My Philosophy and My Context

Toward the end of a professional development (on data and the Common Core), the specialists asked us to fill out a form regarding our philosophy of education. I was supposed to share my philosophy of education and how it has changed over the years. So, here's what I wrote:

I believe that education exists to help students think well about life. As a teacher, I become a guide to help them become the connective, critical, creative problem-solvers that a democratic society needs in order to flourish. It is admittedly vague, encompassing the both the vocational and civic aspects of education. However, I believe that critical thinkers will thrive in a workplace, in a university and in a democratic society.

My philosophy has not changed. It will not change. If anything, those convictions grow stronger with experience. However, the culture of school and, in particular, the testing culture has influenced the contextual aspect of living out my philosophy. We shifted from learning to achievement and from observable evidence to measurable data. Critical thinking is often easy to observe and difficult to measure. While the nations that are beating us (Finland and Singapore, for example) utilize a critical thinking, constructivist, conceptual approach, we regressed into a hyper-industrial behaviorist pedagogy.

Put more simply, the context of school is often at war with my own philosophy of education. This might come as a shock, but I didn't become a teacher to help kids pass tests (not that I am opposed to kids passing tests). I became a teacher because I believe there is something empowering and transformative in critical thinking.
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John Spencer

John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler. He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and the co-founder of Write About. He is passionate about helping students develop into better writers and deeper thinkers.

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9 comments:

  1. This is true for me too. I often find myself at odds with my reasons for becoming a teacher.

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  2. May they think well that they might live well - both a philosophy and a prayer.

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    1. I like that idea. A philosophy and a prayer. I think that's it for me.

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  3. A powerful message, thanks for sharing. I fear we too often forget the lessons of history. Finland didn't wake up one day and adopt critical thinking. It's been a 30 year evolution. And for a period of time included strict monitoring of the adoption of new standards. What's happening now is frustrating but I'm not sure it's avoidable. To generalize, I think politicians look at the teaching profession, see lots of and lots white, female faces and think there's a need to assist with monitoring and accountability. Granted, it's not that simple, but I think it's going to take an incredible amount of force to move the pendulum from where it is now against the wall of quantification back to the middle. I suspect that force is going to end up being nothing more complicated or radical than the passing of time.

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    1. So true! They didn't just wake up and suddenly notice that things were working out for them. It did require paradigm shifts, professional development and a nation that is committed to fighting poverty.

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  4. The philosophy and objectives of the common core are at odds with us. At the heart of economic growth is the creation of new products, services, jobs, and industries. The common core is designed for college and career readiness. The types of people who often create those things often don't go into college or a career. They will create new careers that never existed before, not take on one that does.

    I read over Finland's basic education (ages 7-16) objectives. They are all about making better people, not better economic tools.

    The education machine that the country has become needs to start seeing students as people and not just another variable in the economic or test score/accountability equations.

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    1. I like your analysis. And yet, I keep hoping there is a bridge we can build, a compromise we can reach or a solution that might keep corporate people and proponents of authentic education both happy.

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  5. Well said. An inspiring statement and right on in terms of not being opposed to students doing well on tests just not convinced that is all there is to education.

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