There exist several definitions of what education is or ought to be in modern literature. In a broad sense, education can be considered a process that socially integrates a person into a culture (Gutek, 1997). However, education is thought of by many as a function of school systems wherein a specific curriculum is taught and students are inculcated with certain social values. School systems, as the primary imparters of education, determine the knowledge that is most valuable for students and must necessarily exclude certain knowledge as time and capacities are limited.
As a result of these limitations, students are never taught or given the whole picture. Curricula are fashioned by the ideologies of a given society and the values of the communities wherein the schools exist. Further, the conveyors of curriculum, or teachers, hold their own personal perspectives and ideologies. The curricula established by the society and school systems at large are even further filtered through the minds of the individual teachers. As such, what a child learns in any school system, although measurable, is unpredictable. Students are expected to interpret the content that their teachers, who have interpreted the frameworks and standards of their subject matter, impart onto them. This banking method leaves for little exploration on the part of a child outside of the confines so established by the school system (Aronowitz, 1993).
In this post, I'm going to wade through some of the historical, philosophical, and social theories that have influenced the development of my educational philosophy addressing pluralism, curriculum, and the functions of schooling in an ideal educational system.
Critical to the development of an educational philosophy is an understanding of prime educational ideologies. These ideologies shape educational policies and goals, convey attitudes and values, and establish knowledge bases that feed curricula in schools. Ideologies, such as Realism, Idealism, Theism, Naturalism, Pragmatism, and Existentialism represent the foundations from which an educational philosophy can be grown.
To begin, Idealism proclaims “…that the good, true and beautiful are permanently part of the structure of a related, coherent, orderly, and unchanging universe.” (Gutek, 1997, p. 27). Educators that stem their philosophy from this foundation see education as discovery process with which students reach their potential and consider themselves as models of behavior for their students.
Realists believe that the role of education is mainly to transmit knowledge so that students may act rationally in a socio-political context as well as in their personal lives.
Although not as prevalent in American education, Theism asserts that intellectualism is the goal of an education as it can facilitate the transformation of and creation of culture.
Naturalists put forward that learning should be anchored in direct sensory experience and that “…instruction should flow from the child’s impulses and instincts.” (Gutek, p. 74). They seek to integrate a child’s environment and their formal schooling.
Pragmatism promoted the reform of educational doctrines of old with scientific thinking. Championed by the work of John Dewey, Pragmatism sought to render communities by emphasizing rational thought as the guiding principle in social development.
Finally, Existentialism seeks to break the bonds of more orthodox worldviews by conceptualizing students as responsible and free thinkers, unfettered by tradition. Most interestingly, Existentialist educators believe that standards and goals cannot be established and that students must be held accountable for their own educational course. Their role is primarily to shed light on trends in order for students to make personal and meaningful choices.
In addition to considering the variant ideologies, an educational philosophy can only be expressed by way of language and, therefore, the language used to convey the philosophy must be scrutinized in order to ensure clarity (Harris & Harris, 1993). There exists a logical structure in English which infiltrates meaning and discourse. As a result, an education philosophy can easily be replete with beliefs that are neither tautologies nor evidentiary but, rather, synthetic and falsely appealing. Although these kinds of statements can be made by individuals, they can only be interpreted by others and, therefore, will lack concrete meaning (Gutek, 1997).
Historically, American schooling has undergone dramatic shifts in culture since the 17th century from a quest for homogeneity to the melting pot ideal of the mid-20th century; from the parity of power prevalent in the late 1960s to the compensatory education programs of the 1970s. With each shift, a new approach to teaching and learning emerged. As culture is a representation of humanity’s accomplishments and the prescription of systems and norms, it can bear considerable influence on curricular and instructional components in education systems. It establishes core values that schools then transmit to students and, therefore, like ideologies, must be examined before an educational philosophy can be developed (Pai & Adler, 2001).
So, as I formulate my educational philosophy in context of American schools, I must take American culture into account. Of course, this poses difficulty as America is composed of such vastly divergent societies. Are the core values of American culture entrenched in the traditional values of Anglo-Saxon Protestants? Is American culture a byproduct of core values such as getting along with people, a relativistic moral attitude, consideration for others, hedonism and present-time orientation, and group harmony as held by a generation of people from the mid-1950s (Spindler, 1963)? Perhaps American culture can be best described as a derivative of Capitalism in which corporate mentality rules all. Or, is American culture beset with rugged individualism and common sense? What about counter-cultural movements such as those that wreaked havoc during the 1960s and 1970s? These questions are posed to signify the difficulty I am faced within developing a philosophy that can serve the needs of all students. An educational philosophy is a framework from which a school system can draw from. However, as school systems are mechanisms of cultural processes, the values transmitted by culture bear a great influence on the feasibility of a proposed framework (Pai & Adler).
Therefore, one tenet of my educational philosophy includes the need for educational systems to adopt both an enculturative and acculturative pedagogical approach to teaching children. As schools strive to educate students about the dominant culture so that the children may become acculturated, they should take into account the fact that, in a diverse society, students are also attempting to learn their own culture; they are becoming enculturated simultaneously (Pai & Adler, 2001).
This proposition may alleviate so many of the behavioral difficulties evident in most urban school systems. An integrative pedagogy such as the one proposed implies that educators and curriculum developers must comb through their instructional methodologies and curricula to determine what levels of biases exist in relation to the dominant culture’s values and other cultural values. In other words, the goal of schools in America cannot be to “Americanize” children if “to Americanize” means to devalue other heritage cultures. Unfortunately, as explained earlier, the very fact the predominant language used to educate students is English, any effort to implement this integrative pedagogical approach is thwarted by the very language used to convey it. The logical way around this would be to embrace multi-lingual and multi-cultural education in all schools.
This first tenet of the proposed educational philosophy entails more than just teaching students a language other than English. The canon of literature describing the boons and banes of bilingual education programs is vast. These programs include transitional programs, Structured English Immersion programs, and English-as-a Second-Language (ESL) programs. What has been thoroughly established is that students who are educated in two different languages over a period of six to 10 years will outperform those that have been educated in English only (Thomas & Collier, 1997).
There exist several reasons for educating students in a multi-lingual setting, not the least of which involves arming a student with another language that may be used in his professional life. One such reason addresses the need to educate English learners. English learners are those students who have limited-English proficiency. That is, their capacity with the English language is not at grade-level. This is normally determined by way of initial testing; however, tests vary throughout the nation. If a child demonstrates that his capability with the language is sub-par, he is then afforded services by the local educational agency to support his development and acquisition of the content. What is now a well known is that linguistic skills from a child’s primary language transfer to the targeted language (Cummins & Swain, 1986). So, a student with limited-English proficiency will acquire subject area content more rapidly if his primary language skills are maintained whilst he learns English.
Further, in a study verified by the National Academy of Sciences, student performance in three different programs of instruction for English Learners were compared over and eight year period. One of these programs, known as late-exit transitional bilingual education, acquired content knowledge in their primary language for 40% of the time through the sixth grade. Although there was no significant finding in growth performance by the time these students reached the third grade relative to their English-only instruction counterparts, by the end of the eighth grade, they outperformed their counterparts in mathematics as well as English reading (Collier, 1992). Additionally, in dual immersion bilingual education programs, where half of the students are English-only proficient and the other half are limited-English proficient, the research shows that all children benefit from learning a second language and learning in a second language (Lindholm-Leary, 2000).
Multi-lingual and multi-cultural education is one of the prime proponents for a school system that promotes cultural pluralism. Without a doubt, diversity is extant in our nation’s school systems. Both in coastal metropolises and central small towns, cultures vary drastically in just about every school setting in the world. In fact, cultural pluralism is an ideal of the American experience in part because “it is intrinsic to democracy” (Pai & Adler, 2001, p. 97).
Unfortunately, as most school systems still embrace a mono-lingual educational processes, children who are bilingual, strangely are considered to be outside of the norm and, therefore, more than likely, many students will shun learning in their primarily language—as will many of their parents be unsupportive of primary language instruction (Hakuta, 1986). This is why an ideal school must hold close multi-lingual programs to its mission. A school not only dedicated to developing a love of country but a love for all world cultures by way of making multilingualism part of its mission is thereby advancing cultural pluralism beyond the simple notion that coexistence is required.
In fact, multicultural and multilingual education allows a student to think in different ways. It will prepare students for the realities they will encounter beyond their academic careers. Although the multicultural educational movement has been in play since the 1970s, “many educators persisted in viewing it only as a strategy for dealing with the educational concerns of minority children” (Pai & Adler, p. 106). This notion then renders multicultural education as moot if the social context of a particular school doesn’t have a complement of several ethnicities. Herein lies the main point. Multiculturalism and multilingualism must be seen by educators as tools for students to thrive in an ever-expanding global economy—not just as a way to deal with their student populations.
Multicultural and multilingual education is the key to and integrative, or transformative pedagogical approach to teaching and learning. It “enables students to view concepts, issues, themes, and problems from different perspectives…” (Banks, 1990, p. 31). However, the ideal school system must be responsive to its surrounding community’s culture. There exist several views regarding this relationship—a structural/functionalist perspective, a Marxist conflict perspective, a critical theory perspective, and so on. The perspective most germane to the challenges faced by American education is the postmodern perspective which calls into question many of the undergirding assumptions structures present in society today.
In the eyes of a postmodern educator, meaning is not fixed (Derrida, 1972). As evident throughout history, “…meaning is only fixed through a consensus of readers and will change, or shift, over time” (Pai & Adler, 2001, p. 148). The postmodern school will not marginalize minority concepts or the thinking of the oppressed. That is, the ideal school will promote in its learners the need to know and understand in many ways. In this ideal setting, scrutiny trumps conformity to the dominant cultural narrative. So, a second tenet of an ideal school includes a view of education as not perpetuating the interests of the prevailing culture but tooling individuals to develop their own identity and understanding of the world around them.
Whereas the school system’s relationship to the community it is enveloped in will be seen through a postmodern lens, in practice, postmodernism in the classroom will take shape in the form of the constructivist approach. People construct meaning atop their experiences (Piaget, 1950). That is, students incorporate and assimilate new intellections into an already formed framework of thought. Therefore, student’s past experiences, cultural and educational background, as well as their major learning intelligences must be taken into account as learning experiences are provided to them by their teachers and curricula.
Additionally, this approach will place the responsibility for learning with the learner. Too often, students in traditional schools are treated as passive participants. In an ideal school setting, students will be actively involved in their own learning so that they do not simply mirror what they are taught. Constructivism makes the central principle of the school to be one of learning—not teaching. In turn, learners will then be better motivated as he will be focused on his potentials thereby increasing a sense of self and competence. So, rather than referring to the school’s educators as teachers, they will be referred to as facilitators as their main role will be to assist students in uncovering their understanding of the subject matter.
Learning will be an active and social process as a result of a vibrant interface between undertakings, facilitators, and the learner. By way of this collaborative effort, students will be able to take advantage of their strengths, backgrounds, and skills. Further, as students attain mastery with content, their roles will transform to that of teacher. Dynamic assessment, an assessment of the potential of students, will be the guiding principle of assessment processes (Holt & Willard-Holt, 2000). This process includes the learner in the assessment process wherein they enter into dialectic exchanges with their facilitators as opposed to a one-way processes carried out by traditional teachers. The facilitators will have to adopt a perspective on assessment that is one of a continual processes of interaction—an ongoing formative assessment system that devalues summative assessments.
The next tenet of this educational philosophy would then necessarily need to address curriculum. Although subject matter courses will be made available to students of an ideal school system, their facilitators must view what they teach as a having a complex set of connections to all subjects. Of course, the fundamentals of the topic will be introduced to the learner but, in order for the learner to construct meaning that is best suited for their abilities topics will be revisited in a spiraling fashion over a period. So, a curriculum will be provided for the educators—much like in traditional school systems. However, it will be incumbent on the facilitator to shape this curriculum into a shared enterprise between their expertise and the experiences of their learners. The curriculum presented will be assimilated through a series of projects in order for the classroom experience to be contextualized for the children. Project-based learning goes hand in hand with a dynamic curriculum and a constructivist approach. Project-based learning is an active teaching process wherein students explore problems, develop cross-curricular skills, and work in collaboration with their peers. Not only does this support students in learning fundamental elements of certain subjects, it motivates them to deepen their knowledge in relation to what they are studying.
Moreover, students will strengthen their organizational skills as well as develop communication skills with both their fellow students and during interaction with the adult facilitators. Further, students will find the grades they receive to be of more value to them as they are evaluated based on the products they themselves develop. As a result, they will make connections between academics and real-life situations which may motivate them to look into a particular field of study or a career. Lastly, project-based learning lends itself quite well to using technological advances which brings up the final tenet of this educational philosophy.
In order for education be tailored to the individual needs of students, the final tenet of this educational philosophy, technology enhanced learning, will synthesize all the abovementioned tenets into a cohesive and interrelated array. The use of computers by students in a learning situation puts the children in an active and deeply engaged role as opposed to the more passive recipient of knowledge transmitted by a teacher. Computers change the role of the student as they set their own goals, make their own decisions, and become self-evaluators (Christensen, Johnson, & Horn, 2008). Additionally, the use of computer-aided learning supports the aforementioned role of an educator as facilitator for they are no longer the central communicator of knowledge—a sage on a stage—but rather a guide on the side. They provide support and guidelines as opposed to lectures and direct instruction (albeit some direct instruction will always be necessary in order to establish the foundations of a lesson or project).
In addition to the learning benefits mentioned, technology in the classroom is important because, undeniably, technology is pervasive in the lives of youth and has taken on a significant role in their social lives. Even in traditional school settings, a majority of secondary students report relying on Internet resources for just about every major project they are assigned (Lenhart, Rainie, & Lewis, 2001). Formalizing information and communication technology literacy instruction in context of other academic subject matter learning is not only a method of personalizing education for children but one wherein students are enabled “to think critically, analyze information, communicate, collaborate, and problem –solve…” (Honey, Culp, & Spielvogel, 2005, p. 5).
In developing this educational philosophy, classic and fundamental social ideologies were considered in order to widen the perspective from which the philosophy stems. Additionally, the language used to convey this philosophy has been carefully scrutinized so it does not portend to appeal to emotion with empty rhetoric. Every tenet of this philosophy has been established by way of peer-reviewed research findings and well-established principles in education. As education is a social institution, the philosophy has been developed through the lens of variant historical social contexts. That is, in order to serve society, society itself was investigated in order to determine what variables to consider in developing an educational philosophy.
At its core, this education philosophy is comprised of four tenets: the need for an enculturative and acculturative pedagogical approach by way of multilingual and multicultural education, a postmodernistic relationship with the community, a constructivist approach to the delivery of instruction and a commitment to project-based learning as well as an educational experience enhanced through the use of modern technologies. The interrelatedness of these tenets makes for a cohesive and forward thinking philosophy that can be embraced in many social settings and contexts.
In many educational systems, students are dehumanized as a result of sitting in chairs and listening to an all knowing teacher as he imparts pearls of wisdom and knowledge onto them. As they become passive recipients of this knowledge, they exert very little control over what they learn and how they learn it (Freire, 2000). This is an oppressive action and can be curtailed if the focus of schools shifts to learning as opposed to teaching.
The tenets presented in this philosophy of education are geared towards bringing forward a democratic education “concerned with constructing learning communities where children can participate actively and fully…” (DeMarrais & LeCompte, 1999, p. 249). In order to meet the needs of America’s diverse population, this philosophy is further based on an analytic framework which takes into account the political economy, schooling, and ideology (Tozer, Viloas, & Senese, 2002). That is, this philosophy intends to bridge social inequalities with educational resources and expectations through the filter of a postmodernist and constructivist ideology (Tozer et al.). At its heart, this education philosophy supports the notion that human differences matter and that, if we are to propel students into their futures, we must be prepared ourselves to provide them with individual learning opportunities.
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