I believe that education is the instrument that God has given us to instill in our students the love for truth, knowledge, and service. Education is not just the act of imparting and receiving knowledge and skills, but it is the most powerful instrument that we have to help our students, with knowledge and skills, to become successful citizens in this world and the one to come.
Education philosophies have been in constant debate as about what to put in the center of education. Some philosophies put the subject/discipline in the center, some put the teacher in the center, and some put the student. Whatever is in the center will shift the education perspective radically, how teachers see themselves, the curriculum, and the student. It is crucial to have clearly in our minds what our philosophy of education is, because our perspective is going to drive our thoughts, habits, plans, actions, and goals as educators.
It is my philosophy that Jesus and our service to Him should be the center of Christian education. But before expanding in this philosophy of education, I think that it is crucial to realize that many other philosophies have been playing a role in the history of this world and each of these philosophies have left a legacy in all of us as educators and thinkers.
As early as the beginning of this world education has been in constant change, philosophies have come and gone, but all of them have left us something that we are still applying in education. Education philosophies like idealism, realism, pragmatism, critical theory, periannialism, progressivism, essentialism, social reconstructionism and critical pedagogy, to mention a few, have given us the platform that helps us analyze our views and choose what has really impacted students throughout history in a positive way.
To start off, the idealism with Plato (424/423 BC – 348/347 BC) was grounded in his vision of the ideal Republic, wherein the individual was best served by being subordinated to a just society. He advocated removing children from their mothers’ care and raising them as wards of the state, with great care being taken to differentiate children suitable to the various castes, the highest receiving the most education, so that they could act as guardians of the city and care for the less able. Education would be holistic, including facts, skills, physical discipline, and music and art, which he considered the highest form of endeavor.
Plato’s writings contain some of the following ideas: “elementary education consisted of music and gymnastics, designed to train and blend gentle and fierce qualities in the individual and create a harmonious person” (Freedman, 2003). The best students would take an advanced course in mathematics, geometry, astronomy and harmonics. Also, a man would have completed his theoretical and practical education by the age of 50.
Education is and should be holistic. Education needs to prepare the child to be successful in all aspects of life, including the most important one: the spiritual. As White (1903) states, “True education means more than the pursual of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come” (Education, p. 13).
“True education does not ignore the value of scientific knowledge or literary acquirements; but above information it values power; above power, goodness; above intellectual acquirements, character” (Education, p.225).
Unlike Plato, I believe that children should stay with their mothers as much as they can possibly can. The mother is and should be the first teacher of the child. “The child’s first teacher is the mother. During the period of greatest susceptibility and most rapid development his education is to a great degree in her hands. To her first is given opportunity to mold the character for good or for evil” (pg. 275).
Then, realism with Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) came along. He considered repetition to be a key tool to develop good habits. The teacher was to lead the student systematically; this differs, for example, from Socrates’ emphasis on questioning his listeners to bring out their own ideas (though the comparison is perhaps incongruous since Socrates was dealing with adults). “Aristotle placed great emphasis on balancing the theoretical and practical aspects of subjects taught” (Burnet, 2013). He also mentioned the importance of play at home and at school.
Ginsburg (2007) agrees with Aristotle and says that play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children. Play also offers an ideal opportunity for parents and teachers to engage fully with their children and students. Despite the benefits derived from play for both children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced for children. We need as teachers to promote play while being at school. We need to incorporate play in the instruction and the curriculum. Children can benefit greatly from playing; they need it and deserve it.
John Lock (1632-1704) also shared the realism philosophy. Uzgalis, William (2016) say that he wrote that “the little and almost insensible impressions on our tender infancies have very important and lasting consequences.” How true this is, as the saying goes “students don’t remember what we have taught them, but we have made them feel.” As teachers, we need to remember that it is not all about teaching a discipline, but to help them develop memories that will help them become Christian adults. White invites to reflect on the important things that should be passed to children during the tender years, “Too much importance cannot be placed upon the early training of children. The lessons learned, the habits formed, during the years of infancy and childhood, have more to do with the formation of the character and the direction of the life than have all the instruction and training of the after years” (Ministry of Healing, p. 380).
Pragmatism and Progressivism
The main proponent of pragmatism was John Dewey (1859-1952). He has his input in education history as well. As a philosopher, social reformer and educator, he changed fundamental approaches to teaching and learning. Mayer (2014) says that “Dewey’s concept of education put a premium on meaningful activity in learning and participation in classroom democracy. Unlike earlier models of teaching, which relied on authoritarianism and rote learning, progressive education asserted that students must be invested in what they were learning. Dewey argued that curriculum should be relevant to students’ lives. He saw learning by doing and development of practical life skills as crucial to children’s education.”
I totally agree with this Dewey’s idea, “When the school introduces and trains each child of society into membership within such a little community, saturating him with the spirit of service, and providing him with instruments of effective self-direction, we shall have the deepest and best guarantee of a larger society which is worthy, lovely and harmonious” (White, pg. 267). Children should be trained to be successful in their insertion to their communities and how to be servant leaders in them. The spirit of service is the spirit of heaven and self-direction is what they should learn while at school. The Holy Spirit is the only one who can give these to our students, and He is the only one who can also provide us and our students with lovely and harmonious lives. School is a powerful instrument to accomplish these qualities in our students. School should be imparting knowledge not to be a goal in itself, but to acquire knowledge to pursue a greater purpose, to be successful citizens of this world and the one to come.
Along with Dewey came William Heard Kilpatrick (1871-1965), who was a US American philosopher of education and a colleague and a successor of John Dewey. “He also believed that the role of a teacher should be that of a “guide” as opposed to an authoritarian figure. Kilpatrick believed that children should direct their own learning according to their interests and should be allowed to explore their environment, experiencing their learning through the natural senses” (Chipman, 1980). Proponents of Progressive Education and the Project Method reject traditional schooling that focuses on memorization, rote learning, strictly organized classrooms (desks in rows; students always seated), and typical forms of assessment. I do believe that students shouldn’t be in an authoritarian environment, but I also believe that students need direction and guidance in what is best for them to learn. Students do need to explore what they like and what they interested in, but I think that they still need guidance and trained in what they need the most at certain ages. I believe that caring teachers know how to find the balance between students’ need for exploration and students’ need for relevant knowledge and skills, which are not necessary considered needs by children.
Paulo Freire (1921-1997) also made great contributions, especially from the critical theory perspective. Freire was a Brazilian committed to the cause of educating the impoverished children of his nation and collaborating with them in the pursuit of their liberation from what he regarded as “oppression.” Freire is best known for his attack on what he called the “banking concept of education” (Freire, 1980),in which the student was viewed as an empty account to be filled by the teacher. Freire adds to my philosophy of viewing education and curriculum as an instrument to help the child be successful citizen of this world and the one to come, not just as a child who needs to fill his brain with knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Education needs to provide so much more than knowledge, education needs to use knowledge as a means to provide the tools to think critically, solve real-life problems, and contribute to leave this world a better place.
According to Maftoon (2013) Perennialists believe that one should teach the things that one deems to be of everlasting importance to all people everywhere. They believe that the most important topics develop a person. Since details of facts change constantly, these cannot be the most important. Therefore, one should teach principles, not facts. Since people are human, one should teach first about humans, not machines or techniques. Since people are people first, and workers second if at all, one should teach liberal topics first, not vocational topics. The focus is primarily on teaching reasoning and wisdom rather than facts, the liberal arts rather than vocational training. Allan Bloom (1930-1992) was one of the proponents of this view. In a way, perennialists coincide with my philosophy of education because I believe that knowledge should serve as means of becoming a person who can leave this world a better place. The skills that students need to have to be able to leave this world a better place is not so much to acquire knowledge and facts, but the capacity to choose and act wisely using the knowledge given to them.
Another important contributor to the inquiry method in education is Bruner. He emphasized intuition as a neglected but essential feature of productive thinking. He felt that interest in the material being learned was the best stimulus for learning rather than external motivation such as grades. Bruner developed the concept of discovery learning which promoted learning as a process of constructing new ideas based on current or past knowledge. Bruner is also a philosopher that I would recur to in order to add to my philosophy of education. Students do need to see relevance in what they are learning; students need to come to conclusions by themselves. We need to help them become thinkers, and not mere reflectors of what we do, say, or think.
Social Reconstructionism and Critical Pedagogy.
The Montessori Method arose from Dr. Maria Montessori’s (1870-1952) discovery of what she referred to as “the child’s true normal nature” (Montessori, 2007) in 1907, which happened in the process of her experimental observation of young children given freedom in an environment prepared with materials designed for their self-directed learning activity. I am all for nature and for providing a more flexible space for children to learn. Children are children and should be treated as children. Children need to feel free, relaxed, cared for, and loved. As teachers we need to provide this type of environment. We need to provide flexible seating, if possible, flexible schedule – where they can have often breaks, opportunity to the different learners to learn in their learning style and so on.
What I need to differ with this great educator, philosopher, and thinker, Maria Montessori, is that the child is not in the center and the child should not decide what to learn since children are children and they many times don’t know what is best for them in terms of education, content, and ways of learning. It is our great responsibility and privilege to find and impart the knowledge in the way they need to acquire to become successful and serviceable citizens for Jesus in this world and the one to come.
Education is the means in which we carry knowledge, concepts, and skills to our human treasures. Knowledge doesn’t have a goal in itself, but to be an instrument to help our students to become successful adults. Instead of having the teacher, the student, or the curriculum in the center of education, we need to have Jesus as to the one we need to imitate in order to be these successful people we need to be. Only by imitating him and teaching our students to be like him and serve him, we would be accomplishing the real goal of education!
Burnet, J. (1913). Aristotle on education: being extracts from the ethics and politics. Boston: Harvard Publishing.
Donald D. Chipman, C. B. M. (1980). The historical contributions of William Heard Kilpatrick Journal of Thought, 15(1), pp. 71-83 Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/42590176
Freedman, J. O. (2003). Idealism and liberal education. Michigan.
Freire, P. (1980). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Brazil, London, New York: Bloomsbury.
Lyn D. English, D. K. (2016). Handbook of International Research in Mathematics Education. New York, NY.: Taylor and Francis.
Maftoon, P. (2013). HISTORY OF CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT. ( International Journal of Language Learning and Applied Linguistics World (IJLLALW)), College of Foreign Languages and Literature, Science and Research Branch, Islamic Azad University, Tehran, Iran, Iran. Retrieved from http://scholar.google.com/scholar?q=perennialism+education+scholar&hl=en&as_sdt=0&as_vis=1&oi=scholart&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjNl-GFnYfMAhVCkYMKHQkQD30QgQMIGjAA
Mayer, D. (2014). John Dewey | Philosophy and Education Retrieved from http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/projects/centcat/centcats/fac/facch08_01.html
Montessori, M. (2008). The Montessori Method Radford , VA: Wilder Publications
Uzgalis, W. (2016). John Locke. Retrieved from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/locke/