Thursday, June 14, 2007

Educational Philosophy

As part of a class I had to write my educational philosophy. This is one of the last things that I had to write for a class. I am still not done, but I am anxious to be so that I can finish the Sureshot 2. I am on chapter 13, and cannot wait any longer to finish it. Anyways this is part of the essay that I wrote about my educational philosophy.

Learning is a very human activity, as is teaching. Parker Palmer wrote that we “teach who we are.” One could say that we also learn in a way that reflects who we are. This makes developing a standard methodology or philosophy to cover all teachers and all students challenging. Many people now deride the standard lecture model of instruction, yet at some level it can be effective for both teacher and learner. Project methods of instruction are effective for many students, but perhaps not all of them. For every student who excels under one school of thought, there is probably another who could do better if instructed in another fashion. In light of this my own educational philosophy is exactly that; my own. I cannot claim that the things I value in education are any better than what someone else might value, I can only say that they reflect me. I suspect that this is the just thing to do. As Socrates learned and Shakespeare echoed, the most important thing in life is “to thine own self be true.” With that in mind, I believe that learning is social, individual, and continuous.

Learning is social
Learning is, in my observation, best when done socially. I do not mean to say that people cannot learn alone, but rather that it can be enhanced through social contact. I am reminded of how many of the most astounding scientific discoveries were accomplished not by a single man working alone, but by a group of people working together to solve problems. One example that stands out is the Manhattan project. While Einstein may have provided the spark that led to nuclear capabilities, it was a whole team of physicists, engineers and others all working together to develop the atomic bomb. Often times writers will collaborate with other authors, and have editors to read and make suggestions before a book is published. I envision Socrates sitting around in Athens and the cohort that followed him around always challenging each other. Proverbs says “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” I embrace that teaching with both arms. I know in my own life that I have always found learning most efficient and meaningful when there are other people to assist you.

I expect that learning is social because everyone brings with them individual experiences and perspectives. This allows a person to see something from a point of view that is different than their own. Most things look different depending on the angle you view them. For instance a house looks different from one side or another, or from above. We can only see one angle most of the time, so it is better to confer with people who have seen things from different angles. This is the advantage of social learning, and why I believe that learning is best when done socially.

Leaning is individual
Another important aspect of learning in my mind is that it is individual. I do not mean that it is done alone, thereby contradicting my previous statement, but rather that it reflects a persons previous experiences and learning. This is because, as I asserted in the previous argument, that everyone brings with them different experiences and perspectives into the classroom. This breaks down into a few different characteristics.

First of all we all, as I stated before, bring different experiences to the classroom. These differences are developed through race, religion, culture, environment, family, and a number of other factors that shape who we are. We cannot put these things aside easily, but instead carry them with us wherever we go. Even within the same country, state, and even city, there is a variety of experiences that cause people to assimilate information differently. Secondly, everyone learns at different rates and in different manners. One person may learn very well by simply reading something and discussing it for further understanding, while another person may need to hear something explained, while a third may need to experience it in a more hands on way. These differences are often referred to as learning modalities, and while most people can learn through all of them, there is normally one or two that are stronger in us.

Individualized learning in the classroom looks like this: the teacher gives a reading assignment to the class. They are supposed to read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. They read a few chapters at a time and discuss them in class while sometimes doing something hands on with relation to what they read. All of the students read the text and interact with it in an individual way. One student may relate to the suffering of the Joad family, while another may relate to the young woman Roseofsharon because she is young and pregnant. Still another may favor the social injustice of the Great Depression. All of these students react differently to the same text. I submit that there is no right way to respond to the text as long as students understand the plot and can sense the point that Steinbeck is making.

When the students discuss they can share their myriad of opinions about the book. This discussion will help those students who learn better through audio input. When they do assignments or projects related to the book they will all have individualized products, and this portion of the learning process will help the students who learn better through physical activity. All of the students learn something from the book, and may all learn similar things, but the book will not affect them all in the same way. Also, the students cement their understanding through different experiences whether they are physical, audio, or visual. As a final point I would like to underline that this individualized learning is taking place in a social setting, which was my first point. It is through sharing our learning and understanding that we truly can maximize our learning.

Learning is continuous
A final principle of learning is that it is continuous. We are learning all of the time, and always find new things to learn about. While it may sound very abstract, I believe that knowledge is infinite. No one person can know everything there is to know in the world. We may know a lot, and sometimes people like to suggest that we know more now than ever before, but even that is not necessarily true. Sure we know how to send emails, and drive a car, and microwave popcorn which are things people 500 years ago did not know, but then I don’t know how to churn butter, bake bread, clean a fish, or build a house. I suspect there are people who do, just not me. The point is that there is a lot of information that we do not know.

One of my goals as a teacher is to create students who will be lifelong learners. We all learn things passively, like who the Oakland Raiders drafted, or who is running for president in 08, but I want to create active learners, who will pursue things they are curious about. I want my students to go out and study something until they understand it. To ask questions until they get answers, and to seek knowledge until the find it. If we stop learning actively we will have no more to share with other people than we have right now. We will have no more understanding of the world around us than we have today. While for a few people who understand a great deal this might be acceptable, for the majority of us, there is still quite a few things that would do us well to understand. For that matter then, we need to continue learning for our entire lives, and not simply passive learning, but actively acquiring knowledge and understanding.

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