What’s Your Philosophy of Education? (Pt. 2)

While the previous post (Pt. 1 HERE) focused on more global philosophical approaches, this one will be a little more specific to your individual classroom. One of the problems with the school system is that (at various levels) we often implement policies that are contradictory to our philosophical approaches. For example, educators or administrators might push for an inquiry-based approach to learning, but then push for an ordered and rigid classroom management scheme and assessment based on uniform, standard tests. How effective can our lessons really be if our practice doesn’t match our philosophy?

Schools will often say that they are progressively student-centered, but their daily practices typically belie that statement.

What follows is an attempt to entrench your philosophy into the way you teach. Not only should a thorough grasp of your own educational philosophy help with lesson, unit, and year planning, but it should also help with hiring and job searching (i.e., making sure the school and teacher philosophies mesh well). Each of these four listed below corresponds pretty similarly to the first overarching set of philosophies, but they have more direct applications to the classroom.

  1. PERENNIALISM focuses on the unchanging great truth of (primarily Western) civilization. The purpose of school is to cultivate the intellect in the classic disciplines. Lessons emphasize the great achievements of mankind; for example, take a look at the Great Books curriculum proposed by Robert Maynard Hutchins in 1963. The classroom is highly structured and orderly while the teacher is an authoritarian figure (at the head of the class) and the disseminator of truth. Assessment consists of objective exams of student knowledge.
  2. ESSENTIALISM advocates for a common core (now that should sound familiar…) of knowledge to be passed down in an organized, systematic way. This Core may change over time, but schools still need to pass down the skills to produce young adults who are contributing members of society. The classroom has strict moral discipline and behavioral expectations, while the teacher is authoritarian but also a demonstrator. Assessment is performance-based and standardized. I would argue that most schools today fit this philosophy, whether they know it or not.
  3. PROGRESSIVISM uses a student-centered approach to education, as opposed to content- or teacher-focused. The goal of school is promote democratic society by providing experiential education. The classroom should be collaborative, democratic, and community-centered, while the role of the teacher is to be a facilitator or research director (providing problems for students to solve). Assessment takes the form of an ongoing monitoring of student progress. Schools will often say that they are progressively student-centered, but their daily practices typically belie that statement.
  4. According to SOCIAL RECONSTRUCTIONISM, social reform is the main goal of education, meaning that students should be equipped to create a better society than the one they grew up in. The curriculum will often critique cultural and social institutions to resist oppression. The classroom has a climate of inquiry and community building, often with respect to tackling real-life problems, while the teacher is someone who is transformational — an agent of change. Assessment is often done in an authentic environment as part of a cooperative effort.

Which of these do you most identify with? Should education preserve society as it exists or should it help students grow and create their own version? More importantly, does the practice of your classroom match your philosophy?

(Read more about these philosophies HERE)

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