Evolutionary Philosophy

We live in a global economy that requires our students to be prepared to think both
critically and creatively, evaluate massive amounts of information, solve complex
problems, and communicate well. A strong foundation in reading, writing, math, and other core subjects is still as important as ever, yet by itself is insufficient for lifelong success.
For too long, we have committed to time structures, coursework, instructional methods, and assessments designed more than a century ago. Our current definition of student success is too narrow.

What works best for students? What must we all—educators, families—do to ensure their success? Answering those questions pushes us to redefine what a successful learner is and how we measure success. Let’s drive the point closer to home. What have I done to ensure the success of my learners?

While mulling over this, I came across this quote:

“The best part of teaching is that it matters. The hardest part of teaching is that every moment matters, every day.”

Todd Whitaker

I love this quote. It reminds me why I teach. More importantly, it reminds me that the best things in life require hard work.

At first I thought of it purely from an instructional standpoint – every minute of every class period matters.

But on second thought, I looked at it from a relationship standpoint – every interaction with every student matters, every day.

Oh, I learned early on that being unprepared creates chaos that throws off the whole day, but I also learned that the relationships you build with students carry a lot more weight than most people realize.

I don’t want to downplay the academics of teaching. You have to be prepared. We’ve all had that teacher who flies by the seat of his/her pants. (I must admit I sometimes do this.) My best (worst?) memory is the college professor who walked in the first day of class 14 minutes late, looked around at us and said, “Oh, my, I forgot my syllabus,” and then turned and left to get them.

But I firmly believe that no matter how well you know your content, if you don’t build relationships with students, you miss a lot of those moments that matter.

I think I’ve done a fairly good job of building them up over the years. I know there are students I just didn’t connect with, no matter what I did. Reality is no teacher can be THE teacher for every student, but I try very hard to be a teacher they remember in a positive light.

I’m human, so I know I haven’t always accomplished this. Looking back, I can think of a few trainees, well, more like classes that I failed.

I used to be more pedantic in my approach towards teaching. It is ironic that up until I took this class, I never thought I had an Idealist approach towards education. I’d always thought I was more of a progressivist, but we can only live what we have seen and what has been modeled to us. As they say, you can’t teach what you don’t know. Back then, I used to wonder why I always got low marks in my evaluations in  terms of teacher-student rapport. I had no qualms about giving a trainee a failing grade without taking into consideration that the student might not have understood the material and needed me to re-teach it. I hadn’t realized that being an effective teacher was not just a sum of what I knew and what I taught but also how I taught and how I managed the classroom and addressed the needs of my learners. I realized that teaching is not a matter of reading from a textbook, or dictating notes, but a participatory process. Over the years, I’ve learned to loosen up. I interact more with the class, I socialize more with my trainees both in and out of the training room. It’s still a struggle, I must admit, but I learned to view it as a hat that I put on in order to play the role of a trainer. It has made me more effective as a trainer. I have come to realize that teaching is not a matter of reading from a textbook, or dictating notes, but a participatory process. I remember my manager telling me that an intelligent trainer does not equate to being an effective trainer because his/her intelligence makes him/her unattainable and unrelatable.

I realized that this nitpickery and this propensity to be sententious and trenchant had turned me into the very monster-teacher I had purported not to be. By being such, I have robbed my learners of their passion, intellectual curiosity and depth. I’ve taught them to regard their education not as an opportunity to develop their character, but as just another credential, an algorithm to be cracked in order to get to the next level. I’ve developed students who are anxious, depressed and grade-conscious.

I am a product of such a system. This system produces students who expect success, and expect it now. They have, by definition, never experienced anything else, and their sense of self has been built around their ability to succeed. The idea of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them, defeats them. They’ve been driven their whole lives by a fear of failure–often, in the first instance, by their parents’ fear of failure. The first time I blew a test, I walked out of the room feeling like I no longer knew who I was. The second time, It was easier; I had started to learn that failure isn’t the end of the world. The system forgot to teach me, along the way to prestigious admissions and lucrative jobs, that the most important achievements can’t be measured by a letter, a number or a name. It forgot that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.

If teaching were a superpower, then I guess this would be my kryptonite. I’ve mellowed down over the years. I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously. I’ve learned to talk to my trainees down the hall, on the way to class; conversations that were not content related but life related. It’s funny how talking to them humanized them, humanized me. They were no longer just a bunch of parts in the production mill.

These days, I could be a little bit more casual. It felt good to step out of the glass bubble I’ve encapsulated myself in.

These days, I think about asking “What’s wrong?” or “What’s up?” instead of “Why didn’t you do your homework?” I’m slowly learning to let go of the idea of “teacher as expert”. I realized that I had to in order for my approach to be student-centered. Learning does not happen in isolation, and neither should teaching. Both are inherently social.

It hasn’t been easy, but this is part of my learning and growing. After all, as teachers, our challenge is to match the needs of our learners to a world that is changing with great rapidity. To meet this challenge, we need to become strategic learners ourselves by deliberately expanding our perspectives and updating our approaches.

I’m rewarded when a former student messages me to ask me a grammar question. She knew I would take the time to explain about what made the statement grammatically incorrect.

I’m rewarded when a former gangling trainee looking all spiffy drops by the office unannounced and gives me a cake to celebrate his recent promotion because “you made a difference.”

I am blessed to hear from former trainees. Some of them have kept in touch through the years, and others have reconnected fairly recently. For this reason, I have not changed my mobile number. Social media have played a role in this, and I love it. Every so often, a message pops up on Facebook asking how I’m doing or asking if I could accommodate their cousin/neighbor/ friend in my class because he/she wanted to work in a call center but needed to work on his her communication skills. I enjoy getting to see the paths they have taken and know I played even a small part in that.

I also love to hear what they remember from our class. It is often something very specific, something I don’t even remember doing or saying, but it obviously made a lasting impression on them. And that always makes me realize how everything I say and do within the classroom can build up or tear down a student. These are the things that tell me I made a difference.

It’s easy to teach curriculum. The hard part is teaching the child.

 

 

 

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Philosophy of Miseducation

What makes a good student? I found myself asking this question as I pored over the different philosophies. I think it’s a valid question. I mean I think I’ve laid out my own educational philosophy over the years so I think I have an idea of what is expected of me as a trainer. But the flip side is begging to ask ther question “What do I expect of my learners?” In the week, I try to grope around the edges of the question as if trying to get a toe-hold on a cloud.

What is a good student? How do you become one? Is it one of those I-know-it-when-I-see-it kind of things?

Define a good student. By whose definition? One may as well dissect a soap bubble. Is it someone who respects and obeys hs teacher? Is it the Idealistic pupil who strives for perfection and is ambitious? Is it the pasty-faced student at the corner desk of the library? Do I expect blind obedience or informed compliance or considered discretion?

On the surface, Confucianism seemed like a pretty solid and laudable philosophy. It is complex system of social and political ethics based on filial piety, kinship, loyalty and righteousness. It looked promising. Confucian proverbs have always made sense to me. But a closer look on Confucianism allowed me to see to the pitfalls of ardent observance of Confucian guidelines. 

A look into the Western philosophies and Confucianism has made me wonder about the divergent path that Western and East Asian education have taken. While the Western world is slowly embracing the uniqueness of each individual and educating the whole person, not just the mind, since feeling is not divorced from reason in decision-making, the Far East is bent on producing blind compliance among its students. The teachers also expect unquestioning obedience from their students. Within the classroom, the teacher takes on the role of the parent in a two-layer hierarchy, and the students are effectively in the role of children. Pupils are expected to show gratitude to their teachers. Independent discussion and thought around the topic are discouraged, with almost all lessons being conducted by rote learning. This is a distinct contrast to the Western approach, and also further amplifies the effects of a Confucian hierarchy within the classroom, whereby the students do only as instructed, viewing the teacher as an infallible figure. This blind devotion and the sense of collectivism produces learners filled with repressed anger that is masked by a façade of social harmony.

Another difference between East Asian and Western education is that in East Asia, being a university graduate is considered a requisite for a successful life, whereas a more western view would be that anyone can achieve success, despite not attaining at the highest level in all areas – such as standard education. I noticed that there is a prevailing respect and profound desire for education in East Asian countries, yet it’s no longer for education’s sake, but rather for material gain.

For better or worse, knowledge matters. How much it matters can test our values. With luck, the more we live and embrace the wide sweep of the world, the more generous our definition becomes.

As one looks at the East Asian educational system, one cannot help but be amazed at the results and conclude that this philosophy must be the most sound and most effective. So I ask myself yet again, “What is a good student?” What do I expect of my students? Do I want a student who excels academically to validate my worth as a teacher? Do I expect creativity? Do I expect them to have individuality? Or am I looking for a robot? What role do I want them to play in their educational process? Do I want them to be mere recipients in the teaching-learning equation? Or do I want them to be contributors in their own educational experience? If one looks at international test results, one might easily be tempted to agree that the attitudes and beliefs of East Asian culture yields better results. Naturally, it follows that it might do one good to study the educational system of our East Asian counterparts and emulate their achievement. Yet we only see the high passing rate, but we don’t see how much these students have given up to go to university. We scratch the surface, but we don’t see how much scolding and physical punishment there is from teachers or how many students commit suicide under pressure.

The question may not be so easy to answer after all? One thing is clear though. I would NOT want to be a student in East Asia.

References:

Daily chart: Diligent Asia, indolent West | The Economist. (2013, December 3).

          Retrieved from http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2013/12/daily-chart-1

High performance, high pressure in South Korea’s education system – ICEF Monitor – Market intelligence for international student recruitment. (2014, January 23).

          Retrieved from http://monitor.icef.com/2014/01/high-performance-high-pressure-

          in-south-koreas-education-system/

Stergios, J. (2013, March 2). Suicide and the stress from school – Rock The Schoolhouse’s blog – Boston.com.

          Retrieved from: http://www.boston.com/community/blogs/rock_the_schoolhouse

          2013/03/suicide_and_the_stress_from_sc.html

Wong, A. (n.d.). The Asian Suicide Phenomenon: « hardboiled.

          Retrieved from http://hardboiled.berkeley.edu/archived-issues/2008-2009/issue- 12-6/

           the-asian-suicide-phenomenon/

Education by Design

Picture a classroom containing 50 students. They are sitting in rows of tables facing a blackboard on which a teacher frequently writes and draws while pacing back and forth. She speaks directly from the textbook which pertains to the class they are taking. As she talks at them, they frantically write down everything she says in case she happens to mention something that is not in the textbook they are expected to memorize. Every week they are to complete the given homework assignment, and they are tested once a month on the material she has expounded upon for the past thirty days. Not once does she engage in conversation with them or ask them their thoughts on the matter. Rarely does she stop to answer questions the students might have, and when she does she resorts to the textbook to help her explain, yet it only mimics her original explanation, ultimately leaving the question unanswered. There is a distance between the teacher and her students which remains constant. This is my idea of an Idealist classroom. And this picture is all but too common in traditional classrooms. This was my Physiology class.

This is the “banking” concept of education according to Paulo Freire. In his essay concerning ways of teaching, he discusses how students are never engaged in discussion with their educators, let alone with each other about what they learn; they are “oppressed” by their teachers—the “oppressors.” Unfortunately, it seems to be as though more teachers approach their students with this “banking” concept instead of using the antithesis: the “problem-posing” method.

While reading about the Idealist philosophy, I found myself having a strong sense of aversion for the staunch and rigid ways of the classroom and the demeaning manner by which students are regarded and treated. And as I progressed through the readings on the other philosophies, I found myself drawn to and assenting to the refreshing, out-of-the-box approaches of the student-centered Existentialist and Pragmatist philosophies. I was on the fence with the Realist philosophy, its heavy emphasis on Math and Science and where students are taught factual information for mastery. With science high schools cropping up in the metro and being a product of a science high school myself, I find it hard to find fault in this system. It worked for me, and the approach combining theory and practice makes perfect sense to me. But I also realize this is not for everyone. I envied the freedom and enjoyable learning experience accorded to the students in the Pragmatist and Existentialist classrooms. I admired the Pragmatic teacher’s focus on hands-on problem solving projects and agree with the belief that having students work in groups is a highly effective teaching method. Existentialism, for me seems like a breath of fresh air. It sounded very eclectic. I found myself acquiescing to the Existentialist view that students are not objects to be measured or standardized, yet I also realize it’s is going to be hard to stand and fight a system that imposes standardization. Standardized tests have their own value, merit and uses; but I also believe that the results of these tests are a good indicator of one’s intelligence, ability and worth nor is it an effective predictor of a person’s success in the future.

In doing research for the Group discussion Forum, I found that in the highly complex education system there are various combinations of the different approaches to teaching and probably no ‘pure’ Idealist, Realist, Pragmatist or Existentialist teaching. Still, the tendency in the education system of today is toward the teacher-centered approach. Testing is viewed as a prudent way to determine the success or failure of the teaching and learning process.

I can conclude that both of the approaches student -centered approach and teacher-centered approach have the advantages and disadvantages. It will be better if it is used at the suitable time. In the studying and teaching process, a student and a teacher have the same composition. They must be involved in this process. The teacher-centered style is more associated with a more formal and direct way of teaching.  This style can help to ensure that students are learning what they need to learn, though the teacher telling them what to do and think, but by using this method there can be more control over the class and the amount of social distractions would decrease, leading to lower noise levels and possibly even a higher level of academic achievement.  This is only dependent on the settings and also the teaching style may not be suited to some students.  This method may also more suited to shy and insecure students. In the student – centered classroom, the teacher does not rely on preset formulas or magical recipes; rather, it requires involving students in the teaching process. Success in the classroom meant slowly implementing new techniques and thereby adapting students so they would understand lesson goals and objectives, value communicative tasks and activities, generate topics and choose materials, work cooperatively, and identify their own learning strategies and styles. I believe that such an environment can be achieved in any classroom context. In my opinion, the studying and teaching process need a healthy balance between the two styles, too much of one may lead to an imbalance in what the student may need to know and learn.

Although I have had the privilege of being taught by “problem-posing”, at least for a time, but not all students have that opportunity. In my opinion, the “banking” concept of education should not be eradicated entirely but rather used appropriately as needed and dictated by circumstances. After all, teachers attend a class to receive degrees in their chosen field and become experts in that sphere of knowledge. It is acceptable then that the teacher who is already the expert in a subject should be the one to import that knowledge to the students. But this should be done sparingly and at limited doses. I think the dilemma we face now is how do we find a balance between the “banking” education approach and other approaches and how do we change the way school teachers teach and how students learn. Students have become “’containers’ and ‘receptacles’ to be ‘filled’” by the oppressors who pose as teachers and who have never thought in the problem-posing way. Therefore, this has affected their philosophy of learning. Should these students become teachers or educators, they themselves will act as oppressors to their students. How do we go about proposing change? It is a more complex process than simply telling them to expand their minds. It is time consuming. Not only do the students have to think in a new way, but the teacher must teach in a new way. Their methods of teaching mimic the way they have been taught, therefore, they must now think and conduct their class in a new way.

The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.

-Abraham Lincoln

The roles of students and teachers are not necessarily what needs to be altered. The role of a teacher and a student will always remain; however, it is the distance between the roles and authority of the two which should change.

How can students be expected to think for themselves and come up with new ideas and reasoning if the teacher is held in a position of “know all”? I think it is essential that the teacher have a position and a role which is regarded with authority, yet must in some way be able to connect with the students. When the relationship between the teacher and the student grows closer, the movement away from the “banking” concept will grow simultaneously.

I believe that “Teaching is about Learning”. This means that to improve teaching I must focus on the learning needs of the future that will be shaped by today’s students. Learning is not something that can be defined as a procedure; learning is something that occurs in a rather unstructured and ad-hoc way. However learning can be built into structures and processes. As we make new connections between known concepts, add new strategies, link those new concepts to old concepts, then we begin to learn and our body of knowledge grows.

Sources:

http://www2.webster.edu/~corbetre/philosophy/education/freire/freire-2.html

http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/ed416/chart3.html

http://www.mu.ac.in/myweb_test/MA%20Education-Philosophy/Chapter-7A%20%20Existentialism.pdf

catalogue.pearsoned.co.uk/assets/hip/gb/hip_gb_pearsonhighered/samplechapter/0132540746.pdf