Clear Philosophies Create Clear Discourse

Part 1 of this series explains why having a worldview is inevitable and that this shapes your approach to teaching
Part 2 makes the case for deeply understanding your worldview and philosophy of education

There are numerous benefits that come along for the ride when you have a well thought out worldview and philosophy of education. For the teacher, most of the benefits are between you and your students. 

Clarity and Confidence

We should be relatively confident in applying our philosophy of education. If you are not, then you should search for a more robust one you are able to trust because teaching from a place of doubt isn’t enjoyable. It will also likely lead to inconsistencies in your methods causing confusion for your students and stress for you.

When we understand our philosophy of education, we can move forward with confidence because we have looked it over and found it to be consistent with our worldview, research, and practice. When we trust our philosophy, we are much more likely to consistently apply it. This consistency helps our students understand the rules and routines, which better allows for them to focus on learning.

However, there is one aspect in particular that affects other teachers.

A Clear Discourse

Too often people simply talk past one another and in doing so they each win the argument but everybody ends up being the loser. To improve the discourse, clarify what you believe.

When we have thought out our underlying worldview, we will be able to articulate it in an understandable way. Once we have applied its implications to our teaching, we should also be able to explain our philosophy of education in an accessible manner.

When both parties have done this, there tends to be less talking past each other. Positions are made clear. More clarifying questions are asked. And, even if this only happens on one side, clarity is still gained.

One Sided Clarity

If one side relies upon fallacies or supports their philosophy with inconsistent logic, you still gain clarity by engaging them with your own philosophy. You now know where the other person stands. You have tested your approach against theirs and found theirs to be wanting. We must be humble when we are doing this though. If we lack humility we will only help them see our side as mean or whatever negative adjective they prefer to use.

In addition, we should be humble enough to see the grains of truth in approaches we consider to be wrong. We should use these grains to improve our own philosophy.

If your philosophy never changes you must think it is perfect. But why on Earth would that be a reasonable assumption?

Appropriated Worldviews, Appropriated Philosophies of Education

In part 1 of this series I explained that having a worldview is inevitable and that your worldview will profoundly shape your teaching practice. However, while having one is inevitable, we are not guaranteed to have one that is well thought out. In fact, the default is to fall into an unthoughtful fuzzy genericism that works well enough to get us through the day, but would fall apart if we ever cared to inspect it.

Our approach to education, or our educational philosophy is rooted in our broader worldview. So, before we can effectively work out our own teaching philosophy we must work out our worldview.

Appropriated Worldviews Make Poor Anchors

When we don’t analyze what we believe, we lack a sound worldview, we lack an anchor, so we must appropriate one. The place we appropriate a worldview tends to be from whatever subculture we most identify with; whether that’s democrat, republican, religious, environmentalist, etc. Worldview appropriation always causes problems. 

Problems arise because we don’t “own” an appropriated worldview, this means we are not anchored to the ground, we are anchored to some larger ship and we will move with it. This causes us to have a fuzzy worldview, because we are simply relying on a larger group for our ethics. This leads to a blind or semi-blind following of the culture. Our morality shifts this way as well (blindly shifting morality is bad). Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. 

We can skate by with an appropriated worldview (I think most people live like this) but those with an appropriated worldview will likely struggle to produce thought out, internally consistent answers to the following questions.

Does anything objectively matter? Why/why not?
What is the purpose in life?
How do you justify your own morality?
Is human flourishing good? Why/why not?
Is suffering bad? Why/why not?
Why is “cultural hot topic” a step in the right/wrong direction?

Appropriated Philosophies of Education 

When we don’t think about our philosophy of education, we appropriate one from whatever educational subculture we happen to lean towards. This causes similar problems as an appropriated worldview. Our views and educational approaches will shift with the educational culture around us. We won’t really control the changes because our philosophy will remain vague and fuzzy to us. 

Before you can purposefully change and improve your philosophy of education, you must work to remove aspects that are vague and fuzzy by bringing them into focus and defining them because it is nearly impossible to change a vague problem. Think about it. How do you fix something that is bothering you when you don’t know what that something is, but you know you are bothered? You have to figure out what is bothering you first!

Owning Your Philosophy of Education

Work out your worldview so you can own it and be anchored to something more stable than culture. Work out your philosophy of education so you can own it and be anchored to something more stable than an educational subculture.

Make it specific so you can make purposeful changes as you learn more. This process happens through a lot of reading, thinking, and talking.

Here are some questions to think about as you define your philosophy of education.

What is the primary purpose of education? Why?
How do humans learn?

How do you encourage creativity? Why?
What are your views on having children of all ages memorize information?
How should you reinforce rules?
What is the best way to manage disruptive behavior?
What types of punishments are acceptable? Why?
What role should educational research play into your approach as a teacher? Why?

Worldviews and Teachers

Just like we all have a worldview, as teachers, we all have a philosophy of education; it is unavoidable. So, my thoughts are, if having one is a logical necessity, we might as well try to have one that is well thought out, meaning that it is grounded in our worldview, research, and practice. 

Worldview

No one’s philosophy of education is fundamental, for our beliefs about education flow out of our beliefs about values. Our beliefs about values flow from beliefs or lack of beliefs in higher powers or purposes and then from our cultural context. These beliefs form the foundation of our worldview.

Merriam-Webster defines worldview as, “a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world, especially from a specific standpoint.”

Worldview Shapes Your Approach To Education

Many books have been written about how worldview affects education. If you are curious, just Google a worldview + philosophy of education. The traditional approaches to education can be classified as Idealist, Realist, Pragmatic, Existentialist, and Scholastic. For a more modern twist on how worldview shapes education, just take a glance at how many educators are advocating for other teachers to read and teach the principles taught in anti-racism or climate change books. The view that one should be an anti-racist or a “______” educator stems from something more foundational than one’s philosophy of education. These moral positions do not originate with your teaching philosophy, ultimately, they stem from your worldview. 

Worldview Shapes Your Pedagogy

Worldview does more than affect how you deal with cultural issues. It also plays a significant role in your teaching pedagogy. What does good classroom management look like? Is the ideal teacher more of a sage on the stage, a guide on the side, a bit of both? Is knowledge foundational, or are skills? What knowledge, what skills should be taught?

*Note: Your worldview and philosophy of education should be capable of explaining the “why.” If it cannot explain the why, why believe it?

Worldview Shapes Your Values

The reason worldview shapes your approach to education and pedagogy is that worldview shapes your values. That worldview affects values should be obvious to you, but what is often less obvious is that many seemingly neutral things are value laden. Knowledge can appear to be neutral, but knowing is moral. For a clear example, look at reading. Hopefully we all agree that it would be immoral to withhold the knowledge of how to read. The content and skills you choose to teach are not neutral because when we include something, we are by default excluding other things because of time limitations. These are value based and therefore moral decisions. We value what we include more than what we exclude.

Teaching Is Rooted In Morality

When we make these choices, we are making a decision based on our values, so it is a decision rooted in our morality.

The reason people are so passionate about politics is that politics are moral and have real effects. Education is the same. We must make decisions based on our morality and those decisions have real effects. Because of this, there is something about teaching that has intrinsic moral value. This is why debates within education can get so heated, just like political debates. Teachers are not simply disagreeing on methods. Teachers have moral disagreements on what qualifies as good. Even if the stated goals (critical thinkers, life-long learners, etc) are the same, the methods are incompatibly different. 

To have a well developed philosophy of education requires a thought out worldview. This implies having a thought out morality, knowing what you believe is good and why. So, before you work on your philosophy of education, you need to answer this question. Where is your morality rooted?

Every Learner is the Same

This is the third article in a series of 5 where I work to develop my philosophy of education. What follows should not be taken as gospel, yet, I believe it should be taken seriously.

A philosophy of education in 5 steps.

  1. Teachers must love their students.
  2. Teaching can be a good career and even a calling, but it is a primarily a JOB.
  3. Every student learns in roughly the same manner.
  4. Teachers should show their students the truth as far as possible while building their students’ knowledge of the world.
  5. Knowledge truly is power.

Everyone learns the same, roughly. This is controversial, like other aspects of my teaching philosophy. Yet, I believe it to be true, in a broad sense. No matter your views of education’s purpose, or how we measure it, learning is ultimately about knowing and doing. Educators differ over which is more important, yet few argue that only one is important.

Cognitive science has shown that, at a fundamental level learning is about the connections neurons make. When neurons fire in the same or similar patterns, learning is strengthened regardless of whether the idea generated by the firing neurons is actually true. For example, if a child practices 2+2=9, the more these neurons fire in that particular pattern, the more ingrained this learning will be.

As educators we can take advantage of this by using retrieval practice and spaced repetition. When students use retrieval practice, they are recalling the facts and or concepts, thus, strengthening that memory. When students use spaced repetition, we are taking advantage of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve as they recall the information again and again over time. Another effective strategy is to combine retrieval practice and spaced repetition with elaboration. Elaboration is when students make connections (identify relationships) between different facts and concepts.

The result is that the neurons responsible for the practiced knowledge/skill fire more and more in the same and similar patterns. And the memory gets strengthened.

As far as I am aware, what I wrote above is essentially a universal truth. I do not believe there are any exceptions to this rule. Different people may learn at different rates and have different limitations due to cognitive abilities/disabilities, background knowledge, and motivation, but the process of learning will be the same for all and all can benefit from instruction based on sound research. 

My Philosophy of Education

Consider this an introduction to what will be a much longer manifesto. Based on my morals, and what I know about education, this is how schooling should be, this is the start of my philosophy of education.

  1. Teachers must love their students.
  2. Teaching can be a good career and even a calling, but it is a primarily a JOB.
  3. Every student learns in roughly the same manner.
  4. Teachers should show their students the truth as far as possible while building their students’ knowledge of the world.
  5. Knowledge truly is power.

 

  1. Teachers must love their students.

My manifesto starts with controversy. Love, you say? Inappropriate. However, you are wrong. In the case of a teacher, love for students simply means wanting the best for them. You may argue that I should just drop the word love and go with “Teachers must want the best for their students”. I disagree with that because the word love is more powerful and brings weightier connotations. I want this statement to have that weight and those connotations.

Education is a service industry and its aims are best achieved when teachers seek to serve their students. I believe that this service is best provided not simply out of duty or even affection, but out of love.

  1. Teaching can be a good career and even a calling, but it is a primarily a JOB.

This line in my manifesto is important for two reasons, teachers and society. Society will tell teachers that they should do more with less, because times are hard and the budget is short, you should do it for the students. And so teachers give more for their students. However, many teachers give until they are empty and then their minds and/or bodies give out. It is important that teachers remind themselves, “While teaching may have fundamental importance both for society and the individuals involved, it is simply a job, there will be others if I need it.”

  1. Every student learns in roughly the same manner.

The above words are essentially seen as fighting words in the world of education. However, I believe they are words worth fighting about. We know that in order to learn, it takes multiple exposures spaced over time to learn the material (Spaced Repetition). We know retrieval practice, calling something to mind strengthens the brain’s connections, regardless of whether those connections are right or wrong. This is why it is so important for students to practice accurately. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes more permanent.

Teachers should teach with the understanding that all students who will be in their classes essentially learn in the same ways. This will free them from endless differentiation and allow them to focus on the structure of the lesson and delivery of the content to the benefit of all students.

  1. Teachers should show their students the truth as far as possible while building their students’ knowledge of the world.

There is objective truth and a large purpose of schooling is to reveal it to students. This is most clear in math and parts of the sciences. For example, 2+3=5. This is an objective truth. Or the law of universal gravitation. The “as far as possible” is included because in some subjects, truth is not the primary focus. For example, while there are certainly truths about the language arts that students must know (decoding, phonics, punctuation), showing students the truth when analyzing Shakespeare becomes harder. Because, often times this literature is subjective and about societal or individual preferences or moral and about what is ultimately good or evil.

In these cases, teachers should expand students knowledge of the world while acknowledging the challenges of parsing ethical decisions of characters in plays or people in history.

  1. Knowledge truly is power.

The importance of knowledge has not diminished in the internet age. In fact, at the very least, it has maintained its level of importance. Think simply. While going to the bathroom is a skill, when you break it down, it becomes apparent that even a rudimentary skill is built upon knowledge. A child must know what a bathroom is and how it is used before they can hope to apply the skill of successfully using it.

This rings all the clearer when we make the skill academic. Think about writing an essay. You first must know all the letters and how they work together. Then you must know the vocabulary and relevant grammar rules. But you still cannot hope to write an essay until you have learned about that topic. Even if you have the skills needed to write, you can only write well if you deeply understand the topic you will write about.

We will give one last example to bring the importance of knowledge home. The skill of decoding (sounding out words) is absolutely useless without comprehension. You can only comprehend words that you know. It may be the 21st Century, but knowledge is still king.