEARNING
Heather Cyra, the teacher interviewed at the beginning of this chapter, was required to write multiple statements of her philosophicalperspective toward teaching and learning during her education course work.
Formulating a philosophical perspective on teaching and learning gives you a chance to reflect on what you want to become. And thenwhen you become a teacher you can look back on what you wrote and make sure that you are not being a hypocrite. I find myself reflectingon my experiences as a learner and who were the teachers who had the greatest influence on me, and who were the teachers I mostadmired and wanted to learn from and try to be like.
Everyone operates from a personal philosophy. We know what makes sense to us, what is important, and what is good. When you becomea teacher you take your personal vision of the world into the classroom with you. This personal vision affects everything you do in yourclassroom and with your students. It is necessary to understand your philosophical perspectives so that you can understand and reflect onwhat you are doing and why you are doing it. Teachers who do not know or understand themselves can be of little service to the studentsin their classrooms. Or as Confucius put it, “What has one who is not able to govern himself to do with governing others ”
Video Link 7.1
Watch a video about personal teaching philosophy.
Developing a Personal Philosophy of Teaching
An educational philosophy consists of the beliefs and principles that guide teaching and learning practices. Teacher education candidatesare usually asked to draft a statement that organizes their thinking about how students learn and how teachers should teach. Revisiting thisoriginal philosophy statement over time throughout your program is one way you can keep track of your growth as a professional. As youacquire more wisdom and encounter new ideas you will develop new attitudes and opinions that will cause changes to your personalphilosophy. Understanding can be achieved only through an examination of what you have learned about teaching and learning and howwell you are able to articulate your perspectives. Figure 7.1 provides an example of one teacher’s effort to identify a philosophicalperspective on teaching.
I know an English composition teacher who requires students to attach all previous drafts of a composition to the final copy that is beingsubmitted. This allows the teacher to evaluate students’ growth in writing ability and also to see whether students have incorporated orlearned from the teacher’s editorial comments. The final packets can be rather substantial, but they do represent effort and the process ofcoming to a final, publishable paper. Keeping copies of your original and subsequent philosophy statements will provide you with a graphicrepresentation of the changes in your thinking as you become more knowledgeable about teaching.
Whether it’s fair or not, you will be expected to do the same job on your first day of work as a veteran of five or 10 years. Logically, thisdoesn’t seem possible, but who can argue with the fact that the children in your classroom deserve no less than the children in Mrs. Z’sroom who has been teaching for 20 years. Beginning teachers may react to this dilemma by performing certain actions that make themappear capable of keeping up with the more experienced teachers, even when those actions don’t exactly mesh with their own personalphilosophy of teaching. Nothing can be more exhausting than maintaining a false front or upholding the assumptions of others. Ideas needtime to percolate in the reality of full-time teaching.
Dr. Mark Bailey of Pacific University School of Education (2003) offers eight critical dimensions of an educational philosophy. In order tobuild an educational philosophy, Bailey poses the following questions for teacher education candidates to consider.
1. What is knowledge and understanding
2. What is worth knowing
3. What does it mean to learn
4. How do you know that learning has taken place
5. What should be the role of a teacher
6. What should be the role of the student
7. What is the ultimate purpose of education
8. What are your core educational values
Respond to these questions when creating your personal philosophy of teaching statement. During your teacher education course work,reread your personal philosophy and revise it according to any changes in your philosophical perspective. If you are in a practice teachingsituation, examine how your philosophy of teaching is enacting through your teaching behaviors.
There are always more questions than answers in life, but as your answers to the above questions begin to take shape, your idea of whoyou will be as a teacher will fall into place. You will also begin to understand the many ways your opinions can shape your teachingbehavior and practice. Having a firm belief regarding your place in the teaching profession will provide you a solid foundation from whichto try out new ideas—something teachers are always challenged to do. Advice from experts to anyone attempting to cross a rushing streamon rocks is to make sure your footing is secure before taking the next step. Believe it or not, sometimes classrooms can resemble rushingstreams.
The Influence of Stories in Building a Personal Philosophy of Teaching
There are defining moments in everyone’s life. We tell stories about them. Stories are powerful. We all remember a good story whethertrue or not. Stories can alter our perception of things. That’s one reason the news media and television are so powerful. The stories wehear and tell can frighten us or evoke courage. Sooner or later the stories we tell about our lives become our lives. We can make the storieswe tell about our lives healthy or destructive. The choice is ours. Stories provide us with ideas, actions, and tools for working toward goals.Stories are what Robert Coles refers to as “reservoirs of wisdom” (Coles, 1989, p. xii).
Many of the professors where you are preparing to be a teacher have been classroom teachers or still are. They may work in classrooms,serve as mentors for new teachers, or work with teachers in professional development seminars. They have had the benefit of experienceto help them mold their philosophies of teaching. They have no doubt kept track of their professorial careers through portfolios and tenureand promotion files. Talk to them about the defining teaching moments in their lives that helped them construct a specific approach toteaching. Teaching is a people profession. People like to talk and tell stories about their lives.
Researchers and writers have looked at teachers and listened to their stories of teaching to unravel the mysteries of the profession(Lieberman & Miller, 1984; Lortie, 1977). Clark and Peterson (1986) listened to teachers talk about planning. They then mapped theirstories into flowcharts for new generations of teachers to follow and learn from. Ester Wright (1999) says, “There is a moment when thestruggle to master an activity or subject ceases and the action becomes familiar and regimented. Teaching is hundreds of such moments,strung together to create a career” (p. 11). As you try out your ideas, you will become more familiar and therefore comfortable with whatworks in a variety of contexts. You are fortunate to be learning to teach in this period of time. Life is full of choices, and many of thosechoices add depth and breadth to your ultimate practice in the classroom. What happens in classrooms will continue to accommodateevolving ideas and trends about which learning is of most worth.
Figure 7.1 A Personal Philosophy Example
Prior to completing this assignment, I had not given much thought to my own teaching philosophy nor taken a reflective analysis ofmyself as a teacher. Because I have only been in the classroom for five months, I feel like I am just now “getting it” and discoveringthe type of teacher I am and want to be. Just like our students, the diversity among teachers guides each individual classroom. Thevalues that I hold with high importance will be displayed throughout my instruction, regardless of curriculum. In my initial teachingexperience, I have held an eclecticism viewpoint due to gathering as many resources and as much advice from peers as possible.However, as a scientist, I also strongly relate to the experimentalism philosophy and always try to incorporate an element ofdiscovery for my students.
Experimentalism draws from the notion that we are constantly adapting our viewpoints and collaborating with one another to makediscoveries (Kurtus, 2001). As a science teacher, this is an idea I am constantly trying to promote with my students. Science is alwayschanging and with this change comes the opportunity to make discoveries and collaborate with peers to find answers. I believeexperimentalism closely connects with science in a way that other philosophies do not. Existentialism and realism promote moreabstract and individualized viewpoints, in my opinion.
With increasing advances in technology and communication, scientists are able to experiment and collaborate with peers easier thanever before. As I try to incorporate an integration of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) into my curriculum, Ipromote student-centered learning and self-discovery for my students. The research has shown that true understanding of conceptscomes from individual internalization rather than oral or written reception of material. In my recent science methods class, myprofessor discussed her “three touch method” with instruction. She pulls out the main concepts and subconcepts from thecurriculum documents and plans to instruct on each topic at least three times and with three different styles (verbal, written,kinesthetic, etc.). This is a practice I have started to integrate into my lesson planning. Taking curriculum documents and pulling outthe main concepts that unite all objectives from within a unit is a necessary skill that helps connect all parts of my instruction back tothe original goal.
Experimentalism also connects to the scientific inquiry process. Student-centered learning and inquiry-based activities give studentsthe opportunity to discover for themselves by going through a problem-solving and critical-thinking process that leads to retention.I also stress to my students that there are many answers to a given problem, and that problems and failures are often a necessarypathway to success. In connecting teaching with epistemology, I try to foster a meta-cognitive process within my classroom as well.As I encourage my students to make their own discoveries, I try to guide their cognitive processes to work through their ownassumptions on their way to understanding.
A deeply rooted understanding through a process of experimentation and analysis is the key to learning science. I encourage mystudents to embrace change, ask questions, and then go on a journey to answer them. While reflecting through this paper, I realizethat my teaching philosophy does pull from a variety of sources. I aim to encourage individualization in my students throughidentifying problems and discovering solutions for themselves. I constantly have to stop myself from giving every answer orexplanation; even though the processing might take much longer, it is more beneficial to my students to individualize my instructionthrough their own personal experimentation. Reflection is a crucial part of teaching and something I will aim to work on throughoutthe next school year. Through changes in curriculum, I will always use my own philosophies and interpretations to serve mystudents to the best of my ability.
Philosophical Perspective Paper
June 19, 2012
Defining Events in Building a Personal Philosophy of Teaching
Certainly, high-profile events on the education scene affect the type of teaching and the content you are required to study. Knowing theeffect certain events have had on teaching and learning when you were a student will help you better understand your own philosophicalperspectives toward schooling. There have been defining moments in society as well as in our own lives. We learn about defining momentsin the world of education in history and foundations of education courses. Defining moments change the way we go about our business. Inmany ways the launch of Sputnik in 1957 was a 9/11 of the mind. It changed the ways Americans thought about the future. It initiated areexamination of the purpose of schooling and school curriculum. The National Science Foundation (NSF) made millions of federal dollarsavailable for the development of modern science and mathematics programs and materials. Another defining moment was the publicationof A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983), which prompted arenewed focus on student achievement and the condition of schooling in America.
Keeping a record of your own stories of teaching and events in a journal or diary can also help you build a data reference system forcomparing new ideas you encounter with the old ones you have used. The act of looking back to remember which way you’ve come is adevice that has been used by travelers and learners for centuries. From time to time you need to revisit your journey to becoming ateacher with a critical eye. By checking where you’ve come from you will have a better idea where you are headed. Looking back can helpyou to assess the defining moments in your professional development and to prepare for the future.
Taking Stock of Your Beliefs
Teachers can become exhausted operating under expectations counter to what they believe. For many first-year teachers, discouragementraises its ugly head about mid-December when they begin to realize that the theories they have put into practice are not working.Formulating who you are going to be as a teacher will prepare you to act on your beliefs and assumptions rather than someone else’s.When you do this, you increase your chances of success and happiness as a teacher.
Using tenets of known philosophies as keystones for developing your own philosophy about teaching and answering some of the questionsthese philosophies pose can help you decide who you will be as a teacher. Do you think that the world is an orderly, logical place, or do yousee it as chaotic and random Obviously these two views would have a strong influence on how, for example, you arrange your classroomand lessons. Do you learn by repetition or by connecting new information to what you already know Do you prefer to discoverinformation for yourself or have it delivered to you in an organized outline What senses do you find most important In other words, howdo you learn about the world around you
Do you believe there are clear rights and wrongs in life (black and white) or is life a series of slightly differing shades of gray Do you feel itis possible to understand everything if enough intelligence and logic is applied, or do you believe some things must simply be taken onfaith Are you an abstract or random learner ; linear or global There is so much to learn and so little time.
All teachers create mental images of how their future classroom will appear in reality.
Taking Stock of Your Students
Every child is an individual, a smaller-sized person than most of the people you socialize with, but no less individual in opinions andthinking. We all have a friend who can’t follow the simplest directions, or one who asks the same question over and over until you answerit in a way that makes sense to her, or one who never shows up on time and may even forget the day he was supposed to meet you.Frustrating, at times, yes, but we try to understand them and help them understand us. Humans (friends, relatives, and students) have somuch to learn that any single theory or simple approach to helping them just won’t do. Teacher-focused and student-focused approachesto teaching and learning combined can encompass the spectrum of philosophical perspectives that underpin decision making andcurriculum in education. It is the teacher’s responsibility to continuously question what to teach and how to teach it, and to learn about anddevelop skill in using methods that have their roots in philosophical approaches to teaching that may differ from your own.
When classroom teachers puzzle over which educational goals should be met and how these goals might be achieved through teachingpractices, they are dealing with questions about knowing, learning, and teaching. In Plato’s discussion of epistemology, he argued that inorder to grasp reality or know, individuals use understanding, reason, perception, and imagination. Visit http://www.e-torredebabel.com/History-of-Philosophy/Summaries/Plato-Summary.htm for a summary of Plato’s ideas.
Video Link 7.2
Watch a video about taking stock in your students.
Teachers implement Plato’s ideas of knowing when they plan and structure lessons and decide which methods are most appropriate to aspecific learning task. As you progress in your teacher education course work, you will no doubt become very familiar with the theory ofconstructivism or constructivist teaching. When you study this approach to teaching and learning, think of it as an epistemological view.Constructivist approaches to teaching take into account the ways that children learn and what conditions are necessary to promote suchlearning. The theory of constructivism ponders how knowing is achieved.
HOW DO STUDENTS LEARN
When asked how students learn, Ms. Cyra replied,
Students learn best in a nurturing environment—one in which they have fun and can work together to solve problems. I do notallow bullying or other forms of meanness from students and encourage my students to show respect for others. I learned all theways of delivering instruction in my classes in the university but I never realized, until I started teaching, how important it was tovary instructional strategies.
Few modern educators would argue that there is but a single way to learn, or a single way to teach the skills, facts, and concepts deemedessential to a contemporary education. However, there are those who would argue that one particular way of teaching is inherently betteror more efficient than another. Listen to teachers talk about how they teach their students to read or spell, and chances are that you willhear quite different philosophies regarding learning, methods, and materials. Such discussions often generate more heat thanenlightenment and provide proof of the value we place on our own firmly held assumptions.
Ideas about how students learn are in abundance, and since not all ideas are of equal value, it can be difficult to weed out the good fromthe bad. Some ideas are priceless. Some are not. Some are in direct conflict with one another. Ideas germinate in knowledge and are drivenby opinions, beliefs, assumptions, and experiences, and the context in which the ideas blossom. Unfortunately, in education, as in all areasof life, some good ideas are stamped out before they have a time to blossom, while some bad ideas flourish in unguarded cultures.
Understanding ways students construct meaning from what they see and hear can provide teachers insights into how students learn.
As you progress through your teacher education program you will encounter many ideas about how students learn. Such ideas are oftenbased in one or another of the established philosophies of life. There will be more about this later in the chapter. Good ideas about howstudents learn can come out of educational research conducted by professors and research centers dedicated to the study of teaching andlearning. Good ideas also emerge from teacher educators and teachers practicing their craft, collecting data, and making grassrootschanges in practice. Some of the teachers who have generated great ideas for future generations of teachers and learners are famous.Some are not, but all have, through thinking about teaching and learning, contributed to the profession.
Ideas About How Students Learn
Great minds in American education wrestle with ideas of what should be taught in America’s schools, how it should be taught, and when itshould be taught. As American education has evolved, a number of approaches and programs to promote students’ learning have beentried. Nearly everyone you talk to has some idea about what should be happening in school. The popular press has nearly as much to sayabout teaching and learning as educators. The range of ideas teachers are confronted with is staggering.
Numerous ideas about structuring curriculum and methods for delivering the curriculum have been tried, revamped, and re-tried. The OldTestament Book of Ecclesiastes says that there is nothing new under the sun. Teachers who have been around for any length of time andhave experienced the ebb and flow of programs and approaches to teaching will tell you that many of the new programs they are asked toimplement are really only revamped versions of tried and true methods. The fact is that data collected on some of these tried and truemethods is frequently used to improve them. Constant thinking about teaching can lead to new ideas that will improve education forteachers and learners alike.
While educators know an informed populous helps build a democratic society, they do not know exactly what skills a six-year-old of todaywill need 30 years down the line in order to be successful and to contribute to the well-being of the society. The constant generation ofideas about teaching and learning is one way educators attempt to imagine and prepare for the future. The following sample of individualswho have generated ideas about teaching and learning ranges from the recent past to the present and from the famous to those who maybe known only to a local community or school district. Their ideas provide a cross section of ways thinking about education has affectedschooling and how students learn.
The Western world’s first great philosophers came from Athens, Greece. The names of three of these philosophers are no doubt familiar toyou: Socrates (470–399 BCE), Plato (427–347 BCE), and Aristotle (384–322 BCE). Socrates is famous for creating the Socratic method ofteaching still used by many teachers today who ask a series of questions that lead the student to a certain conclusion. Plato believed thateach person’s abilities should be used to serve society and should be developed to the fullest capacity. Aristotle favored the scientific, thepractical, and the objective in learning, and believed that the quality of a society was determined by the quality of the education that societypromoted.
Deeper Look 7.1
Read about educational models and methods.
John Dewey (1859–1952)
It would be folly to try to adequately cover the contributions of Dewey’s ideas to how students learn best in this chapter. Suffice it to say hewas a giant among the thinkers of the 20th century. For more than 50 years, Dewey’s ideas helped shape the destiny of education inAmerica. Dewey’s thoughts on pedagogy and epistemology (knowing) and his pragmatic approaches to ethics and aesthetics remaininfluential in education today. You should become familiar with John Dewey’s ideas as you progress through your teacher education coursework. His ideas can provide a basis for you to establish your own pedagogical vision. Visit http://dewey.pragmatism.org/ to view acomprehensive coverage of Dewey and his accomplishments.
Dewey established the Chicago Laboratory School for the purpose of testing the sociological implications of his educational theories andthe effect his theories had on student learning (http://johndewey.org/). Dewey called his laboratory school a “miniature society,” an“embryonic community,” in which children learned collaboratively by working together to solve problems (Martin, 2002, pp. 199–200).Dewey described “the fundamental factors in the educational process as (1) the learner, (2) society, and (3) organized subject matter”(Dewey, 1974).
Many of John Dewey’s educational theories were tested at the Chicago Laboratory School.
Dewey’s ideas in The School and Society (1943) have remarkable significance to the field of education as we now know it. His ideas aboutthe needs, the problems, and the possibilities of education are detailed in Experience and Education (1963), perhaps the best concisestatement on education ever written.
Dewey devised a five-step, process-oriented method for students to approach problem solving that involved
1. Encountering a problem that needed to be solved;
2. Defining the problem, asking questions that would help clarify exactly what needs to be solved;
3. Collecting information about the problem;
4. Making tentative hypotheses and reflecting on possible actions and outcomes; and
5. Acting on a hypothesis that is likely to solve the problem.
Problem solving using the scientific method, action, and empirical testing is considered by many to be the most effective strategy to helpstudents learn. Dewey believed that schools should teach children not what to think but how to think through “continuous reconstructionof experience.”
Hilda Taba (1902–1967)
This Estonian-born U.S. educator spent much of her professional career contemplating ideas concerned with the development of thinkingskills in students. She believed that information must be organized for students to understand it. She developed concept development andconcept attainment strategies to help students learn. She based her teaching model on three main assumptions:
1. Thinking can be taught,
2. Thinking is an active transaction between the individual and data, and
3. Processes of thought evolve by a sequence that is “lawful” (Joyce & Weil, 2000, p. 131).
According to Taba, “efforts to develop thinking take a different shape depending on whether the major function of education is seen asfostering creative thinking and problem solving or as following the rational forms of thinking established in our classical tradition. As such,differences in these concepts naturally determine what are considered the essentials and the dispensable frills in education” (Taba, 1962).
Taba was famous for her work in concept development in social studies. Visit the Global Connections for Elementary Students website athttp://www.globaled.org/curriculum/tomcollins.html for a look at how Taba’s ideas on concept attainment can be applied in aclassroom to promote student learning.
Ralph W. Tyler (1902–1994)
Ralph W. Tyler’s innovative ideas made him one of the most influential men in American education. Tyler believed that successful teachingand learning could be determined by scientific study, but he stressed that evaluation should start with objectives and not rely entirely on astatistical process. His insights into educational evaluation affected the lives of generations of students whose performance and potentialare frequently tested. As director of the Eight-Year Study (1933–1941), he helped convince the educational community that schools thatoffer programs that are interesting and useful to their students can help students become successful in college.
Tyler’s 83-page book, Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction, published in 1949, made an indelible mark on teaching practices in theAmerican public schools. This short text was originally the syllabus for one of Tyler’s courses at the University of Chicago. In the text Tylerespoused four basic ideas for developing a curriculum that would promote student learning. These four basic ideas, listed here, remain asrelevant for teachers today as they were 60 years ago, and they serve as a framework for selecting appropriate strategies to use to connectthe learner with the content:
1. Define appropriate learning objectives.
2. Establish useful learning experiences.
3. Organize learning experiences to have a maximum cumulative effect.
4. Evaluate the curriculum and revise those aspects that do not prove to be effective.
Through Tyler’s ideas teachers became scientific observers of student behavior, checking for evidence of student learning and makingmodifications to plans when necessary to guarantee results. Tyler’s ideas were so powerful, functional, and easy to apply that they are stillwidely implemented in public schools today.
Paulo Freire (1921–1997)
Paulo Freire’s idea that the process of education can never be neutral and that education should provide nontraditional educationalopportunities grew out of his efforts among illiterate poor workers in Brazil. Helping the workers learn to read and write led him torecognize the ways education can result in powerful changes among people and governments. In 1967, Freire published Education as thePractice of Freedom, and in 1970 he published the Pedagogy of the Oppressed in English. Briefly stated, Freire posits that education is apolitical act—the way students are taught and what they are taught serves a political agenda. The purpose of education should be theliberation of the “oppressed” (those not currently in control of the political agenda) through nontraditional forms and through their ownexamples, not the models presented by the oppressors. Education can help the oppressed overcome their status as long as they play a rolein their own education. Freire’s ideas encouraged educators to consider the political aspects of the institution of education, therebybringing a new perspective to teaching and learning in the form of critical pedagogy. Critical pedagogy presents a philosophical perspectivetoward teaching and learning that seeks to empower the student to “recognize authoritarian tendencies, and connect knowledge to powerand the ability to take constructive action” (Giroux, 2010).
Eleanor Duckworth (1935–)
Eleanor Duckworth is a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has grounded her work in Piaget’s (1896–1980) insightsinto the nature and development of intelligence, and she has developed Piaget’s research methods into a critical exploration approach tohelping students learn. According to Duckworth, ideas are the essence of intelligence. Through her research she has demonstrated thatthere are many ways of knowing and that different paths can be taken to understanding similar concepts (Duckworth, 1996).
Duckworth’s ideas on teaching and learning provide exceptional insight into the blossoming of ideas, how they are nurtured, and how theygrow. She discusses the detrimental effect teachers who view learning from only one perspective can have on the wonderful ideas of theirstudents. She encourages teachers to explore their students’ intelligence rather than turn it off in the pursuit of conventions andstandardized ways of thinking. This may seem difficult to teachers, given the current standards-based assessment culture in Americaneducation. Duckworth’s ideas require that teachers engage in intellectual conversation with their students—that teachers make time tolisten to students’ explanations so they may recognize the students’ wonderful ideas.
Howard Earl Gardner (1943–)
In his 1993 text, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Howard Earl Gardner presented the idea that intelligence cannot bedetermined by only one measure. He created a list of seven intelligences and demonstrated how some are typically valued in school, whilesome are usually associated with the arts and some are what he termed “personal intelligences.” In brief, the seven intelligences defined byGardner are
1. Linguistic intelligence: the ability to learn, understand, and use language
2. Logical-mathematical intelligence: the ability to think logically and scientifically
3. Musical intelligence: the ability to recognize musical patterns and compose music
4. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence: the ability to direct bodily movements through mental abilities
5. Spatial intelligence: the ability to recognize dimensions of large and confined spaces
6. Interpersonal intelligence: the ability to understand and work effectively with others
7. Intrapersonal intelligence: the ability to understand oneself and to regulate one’s life
Audio Link 7.1
Listen to an interview with Howard Gardner.
By helping educators think about the many ways intelligence can be understood and demonstrated, Gardner provided teachers a rationalefor designing lessons in ways that would engage all students in learning. Visit http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm to learnmore about Gardner’s ideas.
Grant Wiggins (1950–)
Grant Wiggins, president of Authentic Education in Hopewell, New Jersey, is perhaps most famous for his ideas on curriculum expressed inUnderstanding by Design (2005), which he coauthored with Jay McTighe. Understanding by Design (UbD) presents a framework forimproving student learning. UbD helps teachers create learning goals, build engaging activities, and develop authentic assessments. Fourideas to improve student learning inherent in UbD are (1) that topics taught should be covered in depth rather than breadth, (2) that goalsand assessments should be established prior to instruction, (3) that teachers should collaborate in planning lessons and units for students,and (4) that materials should be adjusted according to student success. One of the subcomponents of UbD is “backwards design,”encouraging teachers to consider the end goal in deciding what is most important for students to learn. Wiggins’s ideas encourage teachersto improve student learning by exploring essential questions and big ideas.
Diane McCarty (1954–)
Diane McCarty, a former classroom teacher, now a professor of education at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, has been a source of greatideas throughout her teaching career. As a classroom teacher, McCarty was trained as a consultant at the National GeographicHeadquarters in Washington, D.C. There she met other teachers with great ideas, and working together they developed numerous projects.One of the projects McCarty promotes, “Travelmates: Geography for Kids” (1993), is essentially a way of letting students travel around theworld without ever leaving home. More information on Travelmates can be found in the article “Travelmates … One More Time,” inTeaching PreK–8 (2003). Other projects McCarty has created from good ideas include, The Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (McCarty, 1997),Kids Writing for Kids (McCarty, 1994), and A Literacy Luncheon (McCarty, 2004).
McCarty’s projects provide opportunities for students to learn through participation in places and ideas outside of their daily environment.By developing multidisciplinary curricular experiences for her students, she translates her great ideas into activities that enrich the lives ofstudents and their families at home and around the world. McCarty is one of those hero teachers—a teacher who has good ideas, putsthem into practice, and shares them with others. This is not always the easiest thing to do when working on the front lines of teaching, butgood ideas should be disseminated to inspire learning and more “good” ideas.
Effective teachers provide learning opportunities for students by creating curricula such as “Travelmates.”
Conflicting Perspectives in Teaching and Learning
There is a back and forth nature to the struggle to educate. Perpetual controversy over one or another reigning educational philosophyand the give and take regarding ideas about classroom practices often create a cyclical effect. Ideas in education have been batted back andforth like ping-pong balls, falling out of favor only to be, at some later date, re-embraced as brilliant. Education is neither here nor there,one way or another. It is what works, and what actually works is not always most commonsensical.
During the 1960s, a period of unprecedented upheaval and change in the field of education in America, two men in particular, Jerome S.Bruner and David P. Ausubel, came to symbolize a dichotomy of viewpoints regarding the methods and means of teaching and learning,and, between them, defined the terms of a debate that continues unabated to this day.
For his part, Jerome Bruner theorized that by categorizing one’s environment, a learner is better able to comprehend it. Bruner’s learningtheory, which emphasized the structure of disciplines and the use of inquiry—or what came to be called the discovery method—stressedthe importance of teaching the sort of thinking skills necessary to the development of problem-solving abilities. His concept attainmenttheory was based on the technique of combining rules learned by discovery into a concept the learner is desired to understand. Thisdiscovery or experience of the learner is the “moving force” Dewey described as central to learning.
It was David Ausubel’s view, on the other hand, that the teacher’s major task is to transmit large bodies of already organized knowledge tothe learner through a reception-receptive method—the relationship between the way knowledge is organized and the manner in which themind works to process such information. Ausubel, considered the more traditional of the two thinkers, was opposed to most learningactivities that could be described as discovery, and felt “discovery” was not an indispensable condition for the occurrence of meaningfullearning (Ausubel, 1967).
Bruner was attempting to find new answers to basic questions of how students learn, and from there to lead learners to construct modelsof reality on their own terms (Bruner, 1966). Ausubel was adamantly opposed to passive learning on the part of the student, andunyielding in his insistence that receptive learning could be meaningful, arguing that just because learning by reception implies the materialis “presented” rather than “discovered” does not make it inherently less meaningful (Ausubel, 1963).
Deeper Look 7.2
Read a comparison of popular theories.
Bruner’s and Ausubel’s contrasting theories came into prominence on the education scene as Dewey’s progressivism entered its final stage,and there was a felt need for some sort of orderly guidance, some sort of basic adjustment to the entire education system, from top tobottom. As American education got busy flexing its newfound muscles during the early sixties, Bruner and Ausubel found their models oflearning increasingly at the center of debate over how to best help students become processors of information. Oddly enough, within theirtheories are many broad areas of agreement, which have never been of much interest to the “warrior-pedagogues” of the continuingmethods wars.
Their ideas were well founded, based on research and clear thinking. Both men supported the necessity of the teacher as director in theclassroom, although from Ausubel’s point of view the most efficient arrangement for the acquisition of knowledge involved the teacher“telling” the student what needed to be known. Ausubel did not consider discovery a prerequisite for understanding, believing instead thatit was possible to teach students to think deductively. Though Ausubel did not deny the usefulness and practicality of problem-solving skills,he regarded “knowing” as a substantive phenomenon, not a problem-solving capability.
According to Jerome Bruner, when students take an active role in their learning, they construct meaning from the experience.
The Necessity of Evaluating Ideas
What could be better than always having the correct answer Right A quick, right answer in the classroom and on timed standardized testsis always appreciated. Unfortunately, quick, right answers measure what students have already mastered, not what they are in the processof figuring out. Learning is, however, the process of understanding concepts and for many of us the understanding of complex conceptsdoes not take the form of quick, right answers. Think about the process you have gone through in your teacher education course work.Facts and concepts that you learned early in your program will take on more meaning as your experiences with the concepts in actionincrease. You may have been able to recite back ideas expressed by your professors, but ideas do not become part of your teachingschema until you have figured them out through thoughtful action.
Schooling as we know it today appears to focus more on a right answer than how the student came to that answer. This may be in part thatschools have so much to teach and so little time to teach it. It may also be in part that society seems more concerned with how a world-classgolfer thinks through a shot to the green or a putt, or how cyclists prepare for different legs of the Tour de France, than how a seventh-grader comes to appreciate the elements of literary style in a compelling story about the death of a favorite pet. Your mission as a teacher,should you chose to accept it, is to help your students recognize the routes they have taken to finding the right answers, and that thosepaths represent learning as much as a right answer does.
Having a Research-Based Perspective
Some ideas that seem good have been held through long-standing beliefs. They are what we have come to know through experience, andthey stick with us regardless of how the facts or our environment change. Jerome Kagan’s book Three Seductive Ideas (1998) challengessome basic assumptions the social sciences have held about intelligence, child development, and motivation. His arguments are based onresearch and give teachers, both new and experienced, some ideas to ponder about the way we conduct business in classrooms. WilliamJames, a 20th century pragmatist, said that new knowledge derived from new experiences is absorbed slowly into firmly held prejudicesand beliefs so that old knowledge is maintained and unaltered as much as possible to maintain one’s equilibrium of thought (James, 1975).
Theory and practice are fundamental to how we organize and think about our intellectual and practical world. Ideas and theoriessometimes prevail and sometimes take a backseat to the driving force of practicality. It may be an unfortunate fact that many teachersconsider application the only relationship between theory and practice when, in reality, the relationship is ever more complicated. Whenteachers test ideas, they have a better chance of detecting those that contain flaws based on beliefs and assumptions. Each one of us couldprobably make a list of the bad ideas we have had. Sometimes we’re lucky not to put our bad ideas into action; sometimes, after the fact, wehave proof that they were bad ideas and we don’t try them again.
Video Link 7.3
Learn more about research-based education.
Great ideas and grand plans for educating the children and young adults of this country can come from a variety of sources. Such thoughtsmay spring forth from the minds of the country’s leaders as they did from Thomas Jefferson, or from the minds of business executives suchas Andrew Carnegie, or from the minds of thoughtful teachers, or from the minds of leaders in the field of education like John Dewey. Whiletried and true ideas are being implemented, newer and seemingly more radical ideas are being proposed. The continuous flow ofrefreshing ideas is part of the reason many of us have been drawn to the profession. Teachers constantly work with ideas. Teachers alsorepresent a rich pool of creative thinking that has the power to stimulate major changes in education as well as in student learning.Everyone has an opinion, though sometimes the ideas that reach popularity are not of the highest caliber. Regardless of where the ideasabout education come from, they are put into play by a classroom teacher. Translating ideas into practice is a heavy responsibility andtakes a courageous heart. In order to fulfill this responsibility, teachers must be knowledgeable of the ideas of numerous others who haveencountered the same concerns and have established theories that have practical application in teaching and learning.
HOW DOES EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY HELP TEACHERS UNDERSTANDSTUDENT LEARNING
Teacher Heather Cyra shares how educational psychology helps teachers understand student learning:
Knowing stages in a student’s development is important to understanding ways students can learn. Teachers have to adjust theirteaching practices in order to meet the students at their level of understanding. When my fifth-graders start the year they exhibitbehaviors that would be considered immature for fifth-graders. However, after about six weeks I can see a big change in the waythey act in class; they are more responsible about their work and demonstrate the attitudes and behavior expected of fifth-graders.When they come back from Christmas vacation they have grown so much, and by the end of the year they are truly ready to go onto middle school.
Since you are studying to be a teacher you will no doubt take a course in educational psychology. How students learn in school is whateducational psychology is mainly about, and it underlies all that teachers do. The role of research in educational psychology is to carefullyexamine certain questions about factors that may contribute to learning. Such research can help you interpret your experiences andunderstand why you teach and learn the ways you do. Educational psychology is concerned with the behavioral and social development ofan individual and is a branch of applied psychology that studies children in educational settings. It deals with the psychological aspects ofteaching and learning processes of early childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. One focus of educational psychology is the assessment ofability and aptitude, the evaluation of teaching and learning (Lucas, Blazek, Raley, & Washington, 2005).
Research on Teaching and Learning
Perhaps the first research on learning occurred when people began to ask why Why do I know how to do that How did I learn that Whatdo I need to know now Or when philosophers began to ask questions related to the state of knowing. Research that attempts to explainwhat we know and learn is deeply ingrained in the history of learning. Some important events in the establishment of educational researchinclude, but are not limited to, the following list. Many of the names will be familiar to you.
• 1690, John Locke publishes An Essay Concerning Human Understanding
• 1802, Johann Pestalozzi publishes How Gertrude Teaches Her Children
• 1896, John Dewey establishes the laboratory schools in Hyde Park, Chicago
• 1917, First large-scale IQ testing of American adults
• 1921, Jean Piaget publishes his first article on the psychology of intelligence
• 1956, Benjamin Bloom publishes Taxonomy of Educational Objectives
• 1962, Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory published in the United States
• 1969, Carl Rogers publishes Freedom to Learn
Audio Link 7.2
Listen to a clip about child development and education.
A glance at this short list makes it clear that as schooling in America developed it was accompanied by researchers documenting its growththrough studies and assessments of teaching and learning. Knowledge of past findings can help you understand teachers’ roles andresponsibilities toward student learning, and it can often illuminate the path of education so past mistakes are not repeated.
Translating Educational Psychological Perspectives Into Teaching Practice
Theories of learning translate into teaching practices as organization of information, creation of environments to promote student access tothis information, and ideas about human development come together; and through this combination echo Dewey’s ideas of the learner,society, and organized subject matter (1974). Theorists often differ in their perspective on what provides the optimum setting for studentlearning; hence the variety of programs and activities that exist in schools today.
Deeper Look 7.3
Read more about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Johann Pestalozzi (1746–1827), Jean Piaget (1896–1980), and Abraham Maslow (1908–1970)
Pestalozzi’s theories emphasize group and participatory activities. His ideas on recognizing individual differences and grouping students byability rather than age were considered radical for his time. He felt teachers should allow students freedom to express themselves anddevelop naturally. He envisioned children learning through observation of the “real” world rather than from books.
Piaget is best known for his epistemological studies (how we know what we know) of the intellectual growth of children. Piaget concludedfrom his studies that human knowledge is “constructed” through interactions with reality. Piaget’s work has had a profound effect oneducational theories regarding when students are ready to learn specific information.
Maslow developed the theory of human motivation now known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. He described the power of human needsand organized these needs into five general categories, from most urgent to most advanced. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs became aframework for considering the individual needs of students as indicators of what they were capable of learning when constrained bypersonal needs.
Piaget studied the ways children come to know the world about them; for very young children, knowledge of “what’s in the box” can onlybe constructed if it can be seen.
These different, yet somewhat similar, perspectives have promoted self-actualization and developmental and motivational approaches toinstructional practices.
Ivan Pavlov (1849–1936), Edward Thorndike (1874–1949), and Burrhus Frederick Skinner (1904–1990)
Pavlov demonstrated a form of conditioning in 1927, with the help of a dog and a bell. His experiments on stimulus and response led him toposit that learning required a dependent relationship between an unconditional stimulus (presenting a stimulus to elicit a reflexiveresponse) and a conditional stimulus to create a conditional response.
Thorndike developed the Law of Effect principle suggesting that responses closely followed by satisfaction are more likely to elicit similarresponses when the situation is repeated. However, when a situation is followed by discomfort the response to the situation will be lesslikely to occur or will become weakened over time. Thorndike helped lay the scientific foundation for modern educational psychology.
Skinner based his theories of operant conditioning on the work of Thorndike. He studied observable behavior by looking at an action andits consequences. Skinner believed that the best way to understand behavior is to look at the causes of an action and the consequences ofthat action and so be able to predict and control behavior.
Each of these theorists believed that behavior can be modified, controlled, or directed when specific stimuli are present or when a behavioris rewarded or depressed. Behavior modification practices are widely used in classrooms today that affect instructional practices andclassroom management strategies.
Lev Vygotsky (1896–1934)
Lev Vygotsky presented the Social Development Theory, viewing cognition as the end product of socialization and social behavior.Interactions with more knowledgeable others help students learn. His theories support the foundations of constructivism. Three majorthemes in Vygotsky’s social development theory are that (a) development in a child appears first on a social level with others and theninside the child, (b) the child learns from a more knowledgeable other, and (c) learning occurs in a zone of proximal development betweenthe learner’s ability to learn with the support of others and the ability to learn independently (Vygotsky, 1978).
It would be foolish to suggest that the complex theories of these educational psychologists can be explained and discussed in such succinctterms. Detailed information about their contributions to the ways educators perceive student learning is available through the referenceslisted at the end of this book. It is necessary that as future teachers you begin to understand the many ways their ideas have influenceddifferent modes of instruction in schools.
Deeper Look 7.4
Read more about Vygotsky’s Theory.
HOW DO PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVES HELP TEACHERS UNDERSTANDSTUDENT LEARNING
Ms. Cyra believes that teaching and learning are a social process and should be shared by everyone in the classroom. In her classroomeveryone is a teacher.
By developing a mutual respect with my students and creating an environment that is comfortable and relaxed, my students areeager to share information and stories. I wish there were more time to just have conversations with my students about what theythink, what they know, and what they know how to do, but the pressure of standardized testing limits how much time teachers haveto truly get to know their students. I know there are days that I learn as much from my students as they learn from me.
You no doubt took a philosophy or logic course as part of the core requirements for your degree. Understanding philosophical thoughtprepares teachers for critical thinking and reasoning and constructing logically sound arguments. The study of philosophy helps teacherssift through ideas and articulate thoughts in ways that others can follow. Understanding the practices of philosophical perspectives helpsteachers learn how to look and listen, how to engage in meaningful discussions, and how to recognize the many ways of thinking aboutteaching.
We all seek answers to questions in order to make sense of our worlds. In translation, the word philosophy can be defined as “love ofwisdom,” though it’s clear we don’t all have the same questions or view wisdom in the same way. Philosophers have thought long and hardabout their philosophies and about the implications their perspectives have for learning and teaching.
Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Axiology
Three different branches of philosophy are concerned with seeking answers to different types of questions. Metaphysics is concernedwith questions about the nature of reality and humans’ attempts to find coherence in the realm of thought and experience. Questions onteaching and relationship between learners and teachers.
Epistemology examines questions about how and what we know, and how knowing takes place. Questions dealt with in the study ofepistemology may include “Where do ideas come from ” and “How do we pose and solve problems ” The axiology branch of philosophydeals with questions concerning the nature of values. Questions examined from the axiology perspective deal with what should be or whatvalues we hold: “What is good for students ” “How should students behave ” As you can see, the questions that are the focus of eachbranch of philosophy are related to different aspects of education. Such questions posed by the different branches of philosophy can befound in educational concerns over curriculum, methods, and teaching behaviors.
Teachers must engage in critical thinking to be able to translate ideas so their students can understand complex problems and begin tomake sense of the world.
The Metaphysical Questions of Content or Child
In 340 BCE, Aristotle declared that metaphysics involves intuitive knowledge of unprovable starting points (truths) and demonstrativeknowledge of what follows from them. Teachers want to know why some students are successful at particular tasks while other studentsstruggle with them. Can a child choose whether to learn or not to learn Is the ability to learn determined by factors outside of a student’scontrol Is understanding of specific content necessary to a successful life, or is the way in which the content is learned of utmostimportance to the learner. The manner in which a teacher approaches the content and how the child interacts with the content dependssomewhat on the teacher’s attitudes about human nature. Diann Musial, from Northern Illinois University, believes that a teacher’sclassroom approach is linked to the teacher’s metaphysical beliefs: “If the teacher believes that very specific basic knowledge is crucial tothe child’s intellectual development, it is likely that this teacher will focus on the subject matter. If, on the other hand, the teacher holds thatthe child is more important than any specific subject matter, it is likely that this teacher will focus on the child and allow the child to provideclues as to how he or she should be instructed” (J. A. Johnson, Dupuis, Musial, Hall, & Gollnick, 2005, p. 308). Children are real. How theydevelop and learn is, at times, metaphysical.
Ways of Knowing, Learning, and Teaching
In the concern over how students learn, what they should learn, and how they should learn it, educators connect epistemology andeducation. Epistemology is the study of the origin, nature, methods, and limits of knowledge. Epistemology is the science of how we learnand teach, and encompasses the range of questions educators face in designing the very best schooling for children. Education is focusedon how students best learn the knowledge they must have and how teachers learn the necessary behaviors to facilitate student learning.
When classroom teachers puzzle over which educational goals should be met and how these goals might be achieved through teachingpractices, they are dealing with questions about knowing, learning, and teaching. In Plato’s discussion of epistemology, he argued that inorder to grasp reality or know, individuals use understanding, reason, perception, and imagination.
You will also learn about Jean Piaget in your course work and how his program of naturalistic research helped teachers understand childdevelopment. Piaget was primarily interested in how knowledge developed in human organisms, and he termed his general theoreticalframework “genetic epistemology.”
The Role of Values and Ethics in the Classroom
There are many reasons that parents care a great deal about who teaches their children. Certainly parents hope for a teacher who isknowledgeable. They hope for one who will be sympathetic to any idiosyncratic behaviors or learning styles their particular child mightpossess. But probably nothing concerns parents more than the moral values, or ethics, the teachers of their children demonstrate. Parentalconcern over the moral values of individual teachers as well as those expressed by schools has given rise to an increased interest inhomeschooling and school vouchers. As one example, the National Character Education Center (http://www.ethicsusa.com) relates corevalues to human anatomy and gets at the heart and mind of values in action. In this approach, the seven virtues attributed to respectivebody parts are respect (eyes and ears), integrity (mouth), compassion (heart), perseverance (stomach), cooperation (hands), initiative(feet), and positive mental attitudes (mind).
Another initiative to accomplish the teaching of core values is the Institute for Global Ethics (http://www.globalethics.org). This instituteprovides guidelines for ethical literacy through ethical fitness. The Ethics Resource Center, a character education website athttp://www.ethics.org, discusses the questions of whether schools should be teaching values and if so, whose values should be taught.Ethics is a way of processing behavior. Teachers weight different elements of their own behavior and the behavior of their studentsdifferently depending on their own set of ethics and values.
While ethics might provide food for thought, not everyone has the same beliefs that public institutions should dictate to individuals whatshould be considered an acceptable form of conduct. Teachers must negotiate the omnipresent conflict between societal values andindividual values in the classroom. A well-informed teacher understands and respects the diversity of cultural and ethnic thought in anycommunity and uses this knowledge to help all students learn. Teachers faced with questions about values are dealing with the axiologybranch of philosophy.
Philosophical Perspectives’ Influence on Teaching and Learning
Various schools of philosophy seek to answer the broad philosophical questions posed through metaphysics, epistemology, and axiologyfrom differing perspectives. The schools of philosophy most often mentioned in terms of the implications they have for education areidealism, realism, perennialism, pragmatism, progressivism, essentialism, and existentialism. These philosophies represent a broadspectrum of influence on educational practice and thought, and ways of knowing. Some schools of philosophy give rise to compatibleeducational theories, while others generate quite opposite and competing points of view. Some of the philosophical perspectives listedbelow may not be considered schools of philosophy in the truest sense. However, their impact on teaching and learning has given them arelevant stature in the realm of thinking about education. Observance of one or another of these philosophical perspectives, or acombination of two or more, could produce differing school structures, curriculum, instructional methods, and classroom practices forteachers and students. What follows is a succinct description of some of the schools of philosophy teachers should be familiar with as theyundertake construction of their own personal philosophy of teaching.
Confucius (551–479 BCE) is in many cultures regarded as the world’s foremost and greatest philosopher. Confucius’s teachings, a sourceof perennial good sense, encourage people to lead good lives by doing what is right. At some time in your preservice teacher educationcourse work and during inservice professional development you will no doubt see or hear one of Confucius’s many axioms. One of themost frequently displayed is, “I hear, I know. I see, I remember. I do, I understand.” Here is another: “If you think in terms of a year, plant aseed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people.” Confucius taught that there are three methods togaining wisdom. The first is reflection, which is the highest. The second is imitation, which is the easiest. The third is experience, which is thebitterest. As a teacher education candidate, you will have the opportunity to use all three methods to gain wisdom.
Idealism and Realism
Idealism, the oldest of the Western philosophies, originated with Plato (427–347 BCE). Idealism refers to a rational world of the mindwhere ideas or concepts are the essence of all that is worth knowing. The idealism philosophy guides behavior or thought based on thetheory that the objects of external perception consist of ideas. Universal and absolute truths offer examples of the ideal to strive for. Sinceideas are consistent in an ever-changing world, they should be learned and understood. The ideal should be sought and emulated whenfound. Hegel’s (1770–1831) absolute idealism posits that since ideas about reality are products of the mind, there must be a mind at workin the universe that establishes reality and gives it structure. Idealism is used to refer to any metaphysical theory positing the primacy ofmind, spirit, or language over matter.
Realism describes a world in which material objects exist in themselves apart from the mind’s awareness of them. Aristotle (384–322 BCE)built upon the ideas of his famous teacher, Plato, to describe the realistic world. That world is real and exists whether or not a mind is thereto perceive it. Remember the question of the tree falling in the forest that you discussed in your first philosophy class If a tree falls in theforest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound Imagine the answer from both an idealist and a realist perspective. In realism,laws of nature and the order of the physical world override the idealist notion that ideas are the ultimate reality. In a realist’s world werespond to what is seen and sensed. According to John Locke’s (1632–1704) tabula rasa theory, we all begin as blank slates and our senseshelp us fill the void with knowledge. Plato’s idealistic perspective has us full of ideas at birth and life’s experiences help us eventually knowthese ideas. Is it the teacher’s responsibility to bring out the knowledge students already possess or to engrave it on their blank slates
Ancient philosophical ideas are present in current teaching practices.
Perennialism and Essentialism
The roots of perennialism lie in the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle and also of St. Thomas Aquinas. Perennialism offers a conservativeand traditional view of human nature. In this school of thought, humans do not change much, but they are capable of analytical thinking,reason, and imagination, and should be encouraged along these lines. Through reason lies revelation. When certain perpetual truths arelearned, individuals will develop rationality. While human nature is somewhat predictable, it is possible to improve the human conditionthrough understanding of history, the great works of literature, and art.
Essentialism became a popular educational philosophy in the United States in the 1930s following what was considered an excess ofprogressive education. Essentialists believe there is a fundamental core of knowledge that any functioning member of society must possess.Such knowledge is absolutely essential for an individual to lead a productive life. Learning takes place through contact with the physicalworld as well as with specific core disciplines. Goodness lies in acquisition of certain essential knowledge. E. D. Hirsch clearly delineated thefiner points of essential knowledge in his 1987 book, Cultural Literacy, making clear the exact information that every literate person shouldpossess. Teaching the essentials has since colonial times been the dominant approach to American education. The testing frenzy of thecurrent No Child Left Behind movement would attest to the staying power of essentialism in American education. “While essentialismreflects the traditional view that the ‘real’ world is the physical world we experience with our senses, perennialism is more open to thenotion that universal spiritual forms are equally real” (Sadaker & Sadaker, 2000, pp. 400–401).
Pragmatism and Progressivism
Pragmatism was first introduced into philosophy by Charles Peirce in 1878. The term pragmatic is derived from the Greek word pragma,meaning action, which is also the source for the words practice and practical. The universe of pragmatism is dynamic and evolving. Changehappens and humans are constantly in the process of becoming, evolving to reach ever-greater understanding. Truth is what works in oneplace and time, and even if it worked once it might not work again given different variables. Concepts and outcomes should be tested bytheir practical results. Maybe your university professor who answers “Depends” to your questions about what works best is taking apragmatic point of view. Pragmatism shares some views with Aristotle’s realism but is less rigid since in pragmatism experience is of utmostimportance. Because of the changing nature of truths, individuals must be flexible and be capable of dealing with change. America wasfounded on pragmatic ideals. Since the arrival of the first explorers and settlers, Americans have spent a large portion of their energyadapting to one another and to ever-changing environments.
Progressivism, marked by progress, reform, or a continuing improvement, became popular in the 1920s through the work of John Dewey.The tenets of progressivism demonstrate respect for individuality, a high regard for science, and receptivity to change. According to Dewey,humans are social animals that learn through interaction with one another. Learning increases when we are engaged in activities that havemeaning for us (Dewey, 1963). The influence of progressivism helped American educators take a closer look at the role of the learner inany acquisition of knowledge.
Libraries around the world, such as this one at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, contain the wisdom of the ages.
Existentialism rose out of the cult of nihilism, a philosophical position that argues the world, and especially human existence, is withoutobjective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value, and pessimism, a general belief that things are bad and tend tobecome worse. The rise of this view followed the destruction of European civilization in World War I. Existentialism presents a world inwhich individuals determine for themselves what is true or false. Only through free will can individuals oppose hostile environments. Thefirst principle of existentialism, according to Jean-Paul Sartre, is “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.” When the caterpillar inAlice in Wonderland asks, “Who R U ” had Alice been an existentialist she might have answered, “Yes, who am I and what should I do ”
Maxine Greene, a long-time professor at Columbia Teachers College, contends that living is philosophy and that freedom means overcomingobstacles that obstruct our attempt to find ourselves and fulfill our potential (1988). The writings of Friedrich Nietzsche (1884–1900) offera framework for cultivating a healthy love of self. He wanted to help liberate people from the oppression of feeling inferior.
Carl Rogers (1902–1987), the founder of humanistic psychology, made outstanding contributions to the field of education. His writingsfocus on empowering individuals to achieve their full potential, that is, becoming self-actualized. According to Rogers, existential livingmeans living in the here-and-now, being in touch with reality, while learning from the past and dreaming of the future (1969). Though theideas of existentialism seem radical to many people, Donald Kauchak and Paul Eggen (2005) point out that “existentialism makes acontribution to education because it places primary emphasis on the individual, and in doing so, it reminds us that we don’t teach math,science, reading, and writing; rather, we teach people, and the people we teach are at the core of learning” (p. 214).
There are far more philosophical perspectives than have been mentioned here. When you read of the naturalists or of scholasticism,humanism, or social reconstructivism, you will increase your knowledge of the ideas that have influenced how you may be expected toperform in the classroom. Most philosophical perspectives hold increased knowledge or understanding as good. For more details onschools of philosophy and their implications in education visit the website of the Sophia Project (http://www.sophia-project.org/). TheSophia website lists numerous links to the thinking and writing of educational theorists.
Knowledge of teaching and learning is always incomplete even though there is a wealth of theories to support many of the practices andpolicies that exist. Knowledge and attitudes about education grow and change as the physical and social world changes. Teachers constructa personal philosophy toward teaching and learning in order to make sense of the complexities of their craft.
Teachers may not be able to name a specific school of philosophy if you ask them to tell you which philosophy they adhere to in dailypractice, but they will certainly be able to give you their thoughts on how children learn, what they should learn, and how they should belearning it. Most teachers select ideas from a number of schools of philosophy and apply what works best for them given the requirementsof their teaching situation. In order to maintain a sense of humor and hope in teaching, most teachers are pragmatic and operate from aphilosophical viewpoint of eclecticism. They select ideas from various systems in the same way they gather materials from various sources.Such is the practical world of teaching.
The Presence of Educational Philosophies in Classrooms
All teachers have moments in the classroom when they are captivated by the topic they are teaching, only to be caught up short by blankstares or student questions from left field. It is at such moments that teachers begin to realize that their perspectives on what is importantto know may not be universally shared. The knowledge one person believes fundamental, from say a perennialist’s point of view, may seemlike so much intellectual domination to another. Any personal philosophy of teaching sets the stage for plans and actions. Teachers, bynature of the profession, must make decisions that incorporate a range of philosophical perspectives that are doable and that “work” givena variety of contexts. Figure 7.2 provides a comparison of ways some philosophical perspectives might be apparent in classrooms andteaching practices.
Room arrangement may not be the best clue as to a teacher’s views on what and how children should learn, but it is an indicator. Picturestudents seated in individual islands separate from other students with eyes directed toward a teacher at the front of the room explainingor demonstrating something the students are expected to remember. The students are quiet. The teacher is talking. We’ve seen examples ofthis style of teaching in movies and on television. Unfortunately, in most of these examples, the teacher is oblivious to what the students aredoing or thinking. Watching The Amanda Show on the cartoon network with my youngest grandson, Kai, I was struck by the parody of ateacher-focused classroom. The teacher was writing questions on the blackboard while the students were being turned into frogs and miceby a witch, and Mark, Amanda’s friend, was trying to explain to the teacher, who was totally in outer space, what was going on.
Figure 7.2 The Influence of Philosophical Perspectives on Teaching and Learning
Source: Adapted from Webb, L. D., Metha, A., & Jordan, K. F. (2013). Foundations of American education (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Teacher-focused approaches to teaching, in which the teacher is master of the knowledge to be learned and dispenses it to all students at aspecified rate over a specified period of time, adhere to the essentialism school of philosophy in which learning the content is of majorconcern.
The teacher-focused approach also follows a perennialist perspective, believing that education serves to inform students of knowledge thatwill remain constant through life (Oliva, 2005). In education, essentialism and perennialism perspectives dictate basic and prescribedsubject matter. Learning is transferred in a programmatic fashion from teacher to students.
Student-focused approaches to teaching correspond to pragmatism and progressivism. In education, these philosophical perspectives viewthe major role of schools and teachers as being to create learning opportunities that will allow students to construct knowledge relevant toa specific task or situation through self-interest and dialogue with others. The tenets of a constructivist teaching style are closely associatedwith progressivism, emphasizing hands-on, activity-based learning. The room arrangement in a student-focused classroom is open andflexible. Students can easily interact with one another. Motivation is encouraged through intrinsic rewards. Teacher and learners sharecontrol of behavior and the learning environment. Inquiry is promoted and divergent points of view are respected. The teacher modelsparticipatory evaluation through questioning and student-led discussions of results. The students value themselves as learners andwelcome the active role they have in directing their education along the lines of their own interests. In a student-focused classroom, thecurriculum should take into account students’ interests. Students construct knowledge through interaction with others.
Video Link 7.4
Learn more about student-focused classrooms.
The Changing Focus
In any given day in a classroom, the focus shifts from teacher to students and back again. This is not wishy-washy. It is merely a fact of theprofession. In much the same way a world-class photographer will shift the focus on a scene to emphasize or pick up an unusual feature, aneffective teacher is able to view the classroom as a vibrant life form, taking note of all movement and features. In doing so the teacher mayfind it necessary to redirect student attention, or perhaps momentarily call a halt to all activity. Learning how to combine parts of differenteducational philosophies for the benefit of all of the students may be one of the hardest tasks a new teacher must learn.
Using Philosophy to Problem Solve
Thinking and trying to find answers to questions is much of what teaching is about. A teacher perplexed by certain student behaviors or bythe content of the textbooks mandated by the school district administrators can find comfort in the teachings of philosophers. With a littleeffort teachers can use the great ideas from different philosophical perspectives to help them understand human learning, behavior, andvalue systems. As your knowledge of teaching practices increases, so must your understanding of the basis for such practices. Do not takeanything on hearsay. Seek the answers to your questions and build a cognitive framework of theory and practice to rival the architecture ofthe Taj Mahal. The mind should be a beautiful thing.
Our opinions about public school teaching and learning begin with the very first moment we enter schools as students. Every beginningteacher’s knowledge of teaching is more memory than schema. Beliefs are the frameworks that all subsequent knowledge is incorporatedinto. It is necessary for teachers to categorize their thinking and understand the traditions of practice and the historical circumstances outof which certain kinds of thinking arise.
There are many ways to think about teaching and learning, and because of this, identifying one particular philosophical perspective foryour approach to teaching can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Don’t worry. Be happy that there are so many possibilities andideas. It is important for you to become familiar with a variety of philosophical perspectives in order to organize your own thinking anddevelop a personal wellspring of original and useful ideas to help your students learn. The more you think about teaching and the moreyou hear how others think about it, the easier it will be for you to construct your very unique personal philosophy of teaching.
Deeper Look 7.5
Read about the importance of an educational philosophy for first-year teachers.
Understanding and Using Evidence
From 1950 to 1990, American values experienced radical change. Consider the following, and then discuss with your classmates theconsequences such changes may have had on American education. How do current American values compare now in 2013
1950 1990 2013
delayed gratification instant gratification
middle class underclass
heroes cover girls
value-added charge cards
Ozzie & Harriet latchkey kids
public troubles private issues
“Do what you’re told” “Do what you want”
public virtue personal well-being
One way to process the ideas presented in the Understanding and Using Evidence feature of this chapter is to first consider themajor events in American life now and compare them with ideas present in the 1950s and 1990s. How are current events differentfrom or similar to events that took place for past generations How might these differences affect American values What is onYouTube, Facebook, and Twitter How might what we watch on TV influence American values How has technology changed theways students think about their world What potential does it have to change American values
Consider the public nature of a person’s private life given the reality aspects of media programming. In what ways can reality TVpossibly change the ways that students and teachers react in a classroom or think about education in general
Make a list of your own ideas about the state of American values today. To get you started, here are some ideas.
Graying Baby Boomers