Philosophy of Education

I would like to categorize myself as an eclectic progressive when it comes to philosophy of education. I think it is important to balance subject centered philosophies with student centered philosophies. Ultimately, we are teaching the student and therefore must address the student’s needs. If we ignore the student’s interests and needs, we cannot expect to effectively educate him. At the same time, we must focus the student’s learning on what we feel is valuable. As educators and adults, we have the responsibility to guide students in their learning, help them decipher between right and wrong and assist them in determining what is important.

I like how essentialism allows for a more modern approach, creating space in the curriculum for computers, vocational training, etc. I also like how it does not dictate how the learning should take place. In this sense, essentialism can really be easily combined with one of the student centered philosophies wherein the subject matter is strictly determined by what is deemed most useful, but the way in which it is taught is determined by what the student wants and needs. Perennialism seems too static- I think knowledge is ever growing and we keep uncovering new information that quickly becomes essential to our lives. I think my disagreement with essentialism stems from the sole focus on 'back to basics'. I believe the basics are important, but that we do not need to wait until high school to teach the “disciplined knowledge” that expands on this basic knowledge. I think it is easier for students to see the value of the basics when the basics are taught in conjunction with other material and made relevant to the students’ lives.

When it comes to the student centered philosophies, I agree with romantics in that I too believe that children are born good and pure, and their innocence is spoiled by the evils of society. I wish we could protect them forever, but we cannot and instead must prepare them to face society. I also think they have an innate curiosity that can help guide their learning. After all, children develop language skills and learn many things before entering the formal schooling system. The child decides what to retain, which words to speak first, which objects to point out to learn the new vocabulary.

However, it is not the sole responsibility of the child to decide what to learn. For example, parents may encourage a child to learn to say ‘mother’ before ‘table’ by constantly repeating the word ‘mother’ even when not asked for by the child, but only saying ‘table’ when the child points to a table. The environment also greatly affects a child’s learning- a child living in Texas may not learn the word for snow until he is much older, whereas ‘snow’ could be the first word for a child in Alaska. However, I believe we still have some duty to guide students in their learning so that they do not miss the essential subjects. This is where I diverge from the romantic view of education. I think education is too important to leave the decisions of what to learn entirely to the student. We can present the topic of study to the students, American government, for example, and then allow them to inquire further and dictate what they would like to learn within this subject. Perhaps we show them a video or have them read a text to elicit their questions, or maybe we can get the opportunity to take them to a local courthouse or town hall meeting in order to elicit their questions and guide their learning. This manner of guiding a student’s learning closely aligns with many of the ideas of progressivism. The world is ever changing and education must evolve with it. The mind is a powerful tool capable of many things when given the right guidance, support, and the necessary resources.