Sunday, April 30, 2006

Philosophy of Education

I believe that all students are capable of learning and should be afforded the opportunity to learn; regardless of race, caste, nationality, socioeconomic background, gender, age, sexual orientation, creed, or educational label. I believe that there are no such things as “disabilities,” only obstacles students must learn to work around; I believe that all students can achieve. I believe that immigrant, “at-risk,” and deprived students are a significant resource in every country, and their futures should not be compromised because of a lack of effective education policies.

I believe that students live up to your expectations of them; therefore teachers should expect great things, for students have an infinite capacity for growth and advancement, and nothing is impossible. No matter what point a student starts from, the efforts a student expends on learning are what matter most. As Booker T. Washington wrote in 1901, “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”

I believe in servant-leadership, and see the role of educator as that of water-carrier, standing in a long line of educators passing clay vessels containing knowledge—that most necessary of all things, for which souls thirst—down the generations. I believe that students reflect the attitude and mood of their teacher, and look to their teacher to know how to act. In the worst situations, such as those of school shootings, classrooms with calm teachers also have calm students. Like William Foote Whyte in his Streetcorner Society, I am interested in the ways that a group can shape the behavior and health of an individual—in other words, I am interested in sociology.

I believe that self-discipline is the most important kind of discipline a teacher can instill in her students. I believe that rewards serve only to disinterest students in doing work for its intrinsic reward; therefore the use of rewards actually punishes.


I believe that the process of learning is a process of learning how to discern what is “good.” It is said that the Hindu goddess Saraswati’s animal vehicle, the swan, can drink pure cream out of an ocean of milk. I believe that students must learn basic facts and be exposed to great works of art, literature, music, elegant mathematical proofs, and scientific formulas before they dive into the information ocean to choose what they want to learn. Students should be allowed freedom, but not the freedom to “opt out” of learning necessary skills, since students do not know what awaits them on the other end of education. As teachers, we have traveled the path, and know what is ahead of them; we must therefore have the courage to exert our confidence and guide them.

That which is termed a “fact” is an item of accumulated knowledge that has been tested and re-tested and yet not been disproved through ages and generations. Knowledge that is rapidly changing is only that which is at the frontier; and the frontier of knowledge has always been changing. Facts are the foundational building blocks on which even the changing knowledge is built. It is only after one learns facts that one is able to apply the processes of learning or learning how to learn, and that, like seed to plant, the process of learning cannot be separated from the facts; rather, facts are the origin.

I believe there is value in traditional forms of knowledge; be it the Sundiata epic of Mali, the Iliad or Odyssey, the Mahabharata or Ramayana of India, Gilgamesh, or the New Testament. Epics are encyclopedic, encompassing many types of knowledge—for instance, geographic knowledge, veiled political references, historical knowledge, poetry, philosophy, theology, musical knowledge (as these works were traditionally sung), scientific knowledge of medicinal herbs or traditional healing. I believe that there is a reason why these stories were preserved and handed down, and that even in the age of the internet and computers, there is something embedded within these stories that transcends time, place, gender, or age; and that there is a way in which these stories train the mind and help a person in any endeavor.

In literate societies, literacy is an important skill, and books are like conversations, containing words of wisdom of people from different backgrounds, ages, places, and views, who dialogue with you. In your mind, you can disagree, counter, change in part what the author says; in turn, the book can also change you. Since I feel that the most potent learning comes through dialogue, I use the Socratic method of instruction in my own classes.


I want to instill the idea that teaching has moral complexity in my pre-service teachers. As Dan Lortie described the problem, “Teacher preparation programs can give teachers experience in analyzing moral questions not only in general terms (i.e., classes in the philosophy of education) but specific contexts—using teaching cases that are based on a variety of hypothetical situations and events that can serve that purpose; cases have been developed, in fact, that deal specifically with ethical issues” (D.C. Lortie, Schoolteacher, Chicago UP, 2002, p. ix). Therefore, I give students role play situation slips, news articles, and other materials to discuss, in order to expand their minds, problematize their view of the world, and more fully understand others’ opinions—in other words, to empathize.

I believe that confidence and certainty are not the same thing and doubt is a key intellectual tool. Uncertainty is an inescapable feature underlying our world; Werner Heisenberg showed that the more accurately one tries to measure the position of a particle, the less accurately one is able to measure its speed. Such contradictions, ambiguities, puzzles, and paradoxes must be embraced in order to gain a true perspective of the world.

I believe that if students are “bored” in a class, it is because of their failure to engage with the material. I believe that students only get out as much as they put in to a class, and in the end, every human is responsible for his or her own learning.

I believe that works of fiction are no less truthful than works of non-fiction; that sometimes an author has to throw on the cloak of “fiction” in order to express what is too true and closest to his heart.

I believe that in a world that is increasingly interconnected, it is important to learn about other cultures. Empathy is the ability to imagine oneself in another’s position, and the skill most necessary to the world’s survival. From empathy comes tolerance, understanding, and collaboration.

I believe that teachers “live” for the few students who really learn, in spite of all else.


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