What’s Your Philosophy of Education?
One morning while dropping off my son at day care (he was then eighteen months old), I heard the mother of a three- or four-year-old boy say a dirty word: homework — as in, her pre-K-aged son had “done his homework.” Though I never had any doubts about the warmth of the care my son was receiving at this family day care center, I did have some reservations about the curriculum for the older children (work on computers, for example); once I heard the word homework I was certain that we would be looking for a different preschool for our little Critter.
As a teacher and someone who has worked for more than one decade in educational publishing, I have strong opinions about learning and education. The idea of a three- or four-year-old child bringing homework home (from a day care center, no less!) runs counter to my philosophy of education, which includes such ideas as:
- Education should nurture children’s natural curiosity rather than be a source of anxiety.
- Education should be responsive to the questions and interests of children and should not be constituted solely of assignments given by adults.
- Education should be developmentally appropriate.
As my husband and I sought a new placement for the Critter (who now attends a Montessori preschool three days each week), it became apparent that my husband had no strong opinions about the education of children. I started to think about how those who have not been educated to be an educator can discover their own philosophy of education.
What is a “philosophy of education”?
The word philosophy might suggest something abstruse or difficult, but really all that I am talking about is a statement of your beliefs about the purposes of education. And, because your philosophy of education is a reflection of your values and worldview, it is by necessity unique to you. There is no one philosophy of education.
Why should one have a philosophy of education?
As a student in a Master’s degree program aimed at certifying me to teach English Language Arts to secondary students, I was required to write my philosophy of education. Both what I taught and the ways I taught would be grounded in that philosophy (though of course also influenced by the requirements of my school, city, and state). And so, whether or not you are an educator and whether or not you see yourself as your child’s primary teacher, knowing your philosophy of education can help you to see and ensure that the day-to-day reality of your child’s education — what he or she is learning and how she is learning it — is aligned with your most heartfelt hopes for him or her. You will be better equipped to answer such questions as:
- Is this school right for my child?
- Is unschooling right for my child?
- Why am I unhappy with what seems to be going on in my child’s classroom right now?
- What should I be sure to discuss in my next conference with my child’s teachers?
- How do I develop or choose a homeschooling curriculum for my child?
OK then, how do I get one?
One of course does not “get” a philosophy of education as one gets milk and eggs from the store; it is rather a process of discovering and clarifying the beliefs you already hold. There are several ways to do so.
Reflect on the experiences of your own education.
Who were your most beloved teachers, and why? In what kinds of learning experiences did you find joy — and in what did you find frustration? How have you been able to break through frustration to new understanding — and when was the frustration just frustrating, nothing more? Though it is of course important to recognize that your child is a different person from you — and, in some areas at least, most likely a different kind of learner than you — your philosophy of education is likely to begin with your own experiences, both the good and the bad. Though my thinking about homework, for example, has been informed by my experiences as a teacher and my reading of Sara Bennett’s now-defunct blog, Stop Homework, my feelings about homework are certainly based on my own experiences with it as overwhelming and stifling.
Envision the adult you hope your child will become.
In my methods classes in graduate school, we learned to plan backward: to begin the development of curricula and lessons with a statement of what students should understand or be able to do by the end of the course of instruction, and then plan toward that end. What end do you have in mind for your child’s education? For example, I want the Critter to grow up to be a lifelong learner — in other words, the end I have in mind is that there will be no end to his education! And so, working backward from this vision, I believe that his education should foster his curiosity and nurture his ability to recognize and define his own questions as well as to seek and find answers to them.
Create a list or commonplace book of inspiring readings and quotations on education.
In her recent post on Montessori and Natural Parenting, Deb Chitwood included a list of favorite quotations from Maria Montessori. What quotations inspire you? Jot them down when you come across them in your reading, or copy and paste them into a file you keep on your desktop. For example, here’s a quotation I like, from the first chapter of A Letter to Teachers by Vito Perrone:
We often speak about children and young people in our society as “the future.” What do we imply by such a belief? Preservation, or change? Ensuring that children and young people can live in the world as it is, or ensuring the skills, knowledge, and dispositions that will enable them to change the world, to construct on their terms new possibilities?
The chapter is called “Toward Large Purposes”; in it, Perrone urges teachers to think deeply about purposes, an endeavor that may seem to some to be “too philosophical, too abstract, [or] too far removed.” Perrone argues that it is not. Our purposes are first things, he says, and without attending to these things, “we are more often preoccupied with simply getting through the days and weeks.” Indeed. An education shouldn’t be something to be gotten through or (even worse!) endured. What, then, should it be? What are the days and weeks — and months and years — of learning for? Your answer to these questions is your philosophy of education.
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